Healthy Eating: Delicious recipes for nutrient-rich pumpkin

Far too often relegated to Halloween doorstep décor and overused as a coffee drink marketing device (think Pumpkin Spice Latte), pumpkin and all its health benefits deserve so much more. Pumpkin calories clock in at just 49 per cup of purée, plus that serving sneaks in 3 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein, and a whopping 250 percent of your daily value of vitamin A. Together this puts it on top the ranks of one of fall’s most nutritious foods. Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, pumpkin is incredibly healthy.

To put this  into perspective: one cup of pumpkin contains more vitamin A than a cup of kale, more potassium than a banana, and more fiber than 1⁄2 cup of quinoa. Its nutrients and antioxidants may boost your immune system, protect your eyesight, lower your risk of certain cancers and promote heart and skin health.

Right now the markets are overflowing with pumpkins, so here are some delicious ways to use the bounty of this autumn crop.

Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
2½ pounds pumpkin, quartered and seeded
1 yellow onion, diced
2 parsnips, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus more if needed
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more if needed

Instructions

In a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, the allspice, ¼ teaspoon of the cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon of the cardamom. Rub the spice mixture into the cut sides of the pumpkin. Place the seasoned pumpkin on the prepared baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife.

While the pumpkin is roasting, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat, then add the onion, parsnips, and ¼ teaspoon salt and sauté until golden and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the remaining ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, the remaining ¼ teaspoon of cardamom, and the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds more. Pour in 1 cup of the broth to deglaze the pot, stirring to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom. Remove from the heat and set aside. When the pumpkin has cooled to the touch, scoop the flesh into the pot with the vegetable mixture.

Put one-third of the remaining broth and one-third of the vegetables into a blender and blend until smooth, adding more liquid as needed. Transfer to a soup pot over low heat and repeat the process two more times. Stir in a ½ teaspoon salt and the lemon juice. Taste it and you may want to add another spritz of lemon juice or pinch of salt.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour*
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
½ cup almond milk (or any milk)
½ cup cane sugar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 eggs**
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8×4 inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, almond milk, sugar, olive oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and stir until just combined. Don’t overmix.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes clean and the top springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Pumpkin Muffins

Ingredients
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
1/3 cup melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 cup milk of choice (I used almond milk)
2 teaspoons pumpkin spice blend (or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, and ¼ teaspoon ground allspice or cloves)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats, plus more for sprinkling on top

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If necessary, grease all 12 cups of your muffin tin with butter or non-stick cooking spray or use paper inserts.

In a large bowl, beat the oil and maple syrup or honey together with a whisk. Add the eggs, and beat well. Add the pumpkin purée, milk, pumpkin spice blend, baking soda, vanilla extract and salt.

Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined (a few lumps are ok). If you’d like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit, fold them in now.

Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with about a tablespoon of oats, followed by a light sprinkle of raw sugar and/or pumpkin spice blend if you’d like. Bake muffins for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack to cool. These muffins are delicate until they cool down. You might need to run a butter knife along the outer edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan.

These muffins will keep at room temperature for up to two days, or in the refrigerator for up to four days. They keep well in the freezer in a freezer-safe bag for up to three months (just defrost individual muffins as needed).

Notes:

*Oil options: I love coconut oil here. I used unrefined coconut oil and can hardly taste it in the final product. Olive oil might lend an herbal note to the muffins. Vegetable oil has a neutral flavor but the average vegetable/canola oil is highly processed, so I recommend using cold-pressed sunflower oil or grapeseed oil if possible.

**Flour alternatives: White whole wheat flour works great, if you can find it. Whole wheat pastry flour yields extra light and fluffy muffins that are delicate until cooled. All-purpose flour and gluten-free all-purpose flour blends work as well.

**Change it up: You could really go crazy with add-ins here. After stirring in the flour and oats, gently fold in up to 3/4 cup chocolate chips, chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts, and/or some chopped dried cranberries or crystallized ginger.

Make it dairy free: Simply use your non-dairy milk of choice.

Make it gluten free: Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose blend works well instead of the whole wheat flour.

Make it oat free: Simply omit the oats. No other changes necessary.

Make it lower in fat: This bread contains a healthy amount of fat, but you can replace the oil with applesauce if you’re following a low-fat diet. Choosing olive oil instead of coconut oil will reduce the saturated fat content; total fat content will remain the same.

— By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at jaideborah@yahoo.com.