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Power to the Pumpkin: Nourish Body and Soul with the ‘People's Squash’

Try these global recipes—from pumpkin bowls to muffins that ‘pop’



A US classic with a healthy twist—pumpkin pie garnished with pecans, pepitas. ©Whitestorm/istock
A US classic—pumpkin pie with whipped cream. ©Anna Shepulova

Pumpkin is truly a global favorite for its deep cultural roots, thick creamy texture, earthy taste, and nourishing, calming touch. Ready for pumpkin immersion? It’s all here, cucurbit lovers.

Why Pumpkin Says ‘Autumn’

Nothing says “fall is here” more than a variety of pumpkins arranged on the porch, in the entryway, as a table centerpiece, or piled up at a farmer’s market. But—to no one’s surprise—pumpkins are not just for décor. Properly stored, many varieties of pumpkins can be kept for three months to a year, giving one the opportunity to use this beneficial food well into the new year. Cultivated and available globally, pumpkin is a tasty and nutritious food.

Botanically categorized as fruit, pumpkins are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with other squash like zucchini and butternut. There are about 150 varieties of pumpkins, so put aside thoughts that orange jack-o-lanterns are THE pumpkin.

Pumpkins come in many shapes, sizes, and peel colors that can range from white, beige, pink, orange, green, blue, or black, along with multi-colored varieties with stripes, spots, and splotches. The peel can also be smooth, ribbed, nubbly, warty, blistered, knobby, or veined and pumpkin seeds vary in size and texture, as well. Throw in the colors, flavors, and textures of the inner flesh of pumpkins, and it’s little wonder that pumpkin offers a multitude of global culinary delights.


Pumpkin varieties come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.  ©Zentner/Pixabay
Pumpkin varieties come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. ©Zentner/Pixabay
Giant pumpkin at a county fair in California.  ©Nick Ares /Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0
Giant pumpkin at a county fair in California. ©Nick Ares /Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Delicious and Good for You


The bright orange flesh of pumpkins carries lots of beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A. This essential vitamin helps fight infections, keeps skin and bones healthy, preserves vision, regulates cell growth, and reduces inflammation. One cup of pumpkin provides more than 200% of the recommended daily allowance. Other immune-boosters that pumpkin provides include vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and folate. And pumpkin is also loaded with potassium, which has been shown in studies to regulate blood pressure, and lower risk of stroke, kidney stones, and type 2 diabetes.


Bowl Them Over with Pumpkin


Taiwan—Pouring fruit puree into a pumpkin bowl.  ©Pietro Jeng/Pexels
Taiwan—Pouring fruit puree into a pumpkin bowl. ©Pietro Jeng/Pexels

Besides the classic pumpkin pie and roasted pumpkin seeds, recipes abound for pumpkin that is pickled, candied, pureed, fried, stewed, and baked. Whole pumpkins, seeds removed, can be filled with a wide variety of ingredients and then baked, providing a charming presentation in a pumpkin bowl. Try this meal in a pumpkin recipe for starters and then imagine the soups, rice dishes, and casseroles that could be baked in—and served in—a scrumptious pumpkin. Cheesy spinach and pasta in a pumpkin bowl screams appétissant! in this French onion gruyere bake.


Another delightful way to serve pumpkin bowls is to bake the pumpkin first and then serve it hot or chilled, depending on what it will hold.


Take A Global Pumpkin Recipe Tour


Since pumpkin is enjoyed worldwide in a variety of daily and holiday dishes—from full meals to side dishes to desserts—come take a trip around the globe to sample some pumpkin delectations!


A favorite in the US—pumpkin/walnut quick bread.  ©Cphackm/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0
A favorite in the US—pumpkin/walnut quick bread. ©Cphackm/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Nigerian woman (left) preparing dish called ugu from gourd leaf (right).  ©Raji Rasheed Seyi/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0 (left) / Wikimedia Public domain (right)
Nigerian woman (left) preparing dish called ugu from gourd leaf (right). ©Raji Rasheed Seyi/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0) (left) / Wikimedia Public domain (right)

Armenia

Ghapama is a stuffed, baked pumpkin filled with buttery rice; dried plums, apricots, and cherries; raisins; cinnamon; honey; and nuts. It’s a festive dish that is filled with heartwarming nutrients.


Ghapama—Stuffed Armenian pumpkin. (See recipe below).  ©AndyHM/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Ghapama—Stuffed Armenian pumpkin. (See recipe below). ©AndyHM/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

China

More pumpkins are grown and eaten in China than any other country. Pumpkin dumplings, pumpkin fried with salted egg yolk, and the crunchy and gooey dessert of fried pumpkin cakes are just a few ways pumpkin makes it to the table in China.


China—a savory stuffed pumpkin bowl.  ©Fullfin666/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)
China—a savory stuffed pumpkin bowl. ©Fullfin666/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

India

India is the second largest producer of pumpkins and they are used as an important staple in Indian cuisine. A key ingredient in many holiday dishes, pumpkin also finds its way into every day dishes such as pumpkin flatbread, curries, fritters, and pumpkin sabzi, which is slow cooked with spices and has many variations.


Japan

Pumpkin muffins.  ©Luca Nebuloni/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)
Pumpkin muffins. ©Luca Nebuloni/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

These uniquely spiced Curry Kabocha Crumble Muffins have Japanese curry powder in addition to cinnamon and nutmeg and a crumbly crisp topping that includes oranges, coconut, and brown sugar. Truly a sweet and savory treat.


Mexico

The smell of this candied pumpkin dessert slow cooking in a large pot on the stove for hours promises to warm the heart and create anticipation for the sweet treat to come.


South Africa

Made as a dessert with cinnamon and sugar or as a savory dish with venison or ham, these pumpkin fritters are a comfort food that combines sweet and spicy.


Korea—pumpkin leaf kimchi (left), pumpkin latte (right).  ©홍콩스타 Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0) / Stephane Tampigny/Wikimedia (CC0)
Korea—pumpkin leaf kimchi (left), pumpkin latte (right). ©홍콩스타 Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)(left) / Stephane Tampigny/Wikimedia (CC0)(right)

Two Simple Side Dishes


It’s also fine to simply cook and eat the pumpkin! It works great as a side dish or a simple lunch.


Roasted Pumpkin

Cut a pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Slice pumpkin into wedges and drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast in a 400 ⁰F oven for about 25 minutes or until tender.


Roasted pumpkin wedges with oil, spices.  ©GWphotograph/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Roasted pumpkin wedges with oil, spices. ©GWphotograph/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Don’t forget to save and roast the pumpkin seeds because they are packed with protein, fiber, minerals, and healthy fats.


Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Scoop out pulp, stringy fibers, and raw seeds from a pumpkin. Place in a colander and separate seeds from pulp (as much as possible). Place seeds between towels to remove excess moisture.


Toss the seeds in a bowl with olive oil and seasonings of choice. (Popular seasoning combinations include salt, garlic powder, and paprika; or spice it up with salt, pepper, and chili powder; or go sweet with maple sugar and cinnamon.)


Spread the seeds evenly on a lightly greased cookie sheet and roast at 350 °F for about 15 minutes, stirring the seeds now and then for even browning. They are done when golden brown. (Note that large seeds may take twice as long to get crispy. When in doubt, take one out, cool it a bit, and taste test!)


Peach sauteed with pumpkin seeds.  ©Free-images/Pixabay
Peach sauteed with pumpkin seeds. ©Free-images/Pixabay
Pumpkin ravioli garnished with pumpkin seeds.  ©jenifoto/istock
Pumpkin ravioli garnished with pumpkin seeds. ©jenifoto/istock

In 2022, researchers from around the world published a review summarizing the relevant literature that highlights the health benefits of pumpkin including the seeds, flesh, and peel. See the article from the National Library of Medicine for a deep dive into the Nutritional Value, Phytochemical Potential, and Therapeutic Benefits of Pumpkin.


Soon, the sight of a beautiful pile of pumpkins in all sorts of shapes and colors can take on a whole new meaning: Don’t just think décor, think dinner!

©Rodney Campbell/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)
©Rodney Campbell/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)
 

*Julie Peterson is a freelance journalist based in the Midwest region of the US who has written hundreds of articles on natural approaches to health, environmental issues, and sustainable living.

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