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Pumpkins – More Than a Pie: the understated nutrient-dense seasonal favorite

By Calah Wesley

Autumn ushers in a myriad of emotions, from awe at the leaves’ colors across the spectrum to anticipation of the first flakes of snow. In the ever-consistent attempt to be present in the moment, let me share with you one of the most wonderful advantages cooler weather provides: pumpkins. Are you surprised? This humble, ground-grown winter squash variety has found its home in many a household adornment. Jack-O-Lanterns, gourd décor, stuffed blossoms, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, roasted pumpkin seeds, and of course, pumpkin pie. 

Early September through (occasionally) the end of November, pumpkins hold center stage in two major holidays. Reminiscent of nostalgia and tradition from each childhood, pumpkins have more to offer than the bright orange hue that coordinates the season. High in a-Carotene, B-Carotene and B-Cryptoxanthin pumpkins are filled with Carotenoids. Carotenoids are important to the body because they provide sources of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential to the very nature of the immune system. Think of cogs in a clock. The entire clock is your immune system, and Vitamin A is one of the cogs that make it possible for the clock to keep turning in a timely fashion (see what I did there?).

For the body to process and absorb Vitamin A, it requires fat. When you cook squash, add fat. “Good fats” (as my daughter would call them) such as coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil are wonderful options. Pumpkin also releases more nutrients for the body to absorb when cooked in ways such as steaming, roasting, or mashing. As you go through harvest season, consider adding pumpkin to your regimen as more than decoration. Not sure how? Allow me to share two of my favorite recipes that take advantage of every part of the pumpkin. 

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There are two reasons why I love these as much as I do, and my joy spills over to you. First, any recipe that can be customized for many dietary needs is high in my book, and this is that (win-win) already. Secondly, including my family in prepping/cooking/cleaning makes my heart full, and this recipe has every opportunity for little hands to help. The fat from this comes from the olive oil, and if you are dairy-free, you can easily substitute nutritional yeast for parmesan cheese. Have I piqued your interest yet? Try these at home and comment if you do; I hope this little trick increases your Autumn nutrition and puts a smile on your face.

Taken from the Hello Fresh blog, Creamy Roasted Pumpkin Soup: 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Large Pumpkin, quartered with seeds removed
  • 4 Small Pumpkins (for bowls, if desired)
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 6 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Small Shallots, chopped
  • 1 Teaspoon Chopped Fresh Thyme
  • 1 Cup Coconut Milk
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg
  • Pinch Crushed Red Pepper
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds and pesto, for garnish
  • Instructions:
  • Preheat oven to 375ºF. Place pumpkin quarters on a baking sheet, and rub the flesh with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Once cool, scoop out roasted pumpkin into a food processor. Purée with 1 cup chicken stock until smooth.
  • Add butter to pot over medium heat. Once bubbling, add shallots and sauté until soft, 4-6 minutes. Add thyme and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds. Add pumpkin purée, remaining stock, coconut milk, water, cayenne, nutmeg, and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes.
  • While soup is simmering, toss pumpkin seeds in oil, salt, and chipotle chili powder. Bake until golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Some may pop — that’s okay!
  • To make roasted pumpkin bowls, remove tops of small pumpkins and scoop out seeds. Rub insides with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake until soft to the touch but still sturdy, 25-30 minutes.
  • Ladle soup into pumpkin bowls and top with a drizzle of coconut milk, a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds, and a dollop of pesto.  

Adapted from Ashley at Helping Hands OT, Easy Blender Pesto Made with Pumpkin Seeds:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches)
  • 1 cup of spinach or 4-5 leaves of kale
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (this one is good)
  • 1/2 cup organic sprouted pumpkin seeds (alternatively you can use pinenuts, almonds or cashews)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions:

  • In a high-speed blender or food processor, process your garlic cloves, a pinch of sea salt and a dash of olive oil to get things started.
  • Then, add in the basil, olive oil, lemon juice, greens of choice and the pumpkin seeds and pulse until combined, pushing the ingredients down when needed.
  • Add in the remaining salt and cheese. The cheese will flavor the pesto mostly, you don’t need to add much salt.   Enjoy!

Resources:
https://blog.hellofresh.com/pumpkin-soup-recipe/
https://helpinghandsot.com/blog/2020/3/22/easy-blender-pesto-made-with-pumpkin-seeds-kid-friendy-gf

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