The Great Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a super cool vegetable. Nutritionally cool, it’s full of carotene which is considered a provitamin because it can be converted to active vitamin A. It also has the antioxidant component of lutein and zeaxanthin which, along with vitamin A, provide nutritional support to our skin, as well as the eyes. They help to counteract the free radicals and molecules attacking the cell membranes. The University of Illinois reports one cup of pumpkin provides 2,650 IU, or international units, of vitamin A. That’s the daily suggested value for an average woman and just under the daily value suggested for an average man. One cup also carries 12 mg of vitamin C, 3 mg of vitamin E, 564 mg of potassium, 37 mg of calcium, 1 mg of niacin and 21 mcg of folate. Not bad, not bad at all.

Two of my favorite things about pumpkin are also two of the lesser known facts.

One: Pumpkin is a good friend to diabetics and insulin sensitive people, as well as to those watching their carbohydrates. This is because pumpkin has a very low glycemic load. It has a low energy density, meaning it offers few calories (50 calories per cup) but is dense in micro-nutrients, fiber and water, making it ideal for those watching the scale. It is a fantastic culinary tool for keeping insulin levels in check. Pumpkin offers a sweet flavor, making it great for guilt free delights on the sweet side.

Two: Yes you can eat it out of the can! Pumpkin retains its nutrient value even in the can, making it one of the few plant foods that gets the can pass along with beans. This means pumpkin’s esculent advantages are available year round. However, nothing beats the nutritional density or flavor of organic fresh pumpkin that has been roasted, (not boiled) before it is put to use. Read your labels and always select unsweetened and preferably organic canned pumpkin.

It is quite easy to put pumpkin to work in your kitchen. You can bypass the whole fresh pumpkin thing and reach for the can, but there is such culinary zen in exploring your food with all of your sensory skills. Last year I decorated with pie pumpkins up until about mid November when I plucked them from my front stoop, roasted them, cubed them for a risotto, pureed them for pumpkin soup, and created pies of course for our Thanksgiving feast. I had tons of puree left over of which I dated, weighed, and froze in convenient 1 quart bags. This fall I have been using that puree in delicious and satisfying smoothies for breakfasts and snacks pre-workout. I also take great pleasure in the gluten free cookies below. They make great breakfast cookies and low sugar snacks.

Roasting a pumpkin is fairly straight-forward. At which point you have endless options. The sweet flesh can be enjoyed solo, as a side, in a grain dish, a casserole or as a puree. Making a puree just takes one extra step that provides you with a new list of possible delights. But don’t forget about the seeds! Inside every pumpkin are many gifts that are high quality sources for zinc, protein, and healthy fats. These seeds make great workout fuel, snacks on the go, and are delicious over salads, garnishes for soups, etc. The best is pumpkin seed butter! All this requires is the seeds (hulled) in a food processor with a tablespoon of honey and a pinch of salt. One minute later you are in pumpkin heaven.  Many palatable treasures within one beautiful package are just a few things that make the pumpkin so great.

Roasting Pumpkin and Pumpkin Puree

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2 pie pumpkins cut length wise and seeded

Place on a cookie sheet and cook for an hour or until flesh is fork tender.

Cool pumpkin and scoop out flesh or peel off skin with a vegetable peeler and cube.

Puree flesh by placing a few cubes at at time in a food processor and process until smooth.

Roasting Pepitas

Seeds from carving or pie pumpkin, rinsed well and dried thoroughly on a paper towel (up to 24 hours)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Place thoroughly dried seeds in a bowl and drizzle with a 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, butter or olive oil and toss to coat evenly. Turn seeds out onto a cookie sheet and spread into a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with unrefined sea salt and/or black pepper. You can also sprinkle with a variety of any other favorite spices or none at all. Roast for 10-12 minutes or until fragrant and golden. Turn seeds over with a spatula after 5 or 6 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 banana

1 cup organic milk (I like ½ cup unsweetened coconut and ½ cup plain kefir)

1 tablespoon of maple syrup, sorghum, or raw agave nectar

½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 pinch of real cinnamon

1 tablespoon of powdered maca (optional of an extra boost of energy)

Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Enjoy!

Flourless Pumpkin-Pecan Cookies – makes 15-18 cookies

This recipe was one I found and adapted with diabetics in mind. Very low in sugar and gluten free.

2 medium ripe bananas

1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

2 tbs. coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1tbs. blackstrap molasses, agave nectar, sorghum, or honey

1 cup oats, (milled in a food processor until fine)

1/2 cup almond meal/flour

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1½ tsp.  ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1/3 cup cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, puree bananas, pumpkin, molasses, vanilla, and coconut oil until smooth. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Stir in milled oats, almond meal, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and ginger. Then fold in the pecans and cranberries.

Drop heaping tablespoons full of the dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake cookies for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cool completely before serving or storing. Cookies can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days. (Freeze for up to 1 month.)

Approximately 3 grams of sugar per cookie

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