Elena Holmes, Nutritionist
It is that time of the year. Orange. No escaping it. Orange leaves on the trees and orange pumpkins on doorsteps, walls, shop counters, porches, and windowsills.
Leaves fall to rot on the ground, and the ‘used’ pumpkins are tossed into a compost pile (if they are lucky), or just chucked into the garbage. But there is a much, so much better way to ‘recycle’ this used Halloween paraphernalia – to eat it!
The pumpkin as well as its close relatives, such as butternut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash – to name just a few – is the fruit of a Cucurbita or Gourd family plant, originating from North America. Pumpkins were a staple food of Native Americans, who also used them as medicine and weaved the strips of dried pumpkins into mats. Later, pumpkins became an important component of the early settlers’ diet. It is true that pumpkins are considered to be vegetables, but, strictly speaking, they are berries. Berries that can exceed 1 tonne in weight! 1,190.49kg (2,624.6lb) – such was the weight of a pumpkin grown in Germany, which joined the Guinness record book in 2016 as the World’s heaviest pumpkin. Not bad for a berry, huh? Trick or Treat for you: is the cucumber from the Cucurbita family? Of course it is – this is where the cucumber gets its name from. Other members of this vast, wholesome and colourful family are courgettes, marrows, melons, watermelons, pattypan squashes, ornamental gourds, and a multitude of others. The pumpkin is a goldmine of carotenoids (precursors of vitamin A), which also give it that bright and appetising golden orange colour; vitamins C, B1 and fibre.
Notwithstanding these nutritional benefits, pumpkins are the best allies for those who want to reduce their calorie intake without noticeably reducing portions – 100g of cooked pumpkin contain 94.5g of water and only 12kcal/52kJ. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are also very rich in carotenoids, which, in this case, contribute to the dark green colour of the seeds, and fibre.
The seeds are a good source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), iron, magnesium, zinc, and tryptophan – an amino acid, which in the body is converted into serotonin, a ‘happiness’ hormone. There is no end to the versatility of these vegetables: you can make soups, casseroles, stews, breads, purees, dumplings, and pies with them. Or simply peel, chop, and roast them in the oven, sprinkle with EVO (Extra Virgin Olive) or coconut oil (not only for taste, but for better absorption of the beta-carotene as well), salt and pepper or cinnamon – and you have an appetising and nutritious starter. Pumpkins also come alive with herbs, such as coriander, thyme, sage, and rosemary. Raw or lightly toasted pumpkin seeds can be eaten as a snack, used in multi-seed energy bars or sprinkled on porridge, salads, and soups.
Pumpkin seed oil is widely used in the Oriental cuisine and can be a delicious and subtle tasting addition to many salads. In Korean cuisine the leaves of a certain type of pumpkin are used as a spring-roll type of wrap. And did you know that you can eat pumpkin flowers as well? Just cover them in batter made from chickpea flour, water and (optional) a pinch of salt, and briefly fry them in olive oil until crunchy. And why not follow the early American settlers’ example and cook stews, casseroles, and even soups using the whole pumpkin as an oven pot? (The settlers used the hot ashes of a fading fire.) A big pumpkin is perfect as a single pot for a family meal – provided you do not plan to give it away to Cinderella to use it as a means of transport ;) – and small buttercup or butternut squashes, or colourful stripy Carnival pumpkins, are excellent for one-portion pots. How cool is that!
My favourite warming, comforting, dense and mightily nutritious pumpkin, lentil and millet soup
100g red split lentils
80g millet (or you can use quinoa, if preferred)
400-450g peeled and chopped pumpkin or butternut squash
1 red bell pepper
1 medium-size onion
6-7 dried porcini (or any other) mushrooms
4-5 tablespoons of tomato pasteFresh rosemary, turmeric, black pepper, hot chillies – to taste
Salt (or soy sauce)
Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds to serve
Soak the mushrooms in water for 20 minutes, then drain and chop them. Trim and dice the bell pepper and the onion. Thoroughly rinse the millet and the lentils. Put all the ingredients except the oil and salt/soy sauce into a pot, cover with boiling water and cook covered on a low heat for approx. 25 minutes, occasionally checking for water levels and adding more hot water if necessary.
When cooked, transfer into a food processor, put in some salt, blend until smooth, add a couple of tablespoons of EVO oil and sprinkle some toasted pumpkin seeds on top. Enjoy!
Here is the link to the Yorkshire Times, where the blog appeared as well.