Pumpkins: Not Just for Halloween!

Despite their popularity for carving up at Halloween and winning blue ribbons at state fairs, few of us have intimate knowledge of the pumpkin outside of a can.

For that matter, few of us remember to enjoy the pumpkins delicious flesh any time other than the holidays…in a pie. These versatile, squash-like fruits can grow just about anywhere—no green thumb required. They are quite easy to prepare for cooking, and require minimal cooking skill.

One option is to peel the pumpkin of its thick outer skin, cut the flesh into chunks, and boil until tender (salt optional), or lightly toss with olive oil and roast. Another possibility it to slice the pumpkin in half, deseed it, and roast on a baking sheet (flesh-side down) with ¼ to ½ c. water in the pan (depending on the size of the pumpkin) for approximately an hour at 375°, until the flesh is tender. Once it is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scrape the flesh out.
Pumpkin flesh, besides being tasty, can be an excellent source of additional fiber to your diet. This low calorie food provides a healthy dose of potassium, as well as other minerals such as magnesium and calcium. It is a powerhouse for vitamin A, a powerful natural antioxidant found in orange and yellow foods. Pumpkin seeds are rife with nutrition, also full of those same important minerals, folate—a B vitamin crucial for healthy fetal development, and healthy poly & mono-unsaturated fatty acids.

So how else can you enjoy pumpkin, besides in a pie? You can add it to muffins and quick breads, but it also makes a delicious and filling addition to oatmeal or soups. Pumpkin pairs well with sweet seasonings and flavors (such as in that tasty pie), but it also pairs extremely well in a more savory dish, such as a curried soup, or roasted with herbs. A small amount of pumpkin can be added to dishes with stronger flavors for additional nutrients without overwhelming other flavors. Pumpkin seeds are a great go-anywhere snack; they’re also a tasty and nutritious addition to salads.

This year, don’t let your pumpkins go to waste. Get out your best carving knife and get started on pumpkin for dinner!

By Mandi Irwin, RD, LDN

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/list

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