To me, travel is about discovery and learning about other cultures. It's about finding out how we all fit together on this giant blue ball in space. The destination, for me, is the least important part about travel.
So why not travel the world by bringing it to you? A great way to experience other cultures is to eat their food. Local food reflects geography, history, culture, and economy. What better way to taste a destination than to eat the food?
I discovered that my favorite fall ingredients -- the pumpkin -- is used by many other cultures in their cuisines.
Pumpkins are versatile in their culinary uses. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers. When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, steamed, or roasted.
In North America, it is a traditional part of the autumn harvest, eaten mashed -- and have made its way into soups and purees, pies, coffee drinks, beer, and just about anything you can think of. And while I enjoy pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, I am taking inspiration from other cultures to bring this orange-fleshed fruit to the dinner table in more exotic ways.
In the Middle East , pumpkin is used for sweet and savory dishes; a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin .
In South Asian countries such as India , pumpkin is cooked with butter, sugar, and spices in a dish called kaddu ka halwa . Pumpkin is used to make sambar in Udupi cuisine . In the Guangxi province of China , the leaves of the pumpkin plant are consumed as a cooked vegetable or in soups.
In Myanmar , pumpkins are used in both cooking and candied in desserts.
In Vietnam, pumpkins are commonly cooked in soups.
And in Italy, pumpkin can be used with cheeses as a savory stuffing for ravioli .
While many of us are accustomed to purchasing our pumpkins pureed in a can, I hope you'll try cooking with a whole pumpkin. Rather than the over-sized pumpkins farmed for carving pumpkins, choose small pie pumpkins. The flesh will be dense and earthy with much less water content, the shell -- also edible -- is softer and easier to cut than the carving pumpkins and much easier to clean and scrape.
You can also use Kabocha squash (Japanese Pumpkin) or Hubbard squash (Italian Pumpkin). Whichever varietal you choose, be sure to save the seeds which are perfect for garnishes and snack. Bonus: Pumpkin seeds are loaded with antioxidants, zinc, and magnesium.
Stir-Fried Pumpkin with Chinese Spiced Meatballs
This quick and easy stir-fry will become a family favorite. The colorful dish is perfect for a weeknight dinner when you want homemade and healthy Asian flavors.
Serves 4-5 as a main dish
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 star anise
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (this sounds like a lot, but it's delicious)
- 1 small pie pumpkin (about 3 pounds), cut in half from stem to bottom, seeds and gooey insides scooped out (don't forget to save the seeds); cut into 1-inch chunks with skin-on
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
- 6 ounces ground turkey or beef
- 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice Powder (easily found in grocery stores or online)
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 3 scallions, finely minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Garnishes: sliced scallions, toasted pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
- Heat oil, over medium heat, in a large sauté pan or wok. Add star anise and black pepper and stir for a minute to flavor the oil. Remove star anise and add pumpkin and shiitake mushrooms. Sauté vegetables until browned and pumpkin has softened slightly, about 5 minutes.
- While the pumpkin is cooking, combine ground turkey, ginger, scallions and garlic. Roll mixture into small meatballs (about 1 ½ inches in diameter).
- Add meatballs and allow to brown before turning to avoid breaking them. Add white wine and stir to combine.
- Whisk together soy sauce and cornstarch. Add soy mixture and stir to combine. Allow mixture to simmer to thicken the sauce.
- Serve over rice or noodles.
Southern-Indian Style Pumpkin Curry
Is there anything cozier than tucking into a bowl of warm, toasty, and exotic curry on a chilly night? I think not! This is a dish you will turn to again and again this fall and winter. Serve with rice or lentils.
Serves 4-5 as a main dish
- Extra virgin olive oil or Ghee (for dairy preparations)
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 pound Pie-Pumpkin Hubbard squash or Kabocha Squash, cut into medium dice
- 2 red peppers, sliced thinly
- 1 carrot, sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (or 1 teaspoon dried ginger)
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated turmeric (or 2 teaspoons powdered); fresh turmeric is worth seeking out and can be found in many grocery stores.
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/3 cup water
- Garnishes: chopped cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds
- Heat olive oil or Ghee, over medium heat, in a large sauté pan. Sauté onion, pumpkin, peppers, and carrot until lightly browned and caramelized. Add tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables.
- Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, curry powder, and stir to toast the spices for about 2 minutes.
- Add coconut and water and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes until vegetables are cooked through and sauce has thickened.
Zucca Agrodolce (Sicilian Sweet and Sour Pumpkin)
In the Italian countryside and in city farmers markets, you can see pumpkins of all sizes and colors piled high in the fall. Muscular and brawny, pumpkin is a common ingredient in Italian cuisine and is mainly used as a as a savory ingredient and is enjoyed in soups, long cooking braised dishes, and risotto.
This delicious side dish shows off pumpkins slightly sweet flavor. Perfect for serving with braised meats, poultry, fish, or as part of a vegetarian feast.
Serves 6 as a side dish
- 1 pound pie pumpkin, Hubbard squash or Kabocha Squash, sliced thinly into ¼ inch thick slices
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 red onion, sliced thinly
- 1 pound favorite mushroom, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Garnishes: toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Toss pumpkin pieces with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and arrange on lined baking sheet. Roast in preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown and with crispy edges.
- While pumpkin is roasting, heat a large sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until golden brown. Add mushrooms and continue sautéing until mushrooms are golden brown. Add garlic to the pan and stir to combine.
- Add red wine vinegar, water, and brown sugar. Stir to combine.
- Add pumpkin to the pan and stir to coat. Continue cooking until pan juices are reduced to a glaze.
- Serve as a side or main dish.
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Easy to make and fun to eat. Use any spice mix you like and use as a garnish on salads, soups, or stir fries.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Removes seeds from pumpkin "goo" and rinse.
- Arrange seeds on parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, or favorite oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, cayenne pepper, Pumpkin-Pie Spice, freshly cracked black pepper, Chinese 5-Spice Powder, za'atar, or favorite spice mix.
- Roast seeds for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until crispy and lightly browned. Store covered at room temperature for 2 weeks.
Laura Frankel is a kosher chef and author.Previously, she was the Culinary Director for Jamie Geller's Test Kitchen and Kosher Network International. Frankel is the author of two Jewish cookbooks, with a third forthcoming. She is the founder of Shallots Restaurant in Chicago, Skokie, and New York, and served as Executive Chef for Wolfgang Puck.