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Healthy recipes > cooking & nutrition tips >

pumpkin power

By Madhu Gadia, M.S., R.D.
Photos by Jason Donnelly
Food styling by Greg Luna

Low in fat and calories, high in fiber, and loaded with antioxidants, pumpkins have uses beyond jack-o’-lanterns and holiday pies. Their wholesome flavor and inviting color complement dishes from soups and salads to sweets.

Pumpkins are packed with vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as minerals including magnesium, potassium, and iron. Their bright orange color is a clear sign that they contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant. Several studies show that eating fruits and vegetables containing beta-carotene reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers.

Fresh from the Patch
Pumpkins come in many shapes, colors, and sizes, ranging from those that can sit in the palm of your hand to gigantic 100-pound varieties. Here’s how to use a fresh pumpkin.

To select a pumpkin, look carefully at the stem area. If you see cracks and soft spots, avoid it.

For cooking, choose a small pumpkin—typically 2 to 6 pounds. They’re labeled as sugar or sweet pumpkins and are higher in natural sugar than decorating types. To pick the right size, consider that a 5-pound pumpkin yields about 1-3⁄4 cups pulp, which is equal to a 15-ounce can of pumpkin.

Pumpkins can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. Pumpkin pulp can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.

There are two ways to prepare fresh pumpkin—first cut, then cook; or first cook, then cut.

To cut first: Carefully remove the stem end with a sturdy knife. Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the membranes and seeds. Cut the halves into wedges, then peel the wedges and cut the pulp into chunks. Boil or braise the pumpkin chunks in small amounts of water; if desired, puree the pulp in a blender until smooth.

To cook first: Carefully poke the pumpkin with a knife in three or four places to vent. Put the whole pumpkin in the oven at 350°F for 1 hour or until you can easily stick a knife into it. Or microwave it on high for 5 to 10 minutes or until tender. (If the whole pumpkin does not fit in your microwave, cut it into halves or quarters.) Let the pumpkin cool, then cut it in half. Remove the seeds and membranes with a spoon and tongs. Scoop tender pulp from the rind. If desired, puree the pulp in a blender until smooth.

Use cooked pulp in cakes, quick breads, and muffins for added moistness, tenderness, and natural sweetness. By using pumpkin, you may be able to cut some fat and sugar from your recipe.

Many recipes that use pumpkin also use butter and eggs, which makes them high in cholesterol and saturated fat. For great-tasting, reduced-fat baked goods, try substituting oil for butter (or use less butter) and use egg whites or egg substitutes.

Use spices such as clove, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg to enhance the pumpkin flavor.

Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are high in potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium, and chromium. To turn the seeds into a tasty snack or salad topper, wash them and remove all the stringy membranes, then toss them with a little oil and roast them. Shelled pumpkin seeds, available at natural food stores, can be used in recipes for a crunchy, nutty flavor and texture.

Continued on Page 2 : Pumpkin Recipes

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