When people mention pumpkin, what most often comes to mind is pie (or Halloween). But there’s a lot more to this healthy hard-shelled winter squash than dessert or jack-o’-lanterns. Pumpkin is rich in vitamin C, as well as iron, fiber, and the carotenoids beta-carotene and lutein. And the flesh isn’t the only part that makes pumpkin so nutritious: Pumpkin seeds (which can be enjoyed on all Phases of the South Beach Diet) provide vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc, making for a healthy mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack when toasted. Because pumpkin is a starchy vegetable high in natural sugars, it can be eaten starting on Phase 2. Stick to a 3/4-cup serving of the flesh or 3 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds (or 1 slice of a South Beach Diet–friendly pumpkin pie!).
Like many vegetables, pumpkins come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Check your farmers’ market for varieties that go beyond the so-called jack-o’-lanterns, which are better for carving than cooking. Among the better cooking pumpkins are Cinderella pumpkins, which are deep orange and look like regular pumpkins that have been squashed flat. Or try Japanese pumpkins (also known as kabocha squash), which are turban-shaped with deep green and pale green stripes, and have a flavor reminiscent of sweet potato. In general, the best pumpkins for eating (sometimes referred to as “pie pumpkins” by purveyors) are those that have a lot of flesh and a small seed cavity. Fresh pumpkins that are sold during the fall are already ripe. Be sure to check for soft spots, especially in the area around the stem, and avoid those pumpkins. Avoid mini pumpkins for cooking; they’re better for decorations.
To save time, you may prefer to use unsweetened, solid-pack canned pumpkin purée in various dishes (do not confuse this with pumpkin-pie filling, which typically has a lot of sugar). It’s a good source of the same nutrients found in fresh pumpkin.
To prepare fresh pumpkin, cut out the stem and scrape out the strings and seeds with a spoon or ice cream scoop. Then, cut the pumpkin flesh into wedges, peel if mashing or puréeing, and cut into chunks before cooking (steaming, baking, or microwaving all work well). You can leave the skin on for baking, grilling, or roasting larger pieces, then simply serve as is. In addition to using pumpkin for pie, here are some other delicious ways to enjoy this healthy vegetable:
- Prepare a pumpkin soup. Add some reduced-sodium chicken broth to canned pumpkin purée to thin it out. Then season with cumin and/or coriander, salt, and pepper, before heating. Top with a bit of reduced-fat sour cream and some finely chopped apple.
- Add peeled and diced pumpkin to a chicken or vegetarian chili.
- Cook up pumpkin pancakes. Add some pumpkin purée to a whole-wheat batter mixture.
- Use finely diced pumpkin as a healthy, flavorful ingredient for homemade muffins or breads.
- Roast pumpkin seeds and add them to a healthy nut and seed mix or enjoy on their own.