You Asked For It: Peeling Winter Squash, Making Soymilk, And More

‘You Asked For It’ is a new occasional feature here at Holy Cow! where I will answer readers’ queries about cooking, vegan cooking, transitioning to veganism, vegan substitutes, animals, or just about anything you care to ask me (nicely, of course).

Holy Cow! gets a lot of emails from readers and for a while now I’ve felt that my responses would be helpful or at least interesting to nearly everyone who visits Holy Cow! Many of these questions are on topics I’ve already been through in my various posts, but there are more than 400 posts on this blog now and I do understand you can’t dig through each and every one to get to the information you are looking for.

I’m starting off with four of the most recent questions in my mailbox. If you have any, feel free to email me at And if you have better answers than the ones I’ve got for any of the queries, or just want to add your two beans, don’t hold back– I want to hear from you.

Do you have any tips for peeling hard-skinned winter squash?

I must admit I (perhaps not very smartly) take the hard way on this one. I poke a sharp knife through the center to make an incision, ease it in, and then go all the way round the squash until I can separate it into two halves. I then place the squash, flat side down, on a cutting board and slice off the skin lengthwise. It can be quite a workout with most winter squashes.
There are apparently easier ways to do this: you can microwave the squash for a minute which makes the skin a little softer and easier to manipulate, or place it in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Of course, you don’t want to cook it too long before peeling it (unless that’s okay for the recipe) because the texture of the squash flesh will be compromised.

Do you know of any vegan subsititute for gelatin? I use it in Mango Pie and Key Lime Pie and have always wondered.?

The most common vegan substitute for gelatin and the one I use is agar agar flakes or powder, and you can find it in many health food stores and online. Use the same amount of agar agar instead of gelatin in your recipe. The Cook’s Thesaurus warns that agar agar and gelatin break down when exposed to the enzymes of certain raw fruits like kiwi fruit, papayas, pineapple, peaches, mangos, guavas, and figs, so if you’re cooking with these fruits it would be best to use canned versions since those are precooked and the enzymes are already destroyed.

I have been reading online about soy milk makers and was wondering if you make your own soymilk or use store bought.? It you use soy milk makers, would like know which one to get if I want to go that route.

I love making food from scratch, but there are some foods I’d rather buy off the shelf. Soymilk falls into that category. I’ve had freshly extracted soymilk and the raw taste has been, honestly, a bit much. I usually buy vanilla soymilk (I love the Kirkland brand available in Costco or on Amazon) and I can honestly say I have never, ever missed dairy milk. And mind you, I was such a lover of milk that my mom had dubbed me Bokya, Marathi for cat.
That said, if you want a tutorial on making soymilk, here’s one that looks pretty good. It also includes some soymilk maker reviews.

When exactly did you decide to go vegan? I mean, what triggered it?

There was no exact moment– just many small moments that led to the realization that I didn’t want to eat animals or use animal products any more. I had always loved animals, but I first started thinking about animal cruelty issues when Desi and I brought home our first rescue, Lucy. Living with her made me realize how intelligent and gentle and complex animals are, and it made me not want to ever hurt an animal again, however indirectly. I began thinking seriously about a vegetarian /vegan lifestyle, but having eaten meat and fish all my life I didn’t think– wrongly, as it turns out– that it would be an easy transition to make. So I started small– by giving up leather and silk and wool and all those animal products we use every day without a thought but which cause immense animal suffering. It seemed a simple enough way to start on a compassionate path and I found out it was so easy that I never wanted to go back.
A couple of years later, hiking through Costa Rica’s Monteverde valley, Desi and I came upon a cow pasture. There were no humans for miles around, and the cows trotted all the way to the fence to look at us. They stood there silently and curiously, watching us with large, soulful eyes. I had always loved cows, and looking into their intelligent and gentle eyes that day made me realize I never wanted to ever hurt one again. That’s when I decided I had to finally take the step I’d been pondering so long– to try and give up meat. I also started cooking more vegetarian foods at home and educating myself about animal farming and the terrible cruelty animals and birds endure before they are slaughtered or milked for human consumption. From there it did not take me long to make the transition into veganism.
As Holy Cow! transitions to her custom domain at, I’ve noticed that email subscribers may not be getting their updates. I apologize for any inconvenience — I am not in any way an expert at fixing these problems but I am trying to work it out, so please bear with me.

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  1. Shvetha says

    Hi Vaishali,

    Wanted to add my experience with using soymilk makers: I have one that I use regularly (twice-thrice per week) and I’m very happy with the way it works. Unfortunately I don’t have the brand name- a friend (who has a similar one) bought it for me from China. So I’m sorry I can’t give any more info on that!

    The reason I wanted to write in is because when I started to use the machine, I was apprehensive about the beany taste. I was quite surprised o find though, that it had absolutely none at all. Infact, I’ve had store-bought ones that had a worse flavour profile.

    I was buying soymilk initially but reading up on the additives (especially carrageenan) spurred me into making my own!

  2. says

    A very helpful feature indeed. May help many readers as well as bloggers clear their doubts here. I use agar agar in many of my recipes. And rely on store bought soy milk as time is the constraint. But would love to try at home soon.

  3. says

    First of all, Congratulations on getting your own domain Vaishali. A good move. Good luck to you.
    Secondly, I liked your restaurant review page. It might not sound interesting, but I have a hard time ordering in an american restaurant since I don’t know what is in the dressing. Maybe you should put up a list of dishes that is safe to order. Most of the time waitresses don’t know how the food is cooked. Just a thought.

  4. Jeannie says

    Thanks for your tips on peeling hard-skinned squash. I hoped there was something that I was missing…but I see there really isn’t.

    And on soy milk makers…I make my own soy milk at least once a week. I make my own soy yogurt every now and then,mtoo. The machine I use has super easy cleanup and the soy milk is…ok. My partner loves it, though, and he’s usually the finicky one. I find sweetening it with sugar or agave and adding vanilla extract and a bit of salt help make it much more palatable. I use my soy milk mostly in cooking…but sometimes I will have it plain with cookies. :)

    Commercial soy, rice, and almond milks are quite the science experiment when you read the ingredients–lots of starches and added flavors to approximate what people remember of cow’s milk. I’m not particularly afraid of these ingredients, but they just go to prove how much product research and development are needed to make a profit on our fussy human palate!

    I started making my own soy milk because I couldn’t stand the packaging waste of the cartons, especially the aseptic ones. That alone makes me very tolerant of any deficiencies in my own homemade beverages.

  5. says

    Priya, Thanks!

    Svetha, Thanks for sharing — the beany taste is what kept me from trying my hand at making soymilk, but perhaps it’s time for me to try again with a good soymilk maker.

    Sanjeeta, Miri, Thanks.

    BangaloreBaker, Thanks, and after three years I did think it was time! :) I like the idea of putting up a list of things that are safe to order in restaurants. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Jeannie, Thanks for sharing your experience on making soymilk and yes, it really is extraordinary how much work goes into creating vegan substitutes for dairy and other animal products. I really like the idea of eating whole foods though, like beans and grains and fruits and veggies, and I try and stick with that.
    I do make an exception for milk substitutes which I mostly buy. The only milk I’ve tried making at home is almond milk in my Vitamix — I add a smidgen of agave and salt, and I love it, but there are some drawbacks, like it gets spoiled really fast unlike storebought (although I realize that’s due to the preservatives which are not a great thing to have in one’s diet in the first place).

  6. says

    Hi Vaishali,
    This section is a great idea. I turned vegan just over a year ago, after I became a mom and after my nursing experience with him. It was just such a special bond that I felt I can’t deny that expression of love to any mom, be it a cow or a goat. It seems to be the most cruel thing to do, to take away your kids, and steal the milk meant for them! I have not regretted my decision one bit. I feel that I should have done this sooner. Yours was among the blogs that helped me with the transition. So, thank you very much for that. I was inspired by your and a few other blogs to start my own blog. I’d love a visit from you!

    I do have a question. I will be traveling to India soon. Do you have any tips for finding vegan items in India?

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