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Must Pumpkin Always Be Pie?

By Patti Bess

History books tell us that the Native Americans brought pumpkins as gifts to the first Thanks-giving at Plymouth Rock; but pumpkin pie, as we know it, was probably not on the menu. Early Pilgrim recipes called for whole baked pumpkin stuffed with the wild apples and cranberries of the region. The northeastern Native Americans taught the colonists many uses for the ubiquitous pumpkin. It became one of the foods that sustained them during the early, difficult years in the New World.

The Pilgrims were fond of meat pies - common dishes in their native England. They also loved the spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and salt - that they were accustomed to in their homeland. So when the colonies became affluent enough to begin trading with other countries, spices were one of the first things they imported. Though we don't really know, we can guess that it was at that point in history when the pumpkin and the Pilgrims' love of pies came together and an American tradition was born!

In this country we use the pumpkin largely for pies and other desserts, but in various countries around the world it is used in savory dishes as well. Curried pumpkin is often served in Thailand. Spicy pumpkin-based soups are common in the West Indies. Pumpkin is often paired with beans throughout South and Central America. And if you visited a local vegetable market in central Europe or southern Spain, a chunk of pumpkin might be included in the soup greens you purchased.

Pumpkin is a highly nutritious food deserving of more culinary attention. It contains over 52,000 International Units of vitamin A per cup and is a good source of minerals and fiber. It has some very desirable cooking properties, as you will see in the recipes that follow. Best of all, you don't even need a fairy godmother to transform the versatile pumpkin into a variety of delectable dishes.

PURCHASING:It's best not to buy pumpkins that resemble Cinderella's coach or a perfect jack-o-lantern. These are called field pumpkins. They are edible but are not the best choice. Pumpkin varieties grown specifically for cooking are called "pie" or "sugar" pumpkins. They have a smaller seed cavity, more flesh, and are less stringy. Your natural foods grocer or local vegetable market will most likely have the best selection. It is easy to recognize them because they are smaller, heavier, and have thicker stems.

STORAGE: The pumpkin stores well for up to five months if kept in a cool dry place or root cellar. Pumpkin puree freezes well. If pumpkin is not available, winter squash will substitute in most recipes.

PREPARATION: Preparing pumpkin is very simple. Try making enough to use and some to freeze. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pumpkin in half and wash. Scrape out seeds and thready pulp. Bake skin-side-up on a cookie sheet or cake pan until pumpkin is tender enough to pierce with a fork - about 45 minutes. To keep pumpkin from drying out, cover loosely with foil or use a cake pan fitted with a wire rack and add a small amount of water. Cool and peel skin off with a paring knife. To puree use a food processor or a potato masher. One pound of pumpkin will yield about one cup of puree.

Recipes

LEMONY LENTILS WITH PUMPKIN
(Serves 4-6)

This recipe and the ones following ask you to peel raw pumpkin. Sounds intimidating! Actually, I found it to be quite easy. Simply cut off a portion of pumpkin that is easy to hold in your hand and peel the skin with a sharp paring knife.

1 medium onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
1 cup lentils
3 cups vegetable broth or water
3/4 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup sliced scallions

In a large saucepan add the onions, lentils, and broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover the pan. Simmer the lentils, stirring them occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add the pumpkin, lemon juice, parsley, ginger, salt, pepper, and cumin, stirring to combine the ingredients well. Cover the pan and cook the mixture until pumpkin is tender (about 20-25 minutes). Before serving, toss the mixture with the scallions.

Total Calories Per Serving: 208
Fat: 1 gram

PUMPKIN WITH BLACK BEANS
(Serves 4)

Here's a unique dish.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 cups cooked black beans or equivalent, canned
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
3 green onions, sliced

In a large non-stick frying pan, heat oil. Add onion, garlic, and pumpkin and sauté until the onion is softened. Add sherry and broth and simmer until the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork, about 8 minutes.

Add the beans, salt, cumin, and thyme; continue to simmer until the beans are heated through.

Garnish with green onions.

Total Calories Per Serving: 175
Fat: 2 grams

BRAISED PUMPKIN
(Serves 4-6)

This dish is quick to prepare.

1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon apple juice
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
2 cups peeled and coarsely shredded pumpkin
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Salt (optional)
4 green onions, sliced

In a large non-stick frying pan, add the broth, soy sauce, apple juice, onions, pumpkin, and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer for 10-12 minutes. Add salt if you prefer and garnish with green onions.

Total Calories Per Serving: 46
Fat: less than 1 gram

CREAM OF TOMATO AND PUMPKIN SOUP
(Serves 6-8)

The pureed pumpkin in this soup lends such a rich, smooth texture that it's nearly impossible to tell there is no cream in it. The radiant color makes it a beautiful first course for any holiday feast. (And it tastes great!!)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
One 28-ounce can stewed tomatoes (no spices added)
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
4 cups pumpkin or butternut squash puree
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add onion and saute until limp, but not browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in 3 cups of the stock, and let simmer, partially covered, about 15 minutes.

Pour tomatoes and maple syrup into the food processor and puree. Add to pot above.

Add the pumpkin and remaining 1 cup stock. Season with the pepper and salt to taste. Reheat.

Garnish with finely chopped chives.

Total Calories Per Serving: 129
Fat: 2 grams

STUFFED PUMPKIN
(Serves 6 to 8)

Having guests for Thanksgiving? This dramatic main dish was a hit with all my guests last year, even the ones who were not vegetarian.

1 medium-size pie pumpkin (about 6-8 pounds )
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 medium-large eggplant
Salt to taste
1 cup basmati rice
3-1/4 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 small carrots, sliced
1-2 small zucchinis, quartered and sliced
1-1/4 cups cooked kidney beans (canned are okay)
1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon each oregano and thyme
2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 scallions, sliced
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a circle out of the top of the pumpkin (leaving the stem intact). Carefully scrape out all the seeds and thready pulp. Wash out inside. Make a marinade with 1 tablespoon each of the lemon juice and soy sauce. Rub on the inside of the pumpkin. Bake pumpkin for 30 minutes at 400 degrees and cover with aluminum foil to keep it moist. Wash the eggplant and slice it crosswise with 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle the slices with salt on both sides and allow them to sit for 20 to 30 minutes as the excess water seeps out. (This will help the eggplant not to absorb so much oil when cooked.)

In a medium-size saucepan, cook the rice in 3 cups of the broth over medium heat for 30 minutes with the chopped onion and garlic. While the rice is cooking, assemble the carrots, zucchinis, cooked kidney beans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and herbs for the stuffing.

Rinse and pat eggplant dry. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté the eggplant for about 10 minutes. Turn flame to low and add the scallions, black pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce. Immediately cover, and steam for 1-2 minutes.

Add the cooked rice and eggplant to the stuffing mixture. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of vegetable broth and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Stuff the pumpkin and replace the lid. Bake in the preheated oven (400 degrees) for 1 hour, or until the pumpkin is soft to the touch.

Total Calories Per Serving: 322 Fat: 13 grams

Patti A. Bess is a freelance writer from Grass Valley, California.


About The Vegetarian Journal and The Vegetarian Resource Group

This article originally appeared in the September/October, 1995 issue of The Vegetarian Journal, published by:
The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343
E-mail: vrg@vrg.org
WHAT IS THE VEGETARIAN RESOURCE GROUP?

Our health professionals, activists, and educators work with businesses and individuals to bring about healthy changes in your school, workplace, and community. Registered dietitians and physicians aid in the development of nutrition-related publications and answer member and media questions about vegetarian diets. The Vegetarian Resource Group is a non-profit organization. Financial support comes primarily from memberships, contributions, and book sales.

The contents of this article, as with all The Vegetarian Resource Group publications, is not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

This article may be reproduced for non-commercial use intact and with credit given to The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Copyright 1995 by The Vegetarian Resource Group.




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