Pumpkins are for more than carving

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Those who like to play with their food need look no further than the pumpkin, the most familiar and fun member of the gourd family.

Ranging from softball-sized “pie pumpkins” to the mammoth 2,032-pound, record-breaking gourd raised last year in California, pumpkins come in all sizes — as well as shapes and colors. You can carve them into jack-o-lanterns or simply let them sit around as part of your fall décor.

Best of all, you can eat pumpkins — and you should. Their nutritional value far outweighs their role in fall decorating. Just about every part of a pumpkin is edible, including the shell, the pulp, the seeds, the leaves and even the flowers, which play a significant role in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine.

The orange skin is a dead giveaway that America’s favorite squash is rich in vitamin C and loaded with beta-carotene, which helps reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and protect against heart disease. 

Pumpkin seeds, which so many of us roast and eat, have nutritional value. Second only to peanuts in protein, pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids and zinc.

Farmers in the U.S. produce an estimated 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins annually, and this year’s crop should be no different. Top states for pumpkin production include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. In fact, the Illinois Department of Agriculture claims that roughly 95 percent of all pumpkins used to produce canned pie filling come from our southern neighbor. Who knew?

What can you use pumpkin for? Pies, of course, especially since Thanksgiving is not that far away. But there are other uses as well, and here are some recipes to prove that you can have pumpkin for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Savory pumpkin soup

Cold weather means soup to us, and nothing is more appropriate to the season than a robust pumpkin soup to warm you inside and out. You’ll need:

Ingredients

28 oz. fresh pumpkin meat, cubed

2 large red onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, chopped

24 oz. water

2 tbsps. coconut oil

1 tbsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. paprika

1 can coconut milk

Pumpkin seeds for garnish

Directions

Fry the chopped onions with the coconut oil in a large pan until the onions are soft and slightly translucent. Add pumpkin and carrots and fry for 10 minutes.

Combine the nutmeg, turmeric and paprika with 1 teaspoon of water in a cup, then add to the pan and sautée the vegetables in the spices for one minute.

Add the remaining water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add the can of coconut milk and bring back to a boil 5-10 minutes, then simmer a few minutes more.

Remove from heat and cool. Blend in batches in a food processor to a medium viscosity — too thick, and the flavors will muddle under the texture; too thin, there’s not enough texture to carry them. Serve in bowls or cups with a pumpkin seed garnish.

Pumpkin and black bean burgers

Veggie burgers can be a challenge, but these take the best of the season, mix it with a little Southwestern flavoring and serve it up American style. Whole wheat buns are a must. For the patties, you will need:

Ingredients

½ cup pumpkin purée 

2 tbsps. olive oil

1 tsp. chili powder

¼ tsp. garlic powder, or 2 garlic cloves

½ tsp. cumin

½ tsp. coriander

¾ tsp. sea salt

1 cup cooked and cooled brown rice

1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained 

2 tbsps. flax meal

1/3 cup oat flour

Coconut oil sufficient to cook the patties

Directions

Combine the pumpkin, oil, spices and salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the brown rice, flax meal, oat flour and half of the beans and pulse until the mixture is thick and lumpy. Add the rest of the beans and pulse a few times just to break the lumps. 

Divide the mixture into 4-5 patties about ½ inch thick. Place the patties in the freezer for no more than 5 minutes to firm them up. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet and cook the patties for 2-3 minutes on each side until a golden crust forms. Wrap, then refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.  

Pumpkin spice pancakes

We have the inimitable Martha Stewart to thank for the genesis of this recipe, which means you will like it. You will need:

INGREDIENTS

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour

2 tbsps. brown sugar

2 tsps. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Pinch of ground ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

1 cup milk

½ cup canned pumpkin

1 egg

2 tbsps. vegetable oil or melted butter

Directions

Whisk together flours, salt, spices, sugar and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg, pumpkin and vegetable oil or melted butter.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Don’t overbeat the batter; it’s OK if you have a few lumps. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes while heating the skillet. 

Over low-medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter or vegetable oil in the pan. Once skillet is hot, spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons of batter per pancake into the skillet. When pancakes start to bubble, carefully flip over.

Once the pancakes are browned and cooked through, place them on a oven-proof plate and place in the oven at 200 degrees to keep them warm while you prepare the rest.

Serve with whipped cream and cinnamon sugar or maple syrup.

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