Last week we got this tiny little pie pumpkin in our CSA box, and it’s been sitting on our windowsill ever since (please excuse the bad photo – I used my phone).
I actually love cooking with pumpkins, but this one seems so tiny that I’m not sure what to do with just one. Anyway, I thought today would be a good day to remind everyone of the nutritional benefits of pumpkin, and provide some ideas for ways to use it in recipes.
First of all, choose your pumpkins wisely. The big ones are great for carving or decorating, but the smaller ones pack more flavor and are much better for baking or cooking. Fresh pumpkins, just like any other food, are always the most nutritious and will give you the best taste in any recipe, but canned pumpkin is easy and available at any grocery store. Just beware of what you are buying: there is pure canned pumpkin, but there is also canned pumpkin pie filling, which includes spices and other ingredients. I recommend buying plain pumpkin and adding your own spices and flavors.
Nutritionally, pumpkins are great! This is good news, because they are so versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. The beta-carotene is what gives pumpkins its bright orange color, and this is a form of vitamin A that acts as a strong antioxidant. They also contain fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B3, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and calcium. In addition, pumpkins have a high water content. Many people consider pumpkin a superfood because of its high amounts of antioxidants. There are also 14 phytonutrients found in pumpkins. Phytonutrients are plant nutrients, and in the past 20 years many studies have linked consumption of phytonutrients to things such as protecting people from development of cancer and heart disease.
When cutting into a pumpkin, don’t forget to save the seeds! I’ve talked about pumpkin seeds before, but just to remind you, they are very highly concentrated in zinc. Many of us are likely zinc-deficient, due to the large number of things that contribute to zinc deficiency, including antibiotic use, birth control pills, blood pressure medication, antacids, alcohol, sugar consumption, stress, too much exercise, and more. Therefore, pumpkin seeds can be an important and necessary part of the diet. Pumpkin seeds have traditionally been used in the treatment of male prostate problems, mostly due to their high zinc content. They also contain protein, essential fats, iron, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin E, and some B vitamins. Read my easy method of roasting pumpkin seeds here.
Some other recipe ideas for pumpkin include:
- Bake pumpkin bread or muffins, using whole wheat flour, ground flax seed, walnuts, and instead of sugar use apples, banana, or something similar.
- Cut pumpkin into small cubes and coat with olive oil and other herbs or spices, such as cinnamon or sage, then roast.
- Roast or steam pumpkin to soften it, then puree it and add cream and spices to make a delicious pumpkin soup.
- Add chunks of roasted pumpkin to chili or stew.
- Steam the pumpkin and mash it into your family’s pancakes on Sunday morning. Add some cinnamon and walnuts and they will love it!
- My mom, always the healthy chef, started substituting pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving for a much healthier pumpkin custard. It is delicious and to be honest, after a huge meal, it’s the perfect dessert. I’m not sure what her secret recipe includes, but I imagine that she adds things like vanilla, spices and nuts. You can always find great recipes online – I may try this one!
I hope this helps inspire some of you to make some delicious fall pumpkin recipes. Your family will enjoy something new, and you’ll be doing them a favor by providing them with so many beneficial nutrients!