As pop-cultural references go, pumpkin brings to mind a couple of things. For those fascinated by fairy tales, it is Cinderella. But it has more recall value as an inextricable part of Halloween. Or better still, as Halloween pumpkin recipes.
Halloween and its traditions might seem timeless, but the celebration as we know it in the US is a fairly recent phenomenon. While its roots go back several millennia, being even grounded in pagan practices, it was Irish immigrants in the 19th century who popularized it. Especially the jack-o-lanterns with their large gouged-out pumpkin eyes, based on an interesting story revolving around the devil, burning embers and turnips.
But pumpkins did not stop at being the ideal lampshades or fear-inducing accessoriesThey have become an integral part of the Halloween tradition and are a vital part of the associated feasting. This could well because of their abundant availability at this time of the year.
From pumpkin pies to pumpkin bread to creamy pumpkin soup, there’s a plethora of traditional recipes that make an appearance during this time. But much like how Halloween costumes and scary pumpkin ideas have evolved over the years, chefs are trying some unusual variations to take the ubiquitous pumpkin. Think pumpkin pizza, soups. biscuits, and salads. Some go further, and pushing the envelope with such dishes as a colorful pumpkin gnocchi, roasted sticks with piquant dips, chutney, or savory pumpkin curry soup with coconut milk and spices.
“This season is a great time in the United States. There’s pumpkin everywhere and it is used in everything – even coffee, tea and other beverages,” says Chef Abhijit Dwarakanath. Having worked in two renowned Michelin Star restaurant Acadia, run by Chef Ryan McCaskey and Port & Park, both Chicago icons known for their ‘new American cuisine’ Dwarakanath knows a thing or two about recasting a favorite ingredient in a brand new avatar.
“Two Halloweens ago, there was too much leftover pumpkin puree in the kitchen so I experimented a bit and hit on the idea of a pumpkin gnocchi,” he says. “I reduced the water and the flour and tested out the recipe. I paired it with my other favorite ingredient mushrooms and added some cranberries. It was a hit and was on the restaurant menu for three months, till into the new year.”
He also came up with a few more dishes, including one in which he baked a whole small pumpkin and filled it up with gooey cheese to use as both a dip and something to scoop out with the pumpkin flesh.
But innovations have sprung up everywhere and there are plenty of Halloween pumpkin recipes. Clearly, our ancestors knew the benefits of seasonal vegetables and there seems to be logic in why the pumpkin has been a crucial part of the diet. In her cookbook The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian, Bangalore-based food blogger and cookbook author Nandita Iyer, who has also studied nutrition, says, “Pumpkin has phenolic antioxidants that prevent cellular damage induced by high blood sugar. Even though it is considered a ‘high sugar’ vegetable, diabetic patients benefit from including a portion of dark-yellow pumpkin in their diet.”
Iyer jazzes up the vegetable into snazzy dishes. The Fire-Roasted Pumpkin Chutney is an unusual take on the vegetable chutney and has a beautiful smoky undertone. While best eaten with rice, it also makes for an ideal dip. In another recipe, Iyer suggests roasting chunky slivers of pumpkin and other root vegetables and having them with a peanut-tamarind dip, a perfect thing to have around a fire after an evening of trick or treating in the cold. Pumpkin and other gourds or seasonal vegetables can be cooked in mildly spiced coconut milk to make a hearty stew and eaten with brown rice or quinoa as a healthy Halloween meal.
Undoubtedly, the pumpkin is much more versatile than it is made out to be, and these are just a few possible Halloween pumpkin recipes. But with a bit of imagination and creativity, there’s so much more that can be accomplished.