Roasted Za’atar Pumpkin Seeds

Wondering what to do with those pumpkin (or winter squash) seeds beside throw them down the disposal? Roast them for a satisfying snack! This recipe calls for za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice/herb blend. A typical batch of za’atar is made from a mixture of dried thyme, oregano, and/or savory, as well as dried sumac, sesame seeds, and salt. Sumac is a spice that adds a sour, lemony, tangy note to foods. It is NOT the poisonous variety found in the eastern United States. The edible one has red fruits, whereas the toxic one has whitish-gray fruits.

You’ll note that I don’t have exact measurements in the Ingredients list—I don’t know how large your pumpkin was, so I can’t tell how many seeds you have. It doesn’t really matter, as the “recipe” is really more a set of scalable steps. And if you don’t like za’atar (or can’t get it in time, though you can order some at Penzey’s Spices), feel free to substitute a different blend (or even make your own!). By the way, I used a white pumpkin for this.

What You’ll Need

  • bowl(s)
  • colander or strainer
  • dish towel
  • spoon or fork for tossing
  • baking sheet
  • parchment paper or silicone baking sheet

Ingredients

  • pumpkin seeds left over from roasting, cooking, or carving
  • oil, such as olive or sunflower
  • kosher or sea salt
  • za’atar

How to Make the Roasted Zaa’tar Pumpkin Seeds

  1. Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C).
  2. I’m assuming your seeds and the attached flesh/fibers are in a bowl. Remove the seeds from the flesh and place them in a colander or strainer; don’t worry if you don’t remove every last molecule of fibers—it won’t compromise the roasted seeds. Discard the flesh and stringy bits.
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  4. Rinse the seeds and dry them in a towel.
  5. Place the dried seeds in a bowl. Add some oil—start with a teaspoon. You can always add more. Using a spoon or fork, toss the seeds. They should be coated, but not swimming in oil.
  6. Add a couple of pinches of salt (how many depends on how salty you like things, but remember that the za’atar also has salt).
  7. Toss the seeds so that the salt and oil are well distributed among the seeds. Then add the za’atar (to taste). Toss again to so that it is well mixed.
  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone sheet. Spread the seeds on the sheet as evenly as possible.
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  10. Roast for about 10 minutes. Stir and roast for another 10 minutes. If the seeds are smelling toasty and starting to brown, remove them from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet. If not, roast for another 5-10 minutes, until done.

You can roast seeds at a higher temperature. It will go faster, but you do increase the risk of burning the seeds.

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Curried Pumpkin-Apple Soup

A bowl of hot pumpkin soup is a rite of fall in my kitchen. This particular soup is easy to make and freezes well, too.

What You’ll Need

  • measuring cups, solid and liquid
  • measuring spoons
  • chopping board
  • knife for chopping
  • vegetable peeler
  • small knife or garlic press (for garlic)
  • large saucepan or soup pot
  • wooden spoon or whisk
  • blender, regular or immersion

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (use a neutral oil for a vegan version of the soup)
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 tsp mild curry powder, divided
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups pumpkin or winter squash puree (about 1 can of prepared pure pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling)1
  • 1/4 cup apple juice (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • salt and freshly ground pepper for finishing
  • sour cream or crème fraiche (optional)

How to Make the Soup

  1. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook until tender and translucent, but not browned.
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  3. Add the apples and 1 tsp of the curry powder, plus another pinch of salt. Cook until apples are a bit softened, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook for another minute.
  5. Add the chicken stock, pumpkin, and salt (if your stock is salty, add only a half-teaspoon of salt, as you can adjust the taste later). Stir or whisk so that the pumpkin is fully incorporated. Then bring to a boil.
  6. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes.
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  8. Remove from heat and stir in the apple juice, if using. Using a blender, puree the soup. If you are using a stand blender, you will probably need to do this in 2 batches, since you should not fill the blender jar more than 2/3 full, lest you risk an unpleasant surprise.2
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  10. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. Top with sour cream or crème fraiche, if using.
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A variation on this soup would be to saute the onions and apples in coconut oil, replace half the stock with coconut milk, and top the completed soup with a squeeze of lime instead of sour cream. That gives it not only a Caribbean twist, but also makes the soup dairy-free and vegan (assuming you use vegetable stock).

1I’ve made this with both canned pumpkin and kabocha squash puree. Kabocha squash is dense and sweet, so no need for the apple juice.
2The combination of steam from the hot soup, plus vibrations from the blending, may result in your blowing the lid of the blender off and redecorating your kitchen in Midcentury Soup Design. So, if you are using a stand blender, firmly press down on the lid while blending (protect your hand with a mitt or towel).

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Pumpkin-Walnut Muffins with Apples

Yields 12 muffins

Flyover Pumpkins make a fine muffin, as evidenced by this “taste of fall” recipe, which I got originally from Amy Traverso’s wonderful (and very, very informative!) book The Apple Lover’s Cookbook1. Ms. Traverso’s recipe makes 15 muffins, but I’ve scaled this down to 12 (the size of my muffin tin). The apples add a delicious moistness but the pumpkin really shines here.

Muffins2RS

What You’ll Need

  • two mixing bowls, one large and one medium
  • whisk
  • wooden spoon for mixing
  • measuring cups, both liquid and solid
  • measuring spoons
  • 12-cup muffin tin
  • muffin liners
  • cake tester or wooden skewer
  • cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 Tbsp roasted walnut oil
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, peeled and cored
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • How to Make the Muffins

    1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.
    2. Put the paper liners into the muffin cups.
    3. Put the flour, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Mix together so that the ingredients are well distributed.
    4. Chop the apples into small pieces, about 1/4-in or so.
    5. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk to combine the whites and the yolks. Add the pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla extract and whisk to combine with the eggs. Then add the walnuts and apples, mixing thoroughly.
    6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture. With a wooden spoon, stir until combined but not further. A few dry bits are fine. You don’t want to overmix the batter and risk making dense muffins.
    7. Divide the dough among the muffin cups. Fill each cup approximately 2/3 to 3/4 full.
    8. Place the muffin tin on the rack in the oven’s center and bake for 20-25 minutes. Check after 20 minutes—if a cake tester inserted into a muffin’s center comes out clean, they are ready to be removed from the oven. If not, bake for a few more minutes.
    9. Once taken out of the oven, remove the individual muffins and place them on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes.
    10. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    1Expect to hear more about this book during apple weeks–two Flyover States (Michigan and Ohio) are among the top apple-producing states in the US!

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Pumpkins, Pumpkins

A New World Native, A Flyover Mainstay

It’s October and here in the United States doorways and stoops are decorated with the ubiquitous orange almost-orbs known as pumpkins. They are left whole, often parked next to a pot of hardy mums. They are carved as jack-o-lanterns with faces for Halloween, illuminated at night by candles placed inside. They are, in short, pretty much a de facto symbol of October, even moreso than former Oakland A (and Mr. October) Reggie Jackson.

PumpkinsOnStoop_RS

From the genus Cucurbita, specifically C. pepo, the pumpkin is of North and Meso American origin (its seeds have been traced to approximately 7000 BCE). The Cucurbita genus includes the pumpkin’s many relatives, including the hard winter squashes like acorn, butternut, hubbard, and my personal favorite, kabocha; the more delicate summer squashes (like zucchini) and cucumbers and melons are also in the Cucurbit family tree (take that Ancestry.com!). Part of traditional Native American cuisine, dried pumpkin strips were used to make mats and the seeds were used for native medicines. And, although a sweetened, baked pumpkin dish may well have been part of the first Thanksgiving, the pumpkin pie decidedly was not—no ovens! Pumpkins were stuffed with honey and spices, then baked in ashes, but not in the familiar pie form.

Pumpkin1

The Word “Pumpkin”

The way to our word “pumpkin” began with πέπων (latinized as pepon), meaning “large melon” in Greek. Why the Greek origin for a New World plant? Well, melons (not pumpkins or winter squash) likely emerged in North Africa and Asia, specifically Egypt, Persia (modern-day Iran), and India. Anyway, pepon became pompon in French, then pumpion in England, eventually morphing into pumpkin in the North American British colonies.

Illinois—Our Pumpkin Epicenter

Although many of us make pumpkin pies come October and November, some fewer of us make the pies from an actual pumpkin. Rather, we buy canned pumpkin (whether pure or spiced and sold as “pumpkin pie filling”); often, there’s a pie recipe on the labels of those cans. And no wonder—to make the requisite pumpkin puree, one has to cut up the pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy bits, cook the pumpkin, and then puree it (and possibly drain it if watery) before adding the rest of the ingredients. It’s simply easier to use canned pumpkin (which yields a consistently fine result).

So, where do our cans and cans and cans of pumpkin come from? Well, if you’d guessed “Illinois”, you’d likely be correct! Illinois is the top pumpkin-producing state, with about 90% of the share of commercial pumpkin production; in 2008, almost half a billion pounds of pumpkins for processing were grown in The Land of Lincoln. Flyover neighbors Michigan and Ohio are also in the top six. Indiana used to be a top producer, but has fallen out of the top six (as per 2013 data). Still, a lot of Flyover-ness founding PumpkinMania.

Where, O Where, in the Land of Lincoln

MortonMap

Click on the map to enlarge it!

Morton, Illinois, between Bloomington and Peoria and easily accessible from Interstates 74 and 155, is the self-described Pumpkin Capital of the World. Even if they didn’t describe themselves this way, someone else would. After all, Morton is home to a Libby’s™ (a Nestlé subsidiary) pumpkin processing plant. Eighty-five percent of the world’s pumpkin is canned in Morton. It’s no wonder the town (administratively a village) holds an annual Pumpkin Festival each September. They’ve been hosting this for almost 50 years!

Of Nutrition and Health

Although we don’t exactly think of pumpkin pie or pumpkin bars or pumpkin roll or pumpkin spice lattes1 as healthy, pumpkin itself is a pretty nutritious food. For one thing, it’s a Vitamin A powerhouse (although you knew that just from seeing its brilliant orange color). One-half cup has 200% of the daily RDA, largely as beta-carotene. But pumpkin also gives you plenty of potassium and fiber, too. All this for only 50 calories! The pie is starting to look pretty healthy, isn’t it? In fact, it’s probably one of the more benign Thanksgiving desserts you can eat, assuming you skip the sweetened whipped cream (which I would NEVER do).

While canned pumpkin makes creating your delicacies easier (and requires far less of a time investment), you may be up the challenge of starting from scratch with an actual pumpkin. Make sure you select the proper pumpkin. Do NOT use your large jack-o-lantern pumpkin for culinary purposes—the flesh is typically stringy and flavorless. Look for pie pumpkins (such as a Baby Pam Sugar Pie or Winter Luxury pumpkin)—they are smaller than your carving variety2. You can also use a butternut squash, which results in a terrific pie3. In fact, the pumpkin you buy in cans may contain butternut squash as well!

1Which, by the way, don’t actually contain any pumpkin. That said, I do like them and usually have a couple during their season.

2A 2.5 to 3 lb. pumpkin should yield enough for a 9-inch pie. That said, I have had mixed luck with pie pumpkins. Usually they are fairly sweet, but last year I roasted one for the puree and the flesh was watery and insipid.

3Some people, such as the New York Times writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark recommends butternut squash.

Sources

University of Illinois Extentsion

The Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson, 2nd edition (Tom Jaine, ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2006.

The New Food Lover’s Companion, 4th edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, Barron’s, Hauppauge, New York, 2007.

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