A tastier alternative to jack-o’-lanterns

With Halloween looming at the end of October, pumpkins have formally arrived for their month in the spotlight.

Conspicuously resting in giant cardboard bins at your local produce section, pumpkins have transitioned from a delicious vegetable to a brief, smiley prop. This is a shame; there’s a whole meal waiting beneath the surface.

The orange color of a pumpkin tells you it’s overflowing with beta carotene. Pumpkins also have a relatively low caloric cost, and the seeds are a nutrient-rich, infinitely customizable snack.

So this year, don’t carve a pumpkin only to toss it out while you pick up a can of pumpkin purée — it’s time to have your jack-o’-lantern and eat it too.

Pumpkin preparation is fairly simple. If you’re carving the pumpkin for Halloween, scoop out the seeds as you normally would — an ice cream scoop or a large, wide spoon can especially come in handy. Run your hands through the mess of orange sinews to separate the seeds, place them in a strainer and rinse to finish the job.

To cook the pumpkin, begin by cutting it into quarters. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet, and put in a 400-degree oven for about an hour. The inside flesh should look soft and almost crumbly. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When cool, scrape the flesh from the shell and place in a blender and purée until smooth. Alternatively, mash the pumpkin with a potato masher. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Once you have your pumpkin ready, it’s time to decide what to make.

Coffee and Brown Sugar Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Social norms tell us to expect pumpkin seeds flavored only with a bit of salt and oil, but try these sweet seeds as a good way to stay awake during your next cram session.

You need:

½ Cup of pumpkin seeds

2 tsps. vanilla extract

2 tsps. instant coffee or espresso

4 tsps. brown sugar

1 egg white

Mix 2 teaspoons vanilla, 2 teaspoons coffee powder and 4 teaspoons brown sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg white. Pour some over the seeds, just so they are coated. You might not use all of the white.

Toss the seeds in the coffee mixture, making sure to coat thoroughly. Place on a baking sheet and put in a 275-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Pumpkin Waffles

Thinking beyond pie, the pumpkin lends itself especially well to waffles, a dish already familiar with pumpkin’s complementary flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

You need:

2 ½ Cups of flour

1/3 Cup brown sugar

2 ¼ tsps. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

2 tsps. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. ground cloves

4 large eggs

2 Cups buttermilk

1 Cup pumpkin puree

6 Tbs. melted butter

Cooking spray for the waffle       iron

Preheat the waffle iron. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through ground cloves) in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet.

Spray the waffle iron and spoon on the batter until it just covers the surface. Cook until the outside seems set — about five minutes.

Serve immediately, or keep warm in an oven heated to 250-degrees.


Peanut and Pumpkin Curry Soup

Contrary to popular belief, pumpkin goes great in savory recipes. After all, it is just another squash. A Thai-inspired recipe like this accentuates a pumpkin’s natural inclination toward sweet food while still posing as something you can eat as a main dish for dinner.

You need:

4 Tbs. crunchy peanut butter

1 tsps. tomato paste

The juice and zest of one lime

1 Tbs. Thai fish sauce (or alternatively soy sauce)

1 tsp. of sugar

A small handful of fresh cilantro, stems included

2 red chilies, halved and deseeded (keep the seeds for a spicier dish)

4 cloves of garlic

An inch of fresh ginger, peeled

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 red onions, cut into thin arcs

2 Cups pumpkin puree

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 16-ounce can of coconut milk

Stir the peanut butter into a bowl filled with a cup of hot water until it dissolves. Add the lime, fish or soy sauce and sugar, and set aside.

Pull the leaves off the cilantro and set aside. Finely chop the stems, along with the chilies, garlic and ginger.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions for a few minutes, until they begin to turn translucent. Add the pumpkin, cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the chili mixture and the dried spices. Cook for a minute. Add the coconut milk and peanut butter mixture. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the soup begins to thicken. Add soy sauce or salt to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves and serve over cooked rice.

So whether you blend it, bake it or just munch on its seeds, don’t let your pumpkin go to waste in favor of the canned and processed alternative.