This Halloween, don’t just buy pumpkins so you can carve your Angry Birds or Kung Fu Panda Jack-o’-lanterns. (I just found stencils for those here!) Stop at the farmers market or supermarket and buy one for cooking, too. And don’t trash the orange gunk sitting on your kitchen counter after carving; you can use the seeds! (Once you’ve dug those out, you can throw out the part that resembles Oompa-Loompa mucus; pumpkin recipes involve the seeds and the flesh, which is the denser, thicker part under the skin.)
KNOW YOUR PUMPKINS
If we didn’t lose you at Oompa-Loompa mucus, get ready for the most creative, tasty and healthy ways to consume our fave orange veggie! But before we break out the kitchenware, it’s important to note that not all pumpkins are made equal. You can use the inside of your Jack Skellington Jack-o’-lantern for cooking purposes — that’s my carving choice this year! — but the flavor is going to be lacking compared to what are called pie pumpkins, which are smaller in size and can be bought at farmers markets and supermarkets. Canned pumpkin originates from this type of pumpkin.
HEALTHY PUMPKIN PERKS
The Great Pumpkin, as Linus would call it, offers two cooking ingredients — the pumpkin seeds and the pumpkin flesh — as well as a plethora of nutritional benefits. The orange color is the result of beta-carotene, an important antioxidant that’s converted to vitamin A in the body. Research has linked beta-carotene to a reduction in the risk of certain cancers, improving vision loss in people with age-related macular degeneration, thwarting progress of osteoarthritis and preventing bronchitis and difficulty breathing in smokers. The only food that offers more beta-carotene per serving is carrot juice.
Pumpkin seeds offer many essential minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese. They’re a low-calorie, low-fat way to boost mineral intake and add flavor and texture to various foods. Just beware of the sodium — the only downfall to this fall treat.
Pumpkin seeds + sashimi = LOVE
Everyone’s heard of roasting pumpkin seeds (find out how here), but using them to enhance dishes may be a new concept to many of you. Let me tell you, it’s a concept worth trying. I recently ate at La Pesce in Eataly, the foodie heaven co-owned by Mario Batali, and tasted a selection of raw fish, including striped bass that was topped with — you guessed it — a roasted pumpkin seed. And it was GLORIOUS, adding the perfect textural complement to the delicate striped bass and a subtle flavor that didn’t detract from the fish. So if you enjoy making your own sushi at home, pumpkin seeds could be a yummy way to invent something new.
Pumpkin seed pesto
Idea No. 2: pumpkin seed pesto. Gourmet magazine was the genius behind this concept, grinding toasted green pumpkin seeds in a food processor with cilantro, lemon juice, salt and pepper and using it to coat roasted butternut squash. Though I have yet to try it, I would guess this pesto could also be incredible if used to encrust fish.
OK, here’s our favorite: pumpkin-shrimp bruschetta with goat cheese. Is your mouth watering yet? If not, you should probably get that checked out, because it should be. Better Homes & Gardens uses both pumpkin and pumpkin seeds in this brilliant bruschetta.
FitSugar found a healthy way to pumpkin-ize your snack time. Their pumpkin-carrot bars with cream cheese frosting contain only 70 calories and less than 2 g of fat. How’s that for raising the bar?
Indian Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Our own Nurse Allison added her own Indian-inspired roasted pumpkin soup recipe to the HellaWella site this fall, which you can view here. This takes squash soups to a whole new level with Granny Smith apple, coriander, turmeric and coconut milk.
Everyone loves dips, but health-conscious eaters often avoid them because of their high-calorie, high-fat content. Not this one! Health.com’s pumpkin dip pairs the pumpkin with low-fat cream cheese, some brown sugar, only 2 tsp of maple syrup and cinnamon, and the site recommends using apple slices for dipping. Two tablespoons and two apple slices totals 107 calories — perfect for a guilt-free snack or dessert.
Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce
No, this is not a trick. We’re only about the treats this Halloween. While many raviolis are cooked with excessive butter or oil and topped with high-fat sauces, this Cooking Light recipe, slightly modified by the Picky Eater Blog, keeps the calories and fat low and the flavor high.
Besides being fun to say, pumpkin puddin' is also a sugar-free way to turn your pumpkin into dessert. This South Beach Diet recipe uses sugar-free instant vanilla pudding mix with pumpkin, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger for an easy, delectable treat. Beginner-level cooks out there: It doesn’t get easier than this.