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Cooking with Pumpkins: A Healthy Way to Celebrate the Season with Your Kids

Here are some ideas, recipes and links for celebrating the Halloween veggie in the kitchen.

I’ve encouraged my daughters to help me in the kitchen from the time they could hold a mixing spoon—though, I'll admit that sometimes being your sous-chef is not always the most helpful thing small kids can do while you’re trying to get dinner on the table. Contrast pouring cornbread batter into that black-hole between the stove and cabinet, with quietly drawing at the kitchen table, and you’ll get the picture. But I will say that having a 5-year-old who can make her own mac-and-cheese with peas is very satisfying.

Too, a new study reveals that kids who cook at home make better food choices when hungry. Couple this with research that shows the banner vegetable of the Halloween season, the pumpkin, to be a storehouse of anti-oxidants like vitamin-A (beta-carotene), and known for its immune-boosting powers, especially powerful against eye disease, heart disease, and diabetes, and you’ve got ideas for healthy projects in the kitchen all season long.

Most of us have pumpkins sitting around our house right now, but usually they're on the project table not the kitchen counter: ready to be carved, not cooked. But pumpkins are colorful and delicious ingredients for both cooking and baking—and there’s nothing like using fresh, whole pumpkin rather than the canned stuff which can often taste, well, canned.

When choosing a pumpkin for recipes remember that smaller is better when it comes to taste. One of the most flavorful varieties is the sugar pie. Small and sweet, with dark orange-colored flesh, they're perfect for pies, soups, muffins and breads.

In my family, 'Mom's Pumpkin Soup' (which can also be made as butternut squash soup) has become a favorite. My kids like to help with it because they enjoy oiling the cut pumpkin by rubbing oil on their hands and then rubbing it all over the pumpkin halves. They also enjoy holding the handheld mixer as it’s small enough for them to handle, yet quite a powerful tool for blending  into soups and sauces.

I’ve included the recipe below, as well as an explanation of how to turn a fresh pumpkin into the puree that you might be used to getting from the can:

Baking fresh pumpkin to create a puree:

  • Cut the pumpkin in half and discard the stem section and stringy pulp. Save the seeds to dry and roast.
  • Coat the halves in oil with your hands.
  • In a shallow baking dish, place the two halves face down and cover with foil.
  • Bake in a preheated 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) oven for about 1½ hours for a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, or until tender.
  • Once the baked pumpkin has cooled, scoop out the flesh and puree or mash it.
  • For silky smooth custards or soups, press the pumpkin puree through a sieve.

Mom's Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients:

2 small pumpkins, preferably organic

4 cloves crushed garlic

1 tbl. or so fresh grated ginger

3 chopped celery

3 chopped carrots

1 chopped large white or yellow onion

1 tbl. or so cinnamon

1 tbl. or so ground cloves

1 tbl. or so dried oregano

1 tsp. cayenne

3 or more tbl. maple syrup

salt/pepper

5 cups organic chicken broth

1 cup cream, milk, or soymilk

3 tbl. olive oil

Prepare pumpkin flesh according to directions above, leave in chunks rather than pureeing, and roast seeds for garnish.

In a soup pot, sauté onions, carrots and celery until onions are soft and clear. Add garlic, spices and ginger and stir occasionally for 5 more minutes. You can add a little broth if it begins to stick.

Add broth, cream, maple-syrup. Add pumpkin flesh in chunks. Stirring occasionally, bring to boil. Simmer for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Blend with a hand held or counter top blender (in batches if using counter top blender) until smooth consistency is achieved. Taste and season more if desired. Garnish with the toasted seeds.

For some more recipes using fresh pumpkin, I recommend allrecipes.com's seasonal cooking page.

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