Five Ways to Use Pumpkin (That Don’t Involve Dessert)
Pumpkin-flavored coffees and pumpkin-spiced baked goods slathered in cream cheese frosting may be all the rage during the festive fall months, but there are many ways to enjoy this seasonal superfood without all of that added sugar. Pumpkin is nutritionally dense and low-calorie, packed with vitamins A and C, potassium, copper, zinc, manganese and the powerful antioxidants alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin, which are responsible for its bright orange color. Pumpkin is also high in fiber and made up of mostly water, which means it will make you feel fuller for longer and helps with digestion and hydration. The nutrients in pumpkin can boost immunity, promote heart, eye and skin health, help to optimize blood sugar and even help you sleep. Here are six ways for the whole family to enjoy pumpkin this fall, before you get to dessert!
But First, Cook Your Pumpkin!
If you’re feeling super industrious, get yourself a two to three-pound pumpkin and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds, brush the pumpkin flesh with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place the pumpkin halves, cut side down, on parchment-lined cookie sheets, or use a non-stick baking mat. Pierce the outside skin a few times with a fork or knife to ensure steam can escape. Then bake at 350 degrees for around 50 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. This roasted pumpkin is delicious the way it is, or you can scoop the flesh from the skin and blend it with a little water in a food processor or high-speed blender for a homemade pumpkin puree. And of course, when you’re finished roasting the pumpkin itself, spread those seeds out on your cookie sheets, sprinkle with salt and bake until golden brown! But really, if you’re not feeling this motivated, canned pumpkin is perfectly fine. Just remember, choose plain canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which has added sugar and spices.
Pumpkin soup is a fast, easy, delicious and low-calorie way to feature this festive ingredient. If you’ve roasted a fresh pumpkin, put the cubes in a stock pot with a sliced onion, a few garlic cloves, several cups of chicken or vegetable stock and salt and pepper. Simmer to meld the flavors, then blend with an immersion blender. You can also use pureed pumpkin; just cook everything together for a few minutes so the flavors combine before blending. Take the soup off the heat and finish with some cream or half-and-half for perfect consistency. For flavor variation, add yellow curry powder, fresh ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander or smoked paprika.
Add pureed pumpkin to a traditional recipe for hummus, which includes chick peas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt, blended until smooth in a food processor or high-speed blender. Add spices that will enhance the pumpkin flavor, like cumin, paprika and cinnamon. If you’re feeling adventurous, try spicier smoked paprika, or add some cayenne or a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce.
Any smoothie can get a nutritional boost with the addition of half a cup of pumpkin puree, but even the kids will love the taste of a pumpkin pie smoothie. Blend pureed pumpkin, banana and your favorite milk or water with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger – or a tablespoon of already mixed pumpkin pie spice. For a heartier meal, add vegan or whey vanilla protein powder. A super-easy way to keep canned pumpkin on-hand for smoothies is to freeze it in an ice cube tray, they pop the frozen squares into a plastic bag for storage in the freezer.
Pumpkin Overnight Oats
Need a fun, easy, on-the-go breakfast for yourself or the kids? Stir any milk of your choice, a little Greek yogurt if you like the tang, a bit of vanilla extract and some maple syrup into a large bowl. Add oats, chia seeds, and some ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, or that pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice. Stir to combine, then pour into glass jars and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, garnish with chopped nuts or a dollop of extra yogurt, and enjoy, either at the breakfast table, or during car-pool en route to school or early morning sports practice.
Use chopped, roasted pumpkin or pumpkin puree in addition to tomatoes or in lieu of tomatoes in your favorite chili recipes. The sweetness is a beautiful foil to the chili peppers, cumin and other spices found in traditional chilis, whether they’re made with ground turkey, chicken or beef, or if they’re vegetarian varieties made with black, red or white beans, cubed sweet potato and chopped bell peppers. Use traditional chili garnishes, like cilantro, sour cream and shredded cheese, but throw on a some roasted pumpkin seeds for another seasonal touch.
Pumpkin Mac ‘n Cheese
Combine pureed pumpkin, butter, garlic, any milk of your choice and shredded cheese in a saucepan and simmer until well combined. Toss with your favorite pasta. If you like, pour into a baking dish, top with more cheese and bake or broil until the top is pleasantly browned. The kids will love it, and likely won’t even notice the pumpkin! Or, for a more adult pumpkin pasta, toss your pumpkin sauce with pasta, spinach walnuts and fresh or dried sage.