Is Pumpkin Low Carb? by Dana Carpender

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Is Pumpkin Low Carb?

Here’s a riddle: What can weigh 100 pounds, is full of vitamin A, has 9.3 grams of useable carbs, and a twinkle in its eye? Did you guess pumpkin? I hope so. Fresh pumpkin is available for only a couple of months in the autumn, which is a shame. It’s wonderful!

If your only experience with pumpkin has to do with jack-o-lanterns and high-carb pie, rethink this tasty vegetable. Pumpkin is lower carb than most winter squashes, and one of the best sources of pro-vitamin A (substances your body can convert into true vitamin A) around. Vitamin A is an important antioxidant essential to the immune system. It is also known to play a key role in eye health – it’s vital for good night vision, and a deficiency can cause dry eyes, and may promote cataracts. One cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin has 12230 IU. It also has calcium, iron, protein, vitamin C, 9.3 grams of usable carb, and only 49 calories.

For cooking, look for small pumpkins around 2-3 pounds – they’re easier to handle, and you’re more likely to eat them up. I hate it when stuff goes bad in the fridge!

Whole pumpkins keep for weeks, but once you cut them, you should cook them soon. I’ve kept leftover raw pumpkin for a day or two in a zipper-lock bag in the refrigerator, but that’s about it. If you can’t find fresh pumpkin or don’t want to cook one, canned pumpkin is available in most parts of the country year round.

Still not sure what to do with a pumpkin other than sticking a candle inside? Here are some delicious ideas to get you cooking.

  • Try dicing into chunks, steaming as a vegetable, and spicing it with nutmeg.
  • Cream of pumpkin soup is wonderful, especially with a little curry powder. To be fancy, try serving it in a hollowed out pumpkin!
  • Run one or two chipotle peppers through your food processor or blender along with 1/2 cup of sugar-free pancake syrup and a 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt or soy sauce. Now roast wedges of fresh pumpkin at 350, basting frequently with the syrup mixture, until they’re soft. Serve as a side dish. This is great on the grill, too, but it’s way too cold and damp for grilling ’round here!
  • Half cubed fresh pumpkin, half cubed rutabaga makes a great substitute for cubed sweet potato in stews. 1 cup of cubed sweet potato has 22.8 grams of usable carb, while the 50/50 pumpkin/rutabaga mixture has just 7.5 grams of usable carb per cup, so the carb savings is significant.
  • A can of pumpkin, mixed with one mashed sweet potato, makes a good “sweet potato casserole” with far fewer carbs.
  • Toss chunks of pumpkin into your pot roast along with some carrots and turnips.
  • Make your favorite pumpkin pie recipe with Splenda in place of the sugar. Add a touch of sugar-free pancake syrup for a New England touch.
  • Don’t throw away those seeds! Pumpkin seeds are also low carb, and are my absolute favorite snack. Pick off any major strings, toss them with a little oil and salt, and roast them at 300 for 45 minutes. I don’t rinse them; I find the caramelized pumpkin juice adds a delicious flavor – I eat these shells and all. Find pumpkin seeds roasted and salted in the shell in most convenience stores and mini-marts. Health food stores and Hispanic markets carry them hulled, often labeled “pepitas.” 1 ounce of shelled pumpkin seeds has just 4 grams of usable carb, along with healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, and healthy doses of zinc and magnesium.
  • Run shelled pumpkin seeds through your food processor to make pumpkin seed meal. This is a great substitute for almond meal in low carb baking, should you have a nut allergy.

This great side dish makes use of both pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. Buy the seeds already shelled, and roast the seeds out of your pumpkin as a snack. Shelling a half a cup of pumpkin seeds is a big job.

Chili Lime Pumpkin

  • 1 little pumpkin, about 2 pounds (1 kg)
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) butter
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil
  • 1/2 cup (120g) shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 teaspoon chili garlic paste (look in the Asian section of the grocery store)
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice

Whack your pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel off the hard rind, then cut the flesh into slices about 1/4″ (6.25mm) thick.

Put the butter and the oil in a big, heavy skillet over medium heat. Swirl them together as the butter melts. Now, lay the slices of pumpkin flat in the butter and oil mixture. Sauté until lightly golden on both sides, and tender, yet still al dente. You’ll need to do this in more than one batch; keep the stuff that’s done warm on a plate under a pot lid.

While this is happening, toast your pepitas by stirring them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until they swell a bit – about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat when they’re done.

When the pumpkin’s all cooked, put it all back in the skillet. Mix together the chili garlic paste and the lime juice, and gently mix it in, coating all of the pumpkin slices.

Lay the pumpkin slices on serving plates, top each serving with a tablespoon of toasted pumpkin seeds and serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Each with: 89 calories; 5 g fat; 2 g protein; 10 g carbohydrate; 1 g dietary fiber; 9 g usable carbs.

Recipe reprinted from 500 More! Low-Carb Recipes by permission of Fair Winds press.

© 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of our favorite pumpkin. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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