There is a way to cook your pumpkin that will maintain the most nutritional value when you eat it. It’s also fairly quick and simple and makes for a better tasting pumpkin, whatever recipe you’re using it for.
Choosing a Pumpkin
Smaller pumpkins tend to be better eating than the larger jack-o’-lantern style. Pumpkin breeds such as Blue Hokkaido, Sugar Pie and the Cheese and Cinderella varieties are often recommended for their texture and flavor.
Look for ones that feel relatively heavy for their size and have a consistent color. Avoid pumpkins with mold, bruises, cracks or heavy scarring and test that the stem is hard and the skin firm to the touch.
Most can usually be stored for at least a month, some for several months, in a cool dry spot away from sunlight. Personally, I find in a cupboard away from other food to be best for storage.
When you only need half of a pumpkin for a recipe, they can be cut in half with a sturdy knife and the remainder kept in the fridge for a couple of days, wrapped in cling film or in a sealed container.
It’s much better to buy them whole and open them yourself than get pre-cut portions, which may lose some of their nutrition with the pulp exposed for long periods.
How to Cook Pumpkin
Many people boil pumpkin to cook it. Unfortunately, this tends to leech many of the nutrients into the boiling water and down the sink rather than into your body. A much healthier method is to steam them in a certain way that makes them quick and easy to prepare while preserving as much nutrition as possible.
First you’ll need a food steamer. A universal steamer is a great way to steam all different kinds of veggies and will fit over the top of most regular sized saucepans. For a budget option, a collapsible steamer insert also works.
Prepare your pumpkin by placing it on a chopping board and cutting from the top, just to the side of the stalk and away from you with a strong knife. Continue through to the base so one side is cut. Repeat on the other side of the stalk until you can pull it apart with just a little effort.
Trying to cut through the stalk can be difficult so it’s best avoided. If you are still having trouble opening your pumpkin after cutting it on either side, try cutting into the stalk from side on and inside.
With the pumpkin halved, pull out the seeds with your fingers and keep them aside if you’d like to use them. While they aren’t as easy to eat as a bag of hull-less raw pumpkin seeds, there’s too much nutrition and a lot of beneficial fiber in the seeds for me to throw them away.
With this in mind, I came up with a simple way to eat the seeds straight from the pumpkin as an appetizer. If you’d like to try it, see the page on homemade pumpkin seeds.
With your pumpkin now split in half and minus the seeds, cut it length ways into strips, roughly 2 inches wide. These will steam much quicker in your steamer and are a handy size for pulp removal in the next step.
Once the pumpkin is cut up and in the steamer, put some water in the saucepan and steam them with the lid on and medium heat for around 12 to 15 minutes. You’ll know they’re ready when a fork goes easily through the pulp to the skin.
Now the only tricky bit. Transfer the steamed pumpkin strips to your chopping board and let them cool slightly for a minute.
Whether you’re making a healthy soup, mashed pumpkin or warm pumpkin salad, you’ll want the skin off as easily as possible. The way I do this is to hold one end of the strip with a fork or a folded over paper towel if it’s being slippery (take care as they’ll be very hot straight out of the steamer) and simply scoop the bright orange pulp out with a tablespoon. This is especially good for the warm pumpkin salad recipe ahead as the size is perfect for it.
It can take a little practice, but after a while you should have healthy pumpkin, steamed and in skinless strips ready to use in around 15 – 20 minutes.
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