It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Season's best-known squash is good for more than enchanted carriage rides and lighting up your doorstep.

pumpkin 88 (photo credit: )
pumpkin 88
(photo credit: )
One of the harbingers of autumn in the US when I was growing up was bright orange pumpkins lined up along roadside stands. We loved their friendly color and delighted in watching our mother turn one into a jack-o-lantern with a candle in it to place outside the front door on Halloween (in the days when it was still safe to go trick-or-treating). Then, almost nobody ate fresh pumpkin - many people, in fact, believed it wasn't even edible. So when the holiday passed and the pumpkin got moldy, it was just tossed in the rubbish bin, and then weeks later the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving was made with pumpkin from a can. In Israel, pumpkin (dela'at) is another story altogether: a Goliath-sized vegetable with a cream-colored peel (in most cases) that's bought in pieces, by weight. Unlike the traditional American pumpkin, our domestic variety has more flesh than peel and is more moist, and less dense and creamy. Still, it may be substituted for pumpkin in most recipes except pie. Similar but somewhat drier, the butternut squash (dalorit) may also be substituted. But for the traditional-pumpkin lovers there's also hope. Gidon Machluf from Moshav Hatzav, one of the first to grow mini-pumpkins in Israel, will have a new crop around March, which will be sold in the Mega supermarket chain. Why pumpkin? Our dela'at is low in calories (20 calories in 100 grams cooked), carbohydrates and fat, but high in nutrition - including the antioxidants alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lutein. ROASTED PUMPKIN WITH PUMPKIN SEED PESTO Serve on a bed of bulgur as a vegetarian main (top with a dollop of thick yogurt), or as a side dish. Makes 4-6 servings 4 11⁄2 kg. pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks 4 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 4 Coarse sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper 4 1⁄2 cup pumpkin seeds (peeled, green) 4 1⁄2 cup packed fresh coriander (cusbara) or a mix of parsley and basil 4 1 garlic clove Preheat the oven on highest heat. Mix the pumpkin cubes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and a 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and place in one layer on a parchment-paper lined baking pan. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the cubes are golden-brown. Stir occasionally. To make the pesto, toast the pumpkin seeds for 2-4 minutes in an ungreased frying pan until puffy and golden. Let cool on a plate. Coarsely grind together with the coriander, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix together with the pumpkin cubes and serve immediately. THAI FRESH PUMPKIN SALAD This is my take on the traditional raw papaya salad served in Thailand. It is truly delicious and extremely healthy! Makes 4 servings 4 3 cups coarsely grated fresh pumpkin (from a half-kilo piece) 4 2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil 4 2 Tbsp. (or more) fresh lemon juice 4 1 medium-small red pepper, cut into thin strips 4 1 Tbsp. minced fresh hot green pepper (or cut it into circles) 4 1 fresh tomato, peeled and seeded 4 3 green onions: 2 chopped, one cut into long thin strips 4 1 garlic clove, pressed 4 Salt to taste 4 Fresh coriander and/or mint to garnish Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and serve. FRESH PUMPKIN MUFFINS Great moist and satisfying muffins to eat for breakfast, for 10 a.m. snacks or in the afternoon with a cup of tea or coffee. Each muffin has about 110-20 calories. To lower calorie count, substitute 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup applesauce for the same amount of oil. Makes about 28 muffins 4 11⁄4 cups oil 4 1 cup demerara sugar 4 4 eggs 4 11⁄4 cups whole-wheat flour 4 1 cup all-purpose white flour 4 1 tsp. cinnamon 4 1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger 4 1⁄4 tsp. salt 4 1⁄4 tsp. nutmeg 4 2 tsp. baking powder 4 1 tsp. baking soda 4 1⁄2 kg. unpeeled pumpkin 4 1⁄2 cup cranberries 4 3⁄4 cup chopped pecans Preheat oven to 180ºC. Line 2 12-cup muffin pans with paper cup liners. Use the coarse grater disc of the food processor (or a hand grater) to grate the peeled pumpkin. Remove from the bowl of the processor and set aside. Change to the metal blade of the processor and beat together oil, sugar and eggs till smooth. In a second bowl, sift the dry ingredients together and add to the processor. Mix well. Add the reserved pumpkin and pulse for a few seconds. Stir in the pecans and cranberries. Fill muffin cups three-quarters full and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan 15 minutes before removing.