Pumpkins. Around this time of year, they are everywhere. But aside from jack-o-lantern’s, pumpkin spice lattes, and pumpkin pie, how much do they really factor in your life? If you’re like me, every Fall you think: “oh wouldn’t it be great to do something MORE with pumpkins this year,” only to have made no progress by the time the new year comes around. Perhaps we just need to break out of our self-imposed squash box.
While pumpkins are native to the Americas, they have made their way across the world. Different cultures have embraced the pumpkin into their culinary arms, creating a variety of dishes. Here are just a few examples of the way people use pumpkins across the world.
Roasted pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, have been popular for a longtime. Pumpkins are one of the oldest domesticated plants on the planet. Experts believe that pumpkins were being grown by the native peoples of the Americas over 5000 years ago. Roasted pumpkin seeds are often used in the moles of Mexican traditional cuisine. They are also a common snack food.
While you can find pumpkin seeds in stores (or even gas stations), they are easy to prepare at home, too. In fact, roasting pumpkin seeds is a perfect use for any jack-o-lantern innards you would normally discard. The seeds can be eaten whole or split to get to the inner germ. Roasted and salted, they are exceptional, with a nuttier flavor than sunflower seeds. They also combine well with other flavors and spices.
This Turkish dish translates to “pumpkin dessert” in English. Pumpkins are peeled and cut before being roasted. Sugar is also sprinkled on the cut pumpkins and allowed to absorb into the flesh before they go into the oven. The final product is deliciously sweet and has a consistency similar to taffy. The cooked pumpkin is then topped with chopped walnuts and kaymak, a dairy product similar to clotted cream. Kabak tatlısı is a seasonal dish in Turkey, only coming around during winter. Something tells me you could mix and match different nuts and still get some amazing results (using roasted pumpkin seeds might not be a bad idea either!).
This Armenian pumpkin dish is based around the holiday season, much like pumpkin pie is here in the States. Ghapama is essentially a stuffed and roasted pumpkin. The innards and seeds of a pumpkin are removed, and the open cavity is stuffed with boiled rice and dried fruits and nuts like almonds, apple, apricots, plums, dates, and more. Sometimes the dish is sweetened by pouring honey over the top, or adding ground sugar and cinnamon to the rice mixture. The pumpkin is then baked until soft, and served whole before being sliced. It’s a showstopper of a piece that fits perfectly at any holiday dinner table.
This pumpkin dish come courtesy of Korea. A variety of juk (porridge), Hobak-Juk is often served as a restorative dish for recovering patients or the elderly. Typically made with Korean Cheese Pumpkins, the dish is made by boiling sliced pumpkins, then deseeding and peeling them, before finally mashing the boiled pumpkins until smooth. The mashed pumpkins are then mixed with a glutinous rice flour slurry and boiled again. The resulting porridge is naturally smooth and sweet. Common additions include red or black beans, as well as the Korean rice balls known as saealsim. This isn’t your everyday pumpkin soup, but its another way to incorporate the seasonal squash into your life.
By Aldo Moreno