In November grocery stores are overflowing with pumpkins and a wide variety of winter squashes. A versatile vegetable, pumpkin can be used to make breakfast food like scones, a stir-fry vegetable, a yogurt-based salad, a smooth creamy soup, a special sweet deep-fried bread and of course, the popular pumpkin pie.

b8daa700dbf1fa6fed45818380548787-2Pumpkins are found from August to March, but its peak season is from October to December. A very humble vegetable, it is grown all over the world with the exception of Antarctica. Morton, Ill., is the self-proclaimed pumpkin capital of the world, where Libby has its pumpkin-canning industry and plant.

One serving, a half-cup of cooked pumpkin, supplies enough Vitamin A for the day. Besides Vitamin A, pumpkin is also rich in potassium and high in fiber. Since pumpkin has a high water content, a half-cup of uncooked, unseasoned pumpkin contains only 38 calories. The bottom line is that pumpkins are good for you.

Fresh pumpkin can be substituted in recipes that call for winter squash or sweet potatoes. Small, immature pumpkins provide the most flavorful dish. Large pumpkins are meant for carving and decoration.

When selecting a pumpkin, make sure there are no blemishes or decay spots and that a bit of the stem is left in place. Store a pumpkin in a cool, dry place and it will last for the entire winter. Due to its high water content, pumpkin is highly perishable when cut open. Once cut open, it should be cooked the same day otherwise the orange flesh will soon develop a feathery, black mold. Typically, if I cannot use the whole pumpkin in a recipe, I dice the unused part into chunks and freeze it in a plastic bag.

Instead of throwing away the seeds, try them as a snack. Wash them well. In a tablespoon of oil add a teaspoon of chili powder, cumin powder, and salt. Coat the seeds with this oil and spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet to dry. Then, roast them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes or until they are dry. This protein-rich snack is great to have around for munching.

Here are some of my favorite pumpkin recipes:

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Pumpkin Raita

2 cups grated pumpkin
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 green chilies finely chopped
1 tablespoon peanuts, chopped
salt to taste
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds (optional)

Peel the skin and grate the pumpkin. Place it in a microwave dish and cook for 2-3 minutes.

In a bowl add the yogurt, pumpkin, onions. In a small pan heat oil and add cumin seeds. Wait till cumin browns slightly, and add chilies. Stir-fry for a minute and remove from the heat. Add this oil to the pumpkin–yogurt-onion mix. Finally, add peanuts, salt, and pomegranates and mix well. Serve with roti.

Hema’s Hints: This raita also makes a great dip and can be served with pita bread at a party.

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Sweet Pumpkin Roti

My sister–in-law, Nirupama Kundargi, makes the tastiest sweet pumpkin poori called gharge. I have adapted her recipe to make a roti instead of the deep-fried poori.

2 cups grated pumpkin
2 cups brown sugar
chapati flour as needed to make a dough
8-10 cardamom pods (ground)
oil for roasting

Mix the grated pumpkin and brown sugar in a bowl and microwave this mix for 4 minutes. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes and knead flour and cardamom powder into it to make firm dough. Then roll it like a roti and roast with a little oil.

Hema’s Hints: Make fancy shapes of this roti with a cookie cutter. It is a perfect food to take when traveling or for picnics.

Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of a television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet.

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