(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
The pumpkin is well deserving of its title as ambassador of Halloween season. Besides creating attractive decor, it's one of the healthiest foods available. A member of the gourd family, like watermelon and squash, it's high in vitamin A, as well as lots of antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber. It's a shame just to carve it for display or think of it only as an ingredient in sugary pies. Pumpkin, with its mildly sweet flavor that's perfect for seasoning and its crunchy seeds, is excellent as an ingredient in everything from appetizers, to salads, to soups, to side dishes, to entrees, as well as wholesome sugar-free, whole-grain treats, like cookies and muffins. Popular on this continent well before the United States was born, it also has been highlighted in cuisines worldwide for centuries. Though some are intimidated by the contents inside that hard shell, it really takes no more than quick peeling, seeding, cutting, seasoning and heating or tossing in soups or stews before cooking to achieve a great result. Often sold at just pennies a pound during this season, or on sale in its healthful canned varieties, it's also extremely economical. Try some of the 10-second ideas that follow sprinkled throughout pumpkin season.
Food preparation at any time of year can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast - as the following split-second sensations prove. They take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare. The dishes are delicious proof that everyone has time for tasty home cooking and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it! Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since there are no right or wrong amounts. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations, so whatever you - or your kidlet helpers - choose to use can't help but draw "wows" from both family and guests.
Perfectly Polished Pumpkin Puffs
Place thawed puff pastry dough in mini muffin tin slots that had been sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Add either a heaping teaspoonful of pumpkin pie filling that you've scooped out of a store-bought or homemade sugar-free pumpkin pie or canned pumpkin pie filling that you've already baked according to manufacturer's instructions. Sprinkle with a few sliced almonds and paprika and bake according to puff pastry manufacturer's instructions, as though you were baking the puff pastry alone.
One Honey of a Pepita Salad Topping
Place store-bought or homemade pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds) on baking sheet and drizzle lightly with honey and a dash of ground cinnamon. Heat in oven on low. Create a salad of mixed greens, dried cranberries, fresh raspberries and finely chopped pecans. Drizzle with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette, toss and top with warmed pepita-honey combination for a wilted salad effect.
Simple Soup Gets a Pumpkin Push
Into store-bought or homemade tomato soup, puree peeled and seeded pumpkin or canned pumpkin, freshly ground black pepper and curry powder. Heat until very hot and serve with store-bought or homemade pumpkin bread.
Sweet and Savory Flavors Reap a Rollicking Roast
Cut bite-sized chunks of peeled and seeded pumpkin and place in a roasting pan. Drizzle very lightly with molasses, lemon-pepper and cayenne pepper. Roast until fully cooked.
Don't Stew Over Preparing this Delicacy
Traditional Catalan and Italian seasonal home cooking often highlights pumpkin in pork stews. To a mixture of chunks of pork meat, such as sausage or shoulder, from which you've trimmed fat, add white beans, chunks of peeled and seeded pumpkin, chopped onions, fresh thyme and salt substitute to taste. Simmer for at least an hour, adding uncooked rice for and additional 20 minutes at end.
Pump Up Whole-Grain Toaster Waffles with Pumpkin Spread
Spread whole-grain frozen toaster waffles that you have toasted with filling from a store-bought or homemade sugar-free pumpkin pie. Top with finely chopped walnuts, diced fresh pears, whipped cream and heated sugar-free maple syrup.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: You might want to take a cue from home cooks in the Mediterranean - whose residents medical researchers often deem among the world's most healthy. In that region, meat is used just sparingly in autumn and winter soups and stews. Seasonal vegetables make up the greatest proportion of the recipes with sprinklings of meat added for protein and flavor - almost like a condiment. That's why inhabitants of many of those areas often refer even to such meals that include meat as "vegetable soup" or "vegetable stew."
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.