Pumpkins have long been associated with Halloween and the month of October, even making an appearance in the comic strip “Peanuts” and inspiring an animated television special. Linus was not wrong when he proclaimed the pumpkin “great.” Pumpkins have a multitude of culinary uses and are brimming with nutrients.

The pumpkin’s bright orange color is a telltale sign of its nutrient content. Beta carotene, abundant in orange, red and yellow fruits and vegetables, is an antioxidant which can help lower the risk of developing certain types of cancer and heart disease. Beta-carotene is also converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for good vision and eye health. Pumpkin is a good source of fiber and potassium. It is very low in calories due to its very high water content — over 90 percent. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains around 50 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.

In order to reap the health benefits from this orange vegetable, you need to think beyond the jack-o’-lantern. While you can eat the carving kind, there are varieties of pumpkins grown specifically for their sweetness and flavor. Look for varieties like pie, small sugar, sweet and cheese pumpkins for cooking. Select a pumpkin with a deep, rich color free from blemishes and soft spots and heavy for its size.

To prepare a pumpkin for cooking, place on a steady surface and use a small knife to cut around the stem. Scoop out stringy fibers and seeds. Reserve the seeds for toasting later. Using a large chef’s knife, cut the pumpkin in half and use a spoon to remove any remaining fibers. The pumpkin can then be cut into half and roasted in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 1 to 2 hours or until tender. Once cooked and cooled, the flesh can be scooped out of the rind with a spoon and pulsed in a food processor for homemade pumpkin puree. The seeds can also be roasted for a crunchy snack called pepitas. If that seems too messy, pumpkin can also be purchased canned. Avoid pumpkin pie filling, as this will have added sugar. Instead, look for 100% pure pumpkin with pumpkin listed as the only ingredient.

If the only way you’ve eaten pumpkin is in pie form, you’re missing out. Pumpkin has a variety of uses and can be eaten at any meal of the day, year round. Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Pumpkin soup

Serves: 4

Ingredients

¾ cup water, divided

1 small onion, chopped

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

2 cups unsalted vegetable broth

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup fat-free milk

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

1 green onion top, chopped

Directions

    In a large saucepan, heat ¼ cup water over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Don’t let onion dry out.

    Add remaining water, pumpkin, broth, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the milk and cook until hot. Don’t boil.

    Ladle soup into warmed bowls and garnish with black pepper and green onion tops. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information: Per serving (1 cup): Calories 77, fat 1 g, saturated fat 0 g, sodium 57 mg, carbohydrates 14 g, protein 3 g, fiber 4 g

Recipe from: Mayo Clinic

White bean and pumpkin hummus with pita chips

Serves: 12

Ingredients

3 (6-inch) whole-wheat pitas, each split in half horizontally to form 2 rounds

2 teaspoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)

2½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

⅛ teaspoon salt

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Directions

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

    Lightly brush rough sides of pitas with olive oil; sprinkle with kosher salt. Cut each pita half into 8 wedges; arrange wedges in a single layer on baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes; rotate pans, and bake 5 additional minutes or until crisp and golden.

    While chips bake, place pumpkin puree and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth (about 30 seconds). Serve pumpkin spread with pita chips.

Nutrition information: Per serving (3 tablespoons hummus and 4 pita chips): Calories 98, fat 3.9 g, saturated fat 0.5 g, sodium 197 mg, carbohydrates 14 g, protein 3 g, fiber 3 g

Recipe from: Cooking Light

Jamie Pronschinske, RDN, CD, is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System.

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