A warm bowl of creamy, comforting vegan butternut squash risotto is food to curl up with as the weather cools down. There are just eight ingredients in this nourishing risotto but it is big on flavor. The smoky sage adds in lots of flavor while nicely complementing the sweet butternut squash, which melts into the rice. It's also a really pretty dish to look at and it is easy to make, especially if you buy precut squash. Serve this dish with a warm, bold-flavored stew, like my vegan Mushroom Stew, for a meal that you will not only enjoy but that will do your body a world of good. This is a gluten-free, soy-free recipe and you can also make it nut-free.
Here's the perfect food for the season: a warm, gooey, DELICIOUS vegan Butternut Squash Risotto scented with the woodsy fragrance of sage.
One thing I look forward to as fall takes over the northern hemisphere is the riot of winter squashes in the market. Yellow butternut, orange acorn, versatile pumpkin, striped delicata, deep green kabocha, quirky turban, sweet dumpling, stringy spaghetti and bumpy hubbard. There they sit, showing off their cutely plump shapes and screaming: "Just buy me already! I promise not to spoil. And I'm delicious."
But their looks, resilience and addictive flavor are not the only thing that's wonderful about them. Winter squashes and their coral flesh pack in huge quantities of vitamins A, B and C, fiber, iron, and -- surprise-- omega 3 fatty acids, making them one of the healthiest veggies you can eat.
With a recipe like this butternut squash risotto, you will want to eat them. This risotto needs just eight ingredients, has all the cheesiness of a non-vegan risotto thanks to nutritional yeast, and it couldn't be easier to make. I often just buy precut butternut squash, which makes the job even easier (no shame in it, life's busy enough so let's take help where we can get it).
If you like doing things from scratch, however, or are growing your own winter squash, I have some tips for you on how to prep winter squash below.
Why you'll love this vegan butternut squash risotto
- It's simple but delicious. There are just a few flavors in this dish, including the smoky sage, the white wine and the nutritional yeast. That lets the sweetness of the buttnernut squash shine through.
- It's easy to make. This recipe is almost foolproof with one caveat: make sure you add no more than a half cup of water at a time for the right texture. This will take time, about 20-30 minutes, but there's a very good reason why you should do it this way for the best results instead of dumping in all the liquid at once as you would do if you were making, say a biryani. In a biryani you want the rice to cook quickly in a smaller quantity of water so the rice grains remain separate. With a risotto it's the opposite: here you want the rice to slowly absorb the stock or water and simultaneously release its starches into the rest of the liquid to create a creamy, velvety pool of glutinous liquid that the rice grains are suspended in. Adding hot stock to the rice a little at a time helps the rice do this, giving you the best results.
- It's a beautiful dish to bring to the table. I love the orange-yellow color with bits of squash suspended throughout.
- It's comfort food. I can think of few foods that induce that warm glow as a hearty risotto does. And with the sage and butternut this dish is not just comforting but also nourishing.
Tips for cutting winter squash
Even intrepid cooks sometimes get put off by winter squashes because of their hard skins. How do I peel a winter squash, is a question I often hear from readers. But there is really no need to be afraid of that skin. It's what keeps your squash fresh and well-preserved on the countertop even as less armored veggies are spoiling by the minute inside the refrigerator. And while peeling winter squash is more labor-intensive than, say, peeling a banana, that doesn't mean it's difficult. Especially not with a sharp knife. Here's what I do.
- Stab the squash a couple of times with the knife and microwave it for a couple of minutes. Stabbing the squash ensures that it won't blow up in the microwave, although a couple of minutes is probably too short for it to do so anyway. Still, no harm in being cautious. And the microwaving softens the skin just that little bit so your knife goes through it more readily.
- Next lop off the top and the bottom so the squash sits firmly on the chopping board. Run a knife down the middle to cut it into halves. Scoop out the seeds and then halve each half, and so on. Once you have the squash in manageable-sized pieces, place a flat side firmly on the chopping board, take a thin, sharp knife, and carefully run it as close to the skin as possible along the length of the squash to peel it. I've heard that serrated peelers do a good job of this but I don't have one so I don't know that for a fact.
- Once the squash is peeled, cut it up into a dice or whatever shape you desire.
- 1 cup arborio rice. This is the most widely available of the rice varieties used to make risotto (which also include carnaloni and vialone nano). Try and use this for best results, but at a pinch use any medium-grain, starchy rice.
- 2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 16-20 oz butternut squash. You can use another squash like pumpkin or acorn here, with good results.
- 5-6 cups hot vegetable stock. It's important to use a good vegetable stock in this recipe as there are just a few flavor ingredients here. Make sure the stock is hot when you add it to the risotto so you don't stop the rice from cooking each time you add the liquid to the hot skillet.
- ½ cup dry white wine. Again, try not to skip this as it adds really lovely flavor. The alcohol cooks out.
- 1-2 tablespoon sage (or 1 teaspoon dry). Add more if you like, it really works so beautifully with the squash.
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- For the vegan "cheese": ¼ cup raw cashews and 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, along with salt and pepper. If you want to make this recipe nut-free, use raw pumpkin seeds instead of the cashews.
How to make vegan butternut squash risotto
- Make vegan "cheese" by blending together the raw cashews (or pumpkin seeds) and nutritional yeast with salt, black pepper and ½ cup vegetable stock until you have a smooth paste. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the butternut squash, a pinch of salt, ground black pepper and half the sage. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the squash starts to soften and caramelize. Add the rice and stir it in.
- Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until the wine's almost evaporated. Next add ½ cup of hot vegetable stock and stir it in. Once the stock has almost evaporated, add another ½ cup. Repeat until the rice is cooked--it should take around 30 minutes. You might need more or less stock. The end result you are looking for is a creamy consistency with the rice grains tender and soft but slightly al dente (The Kitchn has a handy primer for how to tell your risotto is done). The rice should not be lumpy or gloppy.
- Add the cashew "cheese" and stir it in. Immediately add the remaining sage and mix. Check seasoning and add more salt and peper if needed. Turn off the heat. Serve hot or warm.
The risotto will remain creamy and delicious in the refrigerator for about three days. For longer storage, cool the risotto and freeze in a freezer-safe container for up to three months. Thaw and reheat before serving.
Vegan Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe
- 1 cup arborio rice (or other medium-grain rice. You need a starchy rice for risotto)
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 butternut squash , peeled and cut into a ½-inch dice (mine yielded 4 cups of diced squash)
- 5-6 cups vegetable stock (hot. You could use water, but a stock is far preferred for better flavor)
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1-2 tablespoons sage (divided. Chop the sage. If using dry, use 1-2 teaspoons)
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- Make cashew "cheese" by blending together the raw cashews and nutritional yeast with salt, black pepper and ½ cup vegetable stock in a smooth paste. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the butternut squash, a pinch of salt, and some ground black pepper. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes or until the squash starts to soften and caramelize.
- Turn down the heat to medium. Add the rice and stir it with the squash. Season again with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until the wine's almost evaporated.
- Add ½ cup of vegetable stock and stir it in. Once the stock has almost evaporated, add another ½ cup. Repeat until the rice is cooked. This should take 25-30 minutes. The end result you are looking for is a creamy consistency with the rice grains tender and soft but slightly al dente. The rice should not be lumpy or gloppy.
- Stir in the cashew cheese, then immediately add the sage and mix. Turn off the heat.
- If you decide to skip the white wine, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar instead to deglaze the pan and add flavor.
- I like lots of sage in this recipe, but I understand it's a powerful herb. So start with one tablespoon or fresh sage or one teaspoon of dry, and use more if you want more sagey flavor.
- If you want to make the recipe nut-free, use raw pumpkin seeds to make the vegan cheese.