Isn't it strange that some vegetables get such a bad reputation that people refuse to even look at it? You can see the ubiquitous bitter gourd languishing in a corner at your vegetable vendor, or even the bland lauki (bottle gourd) hushed on to the side. But in all honesty, it's the pumpkin that is the lone ranger.
I don't really understand why the humble pumpkin puts people off. It doesn't have a peculiar smell, it takes on whatever flavour you give it, and the starchy flesh is good for both savoury and sweet dishes. That's not all; it's rich in beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants that fight cancer, low calorie and full of Vitamin A.
My love for this vegetable was mostly because of my grandmother's traditional Punjabi-style sweet and sour five-spiced pumpkin dish. A huge dollop of this stew with a roti was more than enough to keep me going till dinner. That's because pumpkin is high in fibre which helps keep you full and satisfied for longer. You'd be surprised to learn that this vegetable can actually help you sleep better, because it's rich in amino acid. Besides this, pumpkin seeds help lower blood pressure and boost heart health.
This vegetable belongs to the cucumber-squash family, which is why sometimes it takes on different shapes. But no matter how it looks, there's just so much you can do with it. One of my favourites is the pumpkin spice ice-cream - lots of frozen pumpkin puree, some condensed milk and a couple of warm spices such as cinnamon, cloves and ginger whizzed in the blender and you've got a treat that is really exquisite.
Cooking with pumpkin is really quite easy - either you can roast it or you can boil it and puree it. I'd recommend roasting it, only because the flesh becomes so much sweeter and juicier that you can do just about anything with it. You can roast the pumpkin by either cubing it or keeping it in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and bake till it softens. Then all you have to do is let it cool and peel. You can then use this in salads, stews or even make risotto with it.
Come winter, pumpkin puree is a staple in my refrigerator. In fact, I'd go a step ahead and say that I even freeze some in ice cube trays for easy access. I like to make lots of different kinds of soup with it - pumpkin apple, pumpkin corn, and pumpkin tomato, name the vegetable I'd have paired the pumpkin with it. But all in all, my favourite remains this pumpkin and peanut butter soup that I once ate a family friend's house. It just hit the right spot - nutty, filling and delicious, it's this soup that I make over and over again.
Pumpkin and Peanut Butter Soup
250 grams pumpkin cut into thick slices
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup stock or water
1 cup coconut milk or regular milk
2 Tbsp smooth peanut butter
1/8 tsp nutmeg grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 210 degree centigrade.
2. Placed the sliced pumpkin in a tray that has been lined with foil and drizzle it with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes.
3. Alternately, skip steps 1 and 2 and cut the pumpkin in cubes and pressure cook the vegetable till soft.
4. Once the vegetable is cooked, either which way, peel and puree in a blender.
5. In a saucepan, add the pureed vegetable along with the stock, coconut milk and the peanut butter.
6. Bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, and adjust for seasoning.
7. Grate nutmeg over the soup just before serving.
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