'Tis the season to extol the virtues of the pumpkin and this week and next I'll be doing just that.
We tend to see the pumpkin's value in just two ways: as carving material for jack-o'-lanterns and as pie filling. I have seen estimates that 99 percent of all pumpkins are sold for decoration, which suggests that most of the flesh produced by pumpkins is scooped out and pitched. Many of our ancestors would be shocked.
Pumpkins are a native American food source and were a staple of the diet of many American Indian tribes and early European settlers. A form of winter squash, pumpkins have a long shelf life and the meat also can be dried for later use. Our forebears frequently sliced off the top of a pumpkin, scooped the seeds out, added various ingredients, replaced the top and baked the entire pumpkin as a casserole.
Pumpkin is high in Vitamin A and, and until it is seasoned with sugar and other ingredients, is low in calories. A half-cup serving of cooked pumpkin has just 40 calories.
Preparing fresh pumpkin for eating isn't terribly complicated. You'll want to start with a small, heavy pumpkin. Cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and fibrous material. Cut the meat into cubes and cut away the peel. Cook the cubes in boiling salted water until tender.
The pumpkin is then ready to mash for pie filling or a soup ingredient, or to be used in a gratin dish. Pumpkin is appropriate for any entree or side dish that uses winter squash, and any others you might think of.
Most of us are content to use prepared pumpkin, however. When selecting canned pumpkin for use in dishes other than desserts, be sure to buy solid-pack pumpkin, not pie filling.
This recipe for pumpkin burritos has been adapted from one I found in "Low-Fat and Fast," a little cookbook published by Vegetarian Times.
Spicy Pumpkin Burritos
6 large tortillas
1 tablespoon oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped zucchini or 1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped jalapeeppers
1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
1 15-1/2-ounce can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
Shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, salsa and plain yogurt or sour cream for toppings
Preheat oven to 200 F. Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and place in oven to warm while preparing filling.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic to season the oil. Add zucchini or celery, corn, onion and peppers; cook, stirring until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 4 minutes.
Stir in remaining ingredients, from pumpkin through oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 4 minutes.
Spoon about 1/2 cup pumpkin mixture across center of one tortilla. Roll up tortilla, folding in sides to enclose filling. Repeat with remaining pumpkin mixture and tortillas.
Makes 6 servings.