Cooks Exchange

Cook's Exchange: Pumpkin stars in hearty, healthy recipes

When it's cold, there's nothing better than curling up in front of the fireplace with a bowl of soup. Or so thinks a friend with whom we had lunch Sunday.

"I don't care what kind it is, vegetable, or whatever," she said. "I just like vegetables, too, especially squash."

I suggested she combine the two, soup and squash or pumpkin, which is still in the gourd family. She usually cooks yellow squash and wasn't familiar with how to cook the winter squash.

In the Oct. 8 column, I shared recipes for butternut squash, which, with the help of the microwave, is so easy to cook and use in soups and stews, but another gourd that makes wonderful soup and side dishes is pumpkin.

Pumpkin isn't just for pie anymore.

Several years ago, the Ocean Springs YMCA hosted a pumpkin cooking contest for Halloween. The recipe variety was amazing, from appetizers to desserts.

Pumpkins out of the patch are used for decorations, but some cooks shy away from them in cooking. They think it is too time-consuming or too much work. Trust me, there is a difference in fresh pumpkin and canned. Not that canned is bad, but fresh is so good and healthy.

OK, so what do you do with a real pumpkin?

Like the butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash, scrub the outside with a vegetable brush. Then cut it in half and scrape out the fibers and seeds. A good, sharp knife is a must for cutting these thicker squash. A little muscle doesn't hurt either. Don't fret; it's worth it.

"The Old Farmer's Almanac" suggests using a grapefruit spoon to scoop out the fibers and seeds, then cut the pumpkin halves into smaller pieces. Place the pieces skin side up in a shallow baking dish. Add water to just cover the bottom of the dish and cover tightly. Bake in a 325-degree oven until the pumpkin is fork tender. The time will vary depending on the size of your pieces.

Let it cool, and then either cut off the peel or scoop out the flesh, which can be used in multiple ways.

For pumpkins that you're not cooking right away, keep them cool but not quite as cool as root crops, according to "The Old Farmer's Almanac." If you have a coolish bedroom, stashing them under the

bed works well. They like a temperature of about 50 to 65 degrees.

See, this isn't brain surgery.

For my friend and others, here are some hearty, healthy uses for those leftover Halloween pumpkins, including a spicy soup, which is truly comfort food on a cool night. With Thanksgiving only three weeks away, these recipes also would be great for any holiday table.

I have made this pumpkin soup often. It's one by Meg Henson. I love all the spice and coconut milk it contains.

SPICY PUMPKIN SOUP

1/2 stick butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

1 large potato, finely chopped

2 cups chicken broth

1 15-ounce can pumpkin

2 teaspoons allspice, divided

2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

2 teaspoons cloves, divided

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, divided

1/2 cup honey, divided

1/2 cup sugar, divided

2 cans unsweetened coconut milk

Half-and-half or heavy cream

Black pepper to taste

Melt butter in heavy stockpot. Stir in garlic, onions, and celery. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and cook 5 minutes over medium high heat. Add the potato, carrots and pumpkin and mix well. Add remaining chicken broth and bring to a low boil. Add cilantro, and 1/2 of the spices, sugar and honey. Stir well and reduce to simmer. Simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender, stirring often. When vegetables are tender, remove from heat and allow mixture to cool enough to be comfortable to transfer in batches to blender. Blend until smooth. Return to stockpot and add coconut milk. Add additional spices to taste. Let simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring often. Add cream or half-and-half as needed for desired consistency. Sprinkle with black pepper and cilantro. Serve hot.

-- Submitted by Meg Henson

This potato-pumpkin side dish is good for Thanksgiving. It's low in fat and high in flavor.

PUDGELESS PUMPKIN POTATOES

10 medium-size potatoes, peeled, boiled, and mashed

1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin or 2 cups fresh pumpkin

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese

1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) light margarine

1 to 2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch of paprika

Pinch of dill weed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, pumpkin, cream cheese, sour cream, margarine, garlic powder and salt. Place in a 9-by-9-inch baking dish, sprinkle with the paprika and dill weed, and bake for 30 minutes.

-- Recipe from "The Old Farmer's Almanac"

At the holidays, I always try to include recipes for those on restricted diets, such as gluten- or dairy-free or low-sugar. These pancakes would be good on Thanksgiving morning or anytime. They are gluten-free and dairy-free.

For those not on restricted diets, use regular Bisquick. These take about 20 minutes from start to finish.

PUMPKIN PANCAKES

1 cup gluten-free Bisquick

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup almond milk

1 egg

1/4 cup fresh or canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

Heat griddle that is sprayed with cooking spray. Pour dry ingredients into medium size bowl. Make a well and add the milk, egg and pumpkin. Mix well with electric mixer until blended. Drop 1/3 cup of batter per pancake onto warm griddle. Turn when it looks dry on top and bottom is golden. When top looks golden, remove to plate. Serve with warm maple syrup and chopped nuts, if desired. Also good with applesauce. Yield: 8 (5-inch) pancakes.

-- "The Old Farmer's Almanac"

If you are making a beef stew or vegetable soup, use cooked pumpkin as one of the vegetables. It also is good stirred into cooked wild rice and sauteed apples with a touch of cinnamon.

This fall and holiday season turn those pumpkins into real food, not merely decoration.

Speaking of squash

Frances Saucier has a another squash recipe to try. Retired Lt. Col. Robert Petersen shares a family favorite for yellow squash.

"A very simple, and delicious, dish that has been made in our family for years is squash and onions. I saw Oct. 29 articles and thought I'd send it along. Cheers," Petersen said.

SQUASH AND ONIONS

2 pounds yellow neck squash, thinly sliced

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoons sugar

Salt andfresh ground black pepper

1/2 stick butter

In skillet, add butter and onion and cook until onions are translucent. Add squash, sugar, salt and pepper; stir well. Cover. Simmer on low and stir often. Taste and re-season, as necessary. Cook until squash is cooked through. Serve.

-- Submitted by Retired Lt. Col. Robert Petersen

Healthier chicken curry

Brenda Roberts asked for a lower-fat, lower-sodium chicken curry. This is a recipe that I make for my family, who really enjoy it. I use low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth and light coconut milk. In place of the coconut milk, Roberts can use fat-free half-and-half with a 1/2 teaspoon of coconut extract added to it.

CHICKEN CURRY

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 heaping teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt or no-salt seasoning

1 slice ( 1/2-inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1/2 cup low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth

1 cup light canned coconut milk

1 to 1- 1/2 pounds cooked, shredded chicken breast

Saute onion in butter in large skillet. Add the flour, curry, salt or no-salt seasoning. chicken broth, coconut milk and cooked chicken. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thick.

Serve over cooked rice. Can serve with a variety of condiments, including chopped boiled egg, raisins, peanuts, minced green onions or flaked coconut. I like to top mine with a teaspoon of mango chutney.

Send holiday requests

Thanksgiving is three weeks away, and Hanukkah and Christmas are not far behind. If you have lost a favorite recipe or need a particular recipe, let me know. Readers and I will do our best to find them for you in time for the holidays.

Andrea Yeager, can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net and takes contributions or requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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