I am not sure at exactly what age it occurred to me that you could actually eat pumpkin. You see, growing up in a Portuguese house, we didn’t really eat pumpkin pie. I still find the texture and blend of spices strangely cloying. The only relationship I had with pumpkins as a child was attacking their flesh with knives and shoving candles down their gullet. We ate squashes that were similarly shaped but since they were not bright orange, I never made the connection.
Then, when I was 16, I discovered “pumpkin” as a culinary oddity: a searingly hot can of pumpkin soup purchased from a vending machine in Osaka, Japan. I bought it for the sheer novelty of soup, drunk from a can, hot from a vending machine. Who could resist? Similar vending machines also proffered searing hot cans of sake but luckily for me (and my parents!) it didn’t occur to me to try those. (Well, at least that is the story I am sticking with here, folks.) Bolstered by this sweet and savoury discovery, I next bought pumpkin soup from milk shaped tetra packs. My most sophisticated pumpkin experience in Japan was roasted pumpkin purchased from smiling vendors, charcoals glowing, with many hand gestures that may or may not have been appropriate but seemed to get the job of exchanging cash for pumpkin accomplished.
The “pumpkin” preferred in Japan is kabocha squash, smaller than our pumpkin with a milder flesh and speckled green skin. When we refer to pumpkin here, we usually mean sugar pumpkin. Smaller than a jack o’ lantern but just as orange. If you are still of the mind that pumpkins are jack-o-lanterns and not sustenance, I humbly suggest a change of heart. Not only is the sweet flesh of pumpkin enormously delicious and comforting, it is also profoundly nutritious.
Let’s start with the carotenoids, phytochemicals that help the skin glow, keep eyes sharp and cells protected against damaging oxidation. Pumpkins contain more than 50% of your daily requirement of vitamin A (which includes the carotenoids) in just a 1 cup serving. Pumpkin is also a healthy source of fibre rich carbohydrates and plenty of B vitamins to keep you energized during darker days.
When a beautiful little pumpkin makes its way to your home, as you scoop out the pulpy, slippery mess of seeds (kids LOVE this…let them get their hands dirty!) resist the urge to throw the sludge in the garbage. Instead, commit a couple of minutes to separating the seeds from the pulp and giving them a rinse. Then they are ready to roast and enjoy. Not only will this help you reduce your food waste, you’ll enjoy a nutrition boost. Pumpkin seeds are nutrition powerhouses: high in omega 3 fatty acids, a quarter cup of seeds contains a remarkable 50% of your daily requirement for manganese and almost 50% of your magnesium requirement. Pumpkin seeds also provide a hefty dose of protein, iron and zinc.
Curried Pumpkin Seeds
The measurements in this recipe are approximate so you can adjust depending on how many pumpkin seeds you find! Enjoy these seeds on their own as a snack or sprinkled over salads or soup for delicious crunch. These would also taste wonderful on the pumpkin risotto in place of parmesan for a vegan version.
Pumpkin Seeds, washed and pat dry
1 tsp – 1 tbsp virgin coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1/4 – 1 tsp honey or maple syrup for a vegan version
1/4 – 1 tsp your favourite curry powder
pinch of salt
Combine warmed coconut oil with honey, curry and salt in a small bowl. Add pumpkin seeds and stir to coat. Spread on a parchment or Silpat lined cookie sheet and bake one of two ways:
For a quick toast, bake at 325 for 5-7 minutes
For a slow roast that still preserves the integrity of the omega 3 fats, bake at 175 for 15-20 minutes, turning once during cooking.
Roasted Pumpkin Risotto
This delicious risotto is a warming vegetarian main course, made even healthier by substituting the typical arborio rice for fibre rich barley.
1 small sugar pumpkin, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 tbsp virgin coconut oil, warmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pearled barley
2 leeks, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups water
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan or curried pumpkin seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Toss pumpkin with warmed coconut oil and salt in a medium sized bowl and spread on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and roast until soft, about 20 minutes.
Cheater alert! If you don’t have time to roast the pumpkin, you can substitute 4 cups of frozen cubed butternut squash quite nicely.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add barley and leeks; cook until beginning to soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Add wine or water and cook until evaporated, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water; bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat; simmer until liquid absorbs, about 10 minutes.
Add broth and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender and creamy, about 10 minutes. Don’t rush the simmer or the barley will be super chewy. Add Parmesan or pumpkin seeds; season with salt and pepper.