The weather is changing and so are our food choices. Comfort foods go hand in hand with chillier days and early sunsets. As we move away from cold salads and chilled soups towards roasted root vegetables and blended soups and stews, don’t forget about adding pumpkin. Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbita family which is the same family as cucumbers, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and zucchini.
Pumpkins are rich in beta carotene. Half a cup will provide 25% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for vision, healthy skin, teeth, bones and mucous membranes. Pumpkins are also a good source of fibre, vitamin C, folate and potassium. 1/2c cooked = 26 kcal, 1g protein, 6g carbs and virtually fat free.
Health Canada recommends eating one orange and one green vegetable daily which makes pumpkin a great choice for your orange vegetable.
Pumpkin Seeds are also an excellent source of nutrients. They contain protein, iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium and are a good source of omega 3 fats. ¼ cup seeds contain 13g protein, 8mg iron and 4 mg zinc.
The large pumpkins we use for carving are not as tasty for eating. Sugar pumpkins are best used for pie filling. Not all pumpkins are orange, some pumpkins are dark green or tan and oblong.
Buying/storing: Cooking pumpkins are available at the end of summer and early fall. They should be heavy for their size, should not have soft spots, gashes or mould and should have a healthy stem. Whole un-cut pumpkins can be stored for 6 months in a cool dry place. Once cut, fresh pumpkin should be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen for 3-4 months.
Cooking: To cook pumpkin you can either cut off the outer skin and chop into 1 inch chunks and bake or steam. Alternatively, you can cut the pumpkin in half, pierce the skin with a fork and roast it for 1 hour at 350 to soften the flesh before scooping out the seeds
Roasting seeds: Scoop out the seeds, rinse in plain water and allow to dry on a paper towel. Next, place the seeds on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, toss with vegetable oil and season with salt or a spice mixture of paprika, cumin and garlic salt. Roast at 250degrees for 45 min.
Eating: Pumpkin flesh is delicious blended into soup, creamy coconut curry sauce or muffin mix. You can use either canned pumpkin or oven roasted from fresh pumpkins. Pumpkin is also delicious as a side vegetable mashed with carrots or potato, in cheesecake, cookies and of course pumpkin pie. One of my new favorites is pumpkin spice smoothies.
Pumpkin Spice Smoothie (serves 2)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 frozen banana
1 cup almond milk
½ cup frozen mango chunks
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp pumpkin spice mix (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger)
Blend and enjoy!