Are you someone who dreams of pumpkin spice lattes once fall arrives?
Hot beverages are only one aspect of the nation's pumpkin frenzy. These days there isn't a pumpkin-flavored product US consumers aren't willing to try, according to the polling company A.C. Nielsen, which cites—in addition to pie filling, of course—yogurt, dog food and milk among its top 10 pumpkin products in terms of sales.
One of pumpkin's advantages lies in its impressive nutritional profile. For starters, it provides vitamins A and C, folate and the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Pumpkin in the Kitchen
Cooks have learned to love pumpkin because there are so many things you can do with it.
The orange squash "shows up in appetizers, soups, breads, desserts, salads and savories of all kinds," writes caterer DeeDee Stovel in The Pumpkin Cookbook (Storey). Stovel uses pumpkins in recipes ranging from Pumpkin Pizza to Mexican Pumpkin Lasagna to the chicken tacos in the recipe below.
Plain canned pumpkin (not the pie filling, which is sweetened) is a time-saver for many recipes. But if you're cooking from scratch, the small sugar pumpkins are fairly easy to handle. Stovel suggests washing them, cutting them in half with a large knife and simply removing the stem, seeds and fibers before cooking.
If you're going to tackle one of the big boys, however, Stovel offers the following advice:
- Place a damp paper towel under a sturdy cutting board to keep the board in place.
- Take a small slice off the bottom of the pumpkin to enhance stability.
- Cut from the top to the bottom, wiggling the knife as you go.
- Remove the seeds and fibers, then lay the cut sides on the board for additional cutting.
If at all possible, peel your pumpkin after it's cooked (done when a fork easily goes through). If you need to peel it raw, Stovel suggests placing the cut side down on the board and using a sharp paring knife to cut the skin towards the bottom and away from you.
In terms of measurement equivalencies, 1 pound of fresh pumpkin = 2 cups of peeled, cooked = 2 cups cubed = 3/4 cups grated.
Pumpkin Preparation Tips
In addition to recipe flexibility, pumpkin also adapts to a variety of cooking techniques:
Roasting: cut into quarters, rub inside and out with oil, place in an oiled pan (cut side down with sprigs of fresh herbs) and into a preheated 400° oven for about 45 minutes. (Small pumpkins can be turned into serving dishes by baking them whole at 350° for 30 minutes, then cutting off the top about 2 inches from the stem before deseeding.)
Steaming/Boiling: place the pieces into either salted boiling water or a steamer basket; boil for 15–20 minutes, steam for 20–30. (You can then puree using a potato masher, ricer or food processor.)
Grilling: toss peeled 1-inch chunks with oil and cook for 5–10 minutes, turning to brown all sides.
Microwaving: for small amounts, place chunks in a microwave-safe dish, add 1 tablespoon water and cook on high for 5 minutes.
Don't Forget Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin is just as valued for its seeds (also known as pepitas) as for its flesh. Pumpkin seeds provide zinc, different types of vitamin E and healthful fatty acids. In addition, they are a good source of vegetable protein.
Roasted seeds are great for snacking; you can also add them to salads and granola, and even grind them into pesto. And pumpkin seed oil makes a healthy addition to salad dressing (its delicacy makes it unsuitable for cooking).
1 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 lb fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, peeled, diced (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/2 cup canned tomatoes and juice
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
Dash hot sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
6 8" flour tortillas or corn taco shells
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar or Monterey Jack
1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
3 cups shredded lettuce
1 1/2 cups salsa
Yields 6 tacos
Source: excerpted from The Pumpkin Cookbook, © by Edith Stovel, used with permission from Storey Publishing
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.