Whether it feels like autumn or not, the calendar gremlins herald the season with the invasion of pumpkins. The mighty squash, which is 90 percent water and zero cholesterol, has a load of potassium to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, Vitamin C to boost the immune system, antioxidant-rich beta-carotene and Vitamin A linked to reducing risk factors for heart disease and certain cancers, along with sharpening eyesight and warding off pesky wrinkles.
While the elliptical forest green kernels (seeds with cream-colored shells removed), aka pepitas, are packed with stress busting B's, iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc, the latter making them powerful warriors against osteoporosis.
There's more. They contain phytosterols that help put the skids on LDL cholesterol levels, and L-tryptophan for a natural sleep aid and mood elevator. These lubricating, anti-inflammatory treasures are also touted for relieving creaky arthritic joints, dialing up prostate, kidney and bladder health, and acting as nature's Metamucil. In addition, since pepitas are low in allergens, they have a wide range of appeal (and tolerance), especially for the peanut allergic and sensitive.
Here are over 30 ways to get the best and most out of the short yet bountiful pumpkin season.
Bake or construct:
1. A pumpkin pecan pie with either a gingersnap, walnut meal or Oreo crust, topped with a dollop of whipped pumpkin cream;
2. A batch of pumpkin pepita biscotti with a scoop of pumpkin gelato;
3. A pan of pumpkin fudge for Trick or Treat night;
4. A loaf of pumpkin cranberry quick bread;
5. Pumpkin pecan scones;
6. A ramekin of pumpkin crème brulee ;
7. A pumpkin goat cheese log with caramelized apple chunks;
8. Pumpkin tiramisu with pumpkin spice liqueur;
9. Pumpkin rice pudding;
10. Oatmeal pumpkin cookies with golden raisins;
11. A Pumpkin Nutella mousse;
12. A casserole of pumpkin mac and cheese;
13. A cookie sheet of flavored pepitas. For sweet tooths sprinkle cinnamon, cardamom, brown sugar and ginger; savory taste buds use any combination of pink sea salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, rosemary and lemon zest or chili and lime juice. (See recipe).
14. A pan of pumpkin lasagna;
15. A pumpkin vinaigrette dressing to enliven a green salad or use as a marinade for roasted vegetables, chicken, seafood or wild caught salmon;
16. A pot of hearty chili with chunks of roasted pumpkin;
17. Pumpkin fries with autumn-spiced ranch dipping sauce;
18. Creamy pumpkin risotto;
19. A ratatouille of assorted squashes;
20. A hot pumpkin soup served in pumpkin shell ramekins;
21. A pitcher of zippy pumpkin gazpacho;
22. A batch of creamy pepita butter;
Beautify or decorate with:
23. Pumpkin-scented candles or incense;
24. Whole decorated pumpkins spray-painted in metallic shades (gold, silver or bronze), or hot-glued with autumn ornaments as a table centerpiece;
25. A pumpkin-based face mask for a smooth, even, radiant complexion, and to prevent lines and age spots with its rich store of zinc, Vitamins A and E, and other antioxidants. Blend one cup of pumpkin puree with one tablespoon each of honey and avocado oil for dry skin types, or swap out the oil for apple cider vinegar for oily skin;
26. A hair mask to add luster and strength to dull, damaged locks and for a healthy scalp. Whisk together one cup of pumpkin puree with three tablespoons of coconut oil, and one tablespoon of avocado oil.
Shake up, blend or create:
27. A spiced pumpkin smoothie or eggnog;
28. An icy pitcher of pumpkin infused iced tea;
29. A heart-warming pumpkin latte;
30. A stein of pumpkin-flavored beer;
31. A spirited pumpkin Mojito, Martini or Cosmopolitan.
Sweet and Spicy Pepitas
• 2 cups pepitas
• 2 tablespoons melted ghee butter or olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon each, your choice (cayenne pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger powder, chili powder)
• Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large glass mixing bowl, whisk together butter or oil with sugar and spices. Add pepitas, and toss, coating the kernels with the mixture. Spread pepitas on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden and crunchy. Store in airtight container.