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The Power Of Pumpkin: Thinking Past Pie

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By Deirdre Imus
If there is one thing it is nearly impossible for any American to avoid this time of year, its pumpkins. Whether carved to adorn your front yard or peeled and chopped to enhance a favorite fall recipe, pumpkin orange is the color du jour. But this round squash derivative holds much more value than spooking neighborhood kids, or spicing your latte.  From seeds to rind, pumpkins are not only a delicious treat, but a healthy one too.

 

Thinking Past Pie

Pumpkin pie is a staple on most Thanksgiving tables, but it’s just one example of pumpkin’s power to make any dish pop. Let’s start from the inside out: pumpkin seeds are considered by the World Health Organization to be a valued source of the mineral zinc, which boosts immune function – an especially important quality as we head into cold and flu season. Pumpkin seeds are also known for having a diverse array of antioxidants, which may help decrease cancer risk.

 

Now, what to do with these special spores? Scoop the seeds out of the pumpkin’s pulp, rinse in a colander under cold water, lay them on parchment paper to dry for 10 minutes, and roast at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes. The Food Network suggests coating them with some oil and salt, or cayenne and smoked paprika, or cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. You really can’t go wrong! (recipes here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/photos/reinvented-pumpkin-seeds-5-ways.html) The toasted seeds can also be chopped and added to any salad for some extra crunch.

 

Use the pumpkin pulp to make your own puree in a food processor or blender.  This is not only an easy, cost-effective option, it also means you don’t need canned pumpkin – which, like most canned foods, is unfortunately lined with bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical that has been linked to reproductive disorders, heart disease, and diabetes, and other health problems.  Pumpkin is full of vitamins and is one of the best known sources of the antioxidant beta carotene, which can reduce cancer risk. Don’t slash pumpkin’s amazing powers by using the canned variety! Buy it fresh, make your own puree, and use it in pies, cookies, soups, breads, or any other preferred delicacy.

 

Like other squashes, pumpkin has savory applications as well. It can be peeled, cubed, and roasted with olive oil, salt, and cumin, a small, iron-rich seed that can be ground up and sprinkled on top to give pumpkin (or any dish) an earthy, well-rounded flavor.  It’s a great side dish, or can be tossed into pasta too.

 

Rather than discard the pumpkin skin, turn it into a crispy, chip-like treat. After scrubbing it well, cut the skin off the pumpkin in long, thin slices. Toss with kosher salt and a little bit of olive oil, then bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. (recipe here: http://www.homegrownfun.com/how-to-make-pumpkin-crisps-fries-roasted-seeds-and-smores/) voila! It prevents any part of the pumpkin from going to waste, plus pumpkin skin contains antibacterial properties that may help keep yeast infections at bay in children and adults.

 

Speaking of skin – pumpkin is well-regarded for its ability to prevent wrinkles and age spots. Make a pumpkin face mask by whisking a quarter-cup of pumpkin puree with a whole egg. If you have dry skin, add some honey. For oily skin, mix in some apple cider or cranberry juice. Spread this sweet-smelling potion on your face, kick back and relax for 20 minutes, then wash off and enjoy your soft, smooth complexion. (recipe for face mask here:http://www.popsugar.com/beauty/Homemade-Pumpkin-Mask-Recipe-5452160) Plus, the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you get from eating pumpkin will help support your skin’s health, too!

 

The opportunities for pumpkin-related creativity in the kitchen are numerous and delicious – but only while it lasts! Depending on where you live, pumpkins are only in season for another few weeks. Seize the day – or, more appropriately, seize a pumpkin or three. Rather than scare your family with a jack o’lantern face, blow their minds with a homemade pumpkin delight.

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