Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pumpkin Passion II

Reprinted from my latest article in OKRA Magazine, accessible here.

Put simply, it’s not just about pie anymore. (However, if you want a pumpkin pie that will stand out from the rest, click here.) Though pumpkin is traditionally made into pies and other Halloween and Thanksgiving staples across the United States and Canada, it can be used to make so much more. From the sweet to the savory, pumpkin is growing in popularity as a prominent ingredient in soups, sauces, breads, casseroles, souffl├ęs, ice cream, chili, muffins, pancakes, risotto, biscuits, and various beverages. Need gluten-free? Check out this recipe for GF pumpkin spice muffins here courtesy of California Raisins. Improve your nutritional status and blend flavors creatively with these pumpkin enchiladas from Perre Magness of The Runaway Spoon.

Perre’s Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce. Photo courtesy Perre Magness of the Runaway Spoon.

Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):
1)    Experiment with the natural versatility of this nutrition superstar. Combine pumpkin with other flavors: tomatoes, chiles, garlic, butter, orange, olive oil, parmesan cheese, cream (in moderation), herbs (cilantro, sage, rosemary), bacon, pancetta, beef, lamb, and spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice). The pumpkin syrups mixed into your favorite seasonal lattes and alcoholic beverages? DON’T COUNT!
2)    Use canned pumpkin in place of mashed pumpkin in any recipe. [Note: Don’t confuse canned pumpkin filling with pumpkin pie filling!] Canned pumpkin filling is cooked down to reduce water content and can be used in recipes for soups, breads, and muffins. Need ideas? Mix canned pumpkin with low-fat or non-fat yogurt, or with applesauce. Drizzle with honey and add raisins or nuts.
3)     Don’t like pumpkin? Other carotenoid sources include bell pepper, baby carrots, dried apricots and prunes, cantaloupe, watermelon, mango, and persimmon. (Remember: look for vivid color.) Or give pumpkin seeds (pepitas) a try. Add them dried (roasted or toasted) to savory or sweet dishes, adding healthy fats to your plate. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on salads or eat them as a snack.
4)    Size matters. The larger the pumpkin, the less flavor its flesh will possess. Use smaller (and darker) pumpkins for flavor in cooking and baking, and use the large pumpkins for Halloween jack-o-lanterns and other seasonal decorations. For example, a large hollowed-out pumpkin makes a very functional and festive serving container for soup or chili.
5)    As with sweet potatoes, eating pumpkin with small amounts of “healthy” fat (like olive oil) will increase the absorption of beta-carotene, associated with numerous health benefits. [Note: Avoid excessive boiling of pumpkin as it results in sogginess.]

The great pumpkin. Photo: Rock Gumbo

It may be all of those years watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” that have made the pumpkin such a favorite of mine. But more than just its link to Halloween, the pumpkin belongs to American culture and reflects that in its diversity of colors, shapes, and sizes. Take the opportunity to frequently add pumpkin to your plates this season as well as your Halloween festivities.

For the full article on Pumpkin Passion and Gourd Envy (!), see OKRA Magazine here.