How to Break Down a Butternut Squash

A step-by-step guide to conquering winter squash, and how to incorporate it into a refreshing kale salad.

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When the weather turns cold, we love the warm, comforting flavor of roasted butternut squash — in salads and in pastas, as a soup or a side. What we don’t love is the thought of going head-to-head with the squash itself; the process of prepping one has the potential to be daunting.

Breaking down winter squash is the animal butchery of the vegetable world — it requires equal parts know-how and muscle. Fear not: The key is to take it one step at a time and trust that in the end, you’re tougher than even the mightiest winter cucurbit.

First, level the playing field: Cut the squash down into manageable pieces so that it’s easier to handle. Slice off and discard the stem, then cut the squash in half at its waist — just above where it starts to get wider — as well as about an inch from the bottom. The two remaining pieces will have flat sides, so that they can sit flush on the cutting board without wobbling around.

Next, remove the skin from each piece with a vegetable peeler. (You can use a paring knife instead, but a peeler will remove less flesh and cut more evenly.) Cut each piece of squash in half again horizontally, and scoop out the seeds and all the innards with a spoon into a bowl — if you like, save the seeds to roast for future mid-cooking snacks.

To finish breaking down the squash, cut each piece lengthwise, then horizontally, then crosswise, as you would an onion. You’ll end up with small, even cubes of butternut squash, at the ready for your next great dish.

Now shake off that squash anxiety and get roasting.


Evenly roasted squash

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Kale Salad with Winter Squash, Dried Cherries, and Almonds

Servings: 4 to 6



1 large delicata squash, washed well, unpeeled but seeded, and sliced into 1/2-inch rings (or other winter squash of your choice, peeled, seeded, and chopped into ½-inch pieces)

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for squash

Black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 large bunch lacinato kale, stems removed and discarded, torn into bite-sized pieces, washed, and spun dry

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Parmesan cheese


Heat the oven to 400° F. Toss the squash in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden, rotating your baking sheet halfway through.

Whisk together the remaining olive oil, mustard, lemon, maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and pepper to taste. Pour 3 tablespoons of dressing over the kale to begin with, and "massage" the kale well with your hands, till it's coated in the dressing and taking on a soft, almost wilted texture. Add the remaining dressing as needed and according to taste. Add the cherries and almonds.

Once the squash has finished cooking and has cooled for 10 to 15 minutes, add it to the salad, finish with curls of Parmesan cheese (just shave the cheese with a vegetable peeler), and serve.

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