October and November are the months when grocery stores overflow with pumpkins and a wide variety of winter squashes. Pumpkin is a very versatile vegetable that can be used to make breakfast foods 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 pies.

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

One serving of a half cup cooked pumpkin supplies enough Vitamin A for the day. Since the pumpkin is high in water content, a half-cup of uncooked, unseasoned pumpkin contains only 38 calories. Beside Vitamin A, Pumpkin is also rich in potassium and high in fiber. 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. The large pumpkins are meant for carving and decoration. When selecting a pumpkin, make sure there are no blemishes or decay spots and that there is a bit of the stem left in place. Store the pumpkin in a cool dry place and it will last for the winter.

Due to the high water content in pumpkin, it is highly perishable when cut open. It must be cooked the same day it is cut. Otherwise, orange flesh will 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 the seeds well. In a tablespoon of oil, add a teaspoon of chili powder, cumin powder and salt, Coat the seeds in this oil and spread them in a single layer on cookie sheet to dry. Then, roast them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes or until they are dry. This protein-rich snack is great to have around for munching.

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Easy Pumpkin Vegetable

This dish has a perfect blend of sweet, sour and bitter.

2 cups pumpkin cubed
1 onion
1 teaspoon oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon jaggery or brown sugar
1 tablespoon of lime juice
½ water
1-teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon peanuts
1 teaspoon coconut
salt to taste
1 tablespoon cilantro

Peel the skin and chop the pumpkin into 1-inch cubes. Chop onions also into 1-inch cubes. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a wok or kadhai (an Indian wok) and add mustard seeds. Wait for them to splutter. Add fenugreek seeds and roast them to a golden brown. Add the chopped pumpkin and onions and stir-fry for a minute. Throw in the chili powder, jaggery or brown sugar, lime juice and water. Cover with a lid and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Make a coarse powder of peanuts, sesame seeds and coconut in a spice blender. Add this mix, with salt to the pumpkin. Cook the pumpkin till it is very tender. Finally add the cilantro and serve with Roti or rice.

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Pumpkin Raita

2 cup 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

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

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

Hema Hint's:

This Raita can also be served as a great dip with pita bread for any party.

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Sweet Pumpkin Roti

My sister -in-law makes the tastiest sweet pumpkin Puri called 'Ghargee' that are deep-fried. I decided to modify the recipe by roasting the puri instead of deep-frying.

2 cups grated pumkin
2 cups brown sugar
Chapati flour as needed to make a dough
8-10 cardamom pods (ground)
Oil for roasting

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

Hema 's Hints:

Make fancy shapes of this roti with a cookie cutter. It is a perfect food to take when travelling or for picnics.