Think Outside the Pie Plate
If you’ve never eaten pumpkin except in a pie, you’re in for a treat with these savory pumpkin side dishes. In the U.S., pumpkin is most commonly used in desserts and sweets like pumpkin pie, cookies, and cake. But in many parts of the world, pumpkin is a staple ingredient, commonly used in main dishes and sides, and eaten at all meals throughout the day. It’s time to get familiar with the many ways you can use fresh and canned pumpkin to make meals more delicious and nutritious this fall.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
According to Medical News Today, like many brightly colored orange vegetables, pumpkin packs a beta carotene punch, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of certain cancers, and may also help improve blood pressure and prevent diabetes. Pumpkin is thought to contribute to healthier hair and skin, and the fiber in pumpkin promotes digestion and regular bowel movements, which may offer some protection against colon cancer. In short, pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse that deserves a place at the table this season.
Pumpkin side dishes pair perfectly with many kinds of meat, poultry, and the heartier fare we tend to enjoy in the fall. Herbs like rosemary and thyme bring out the best in pumpkin, complementing its rich, earthy flavor. Pumpkin also pairs well with beans and legumes, making it an ideal base for many vegetarian dishes, too. If you enjoy creating your own recipes, consider substituting pumpkin in any recipe calling for hard, winter squash like acorn or butternut. Whether you choose to cook with fresh or canned pumpkin will be determined by the amount of prep you’re willing to do, and whether you want to enjoy hearty chunks of roasted pumpkin or creamier fare like a puree or pasta sauce.
Cooking with Fresh Pumpkin
There are many varieties of fresh pumpkin that can be used for cooking, although all varieties many not be available in your area. Gardening Know How offers a convenient list of some of the most popular pumpkin varieties, including Jack Be Little, Cinderella, the white Lumina pumpkin, and the heirloom Peanut pumpkin. Ask your grocer or farmers market seller for a recommendation, depending on what you intend to make.
It’s easy to choose just the right pumpkin for cooking.
- Smaller is better. Look for pumpkins that weigh about 4-8 lbs. The larger varieties are best for carving.
- Look for pumpkins with firm, unblemished shells. Steer clear of any with soft spots or bruises.
Prepare fresh pumpkin as you would any other hard winter squash. Always wash the pumpkin before slicing through the rind. Cut off the top, cut into halves or quarters. Scrape the stringy flesh and remove the seeds. If you like, pumpkin seeds can be cleaned, then salted and roasted on a baking sheet for a crunchy snack. Otherwise, discard the strings and seeds, and follow your recipe from there.
Canned Pumpkin for Easy Prep
Libby’s is a top choice when it comes to canned pumpkin, whether it’s pre-sweetened, flavored pumpkin pie mix or pure pumpkin for cooking. It’s also the easiest brand to find in nearly any store. Be sure to buy 100% pure pumpkin for savory pumpkin side dishes, rather than pie mix. Libby’s offers organic pure pumpkin, too.
Canned pumpkin is easy to use and eliminates the need for cleaning and prepping, so you’ll save some time in the kitchen. Use it for soups, purees, sauces, and more. You’re limited only by your imagination and sense of culinary adventure!
Whichever recipes you choose, do give pumpkin a try this fall. You’ll be surprised how easily you can adapt any recipe calling for winter squash to make use of this healthful, abundant vegetable.
Fresh Pumpkin Recipes
Spicy Roasted Pumpkin
Curried Pumpkin with Caramelized Onions
Recipes Using Pumpkin Puree
Jacques Pepin’s Pumpkin Gratin