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Chef's Hat: Enjoy pumpkin - the fruit of fall - without guilt

Pumpkins - and they are indeed a fruit and not a vegetable - start ripening in September. Because these large, orange fruits store well, fresh ones are available well into fall and winter.

And, of course, canned pumpkin is available year-round.

Pumpkins are much more than just a Halloween decoration or a Thanksgiving dessert. Pumpkins are great in soups and salads. But a lot of us are not that creative; and for most of us, pumpkin only shows up in pies, bars and bread.

These mighty fruits are full of vitamins, especially including vitamins A and C, and they are a great source of potassium. Since pies and cakes might negate some of those healthy benefits, it was time to branch out and try a few of those "healthier" pumpkin recipes.

For some reason, neither pumpkin soup nor pumpkin salad sounded like they were recipes I wanted to take the time to experiment with. But pumpkin dip? That was definitely worth a try. The pumpkin dip is a very simple recipe and goes great with fresh fruit, apples or pears, or you can use it on graham crackers. This is a simple, easy-to-make dip that is a crowd-pleaser, and it's a healthy dish.

A delicious alternative to the traditional pumpkin bread is a muffin made with wheat flour and olive oil. You can replace part of the olive oil with applesauce. If you do, it is recommended that you substitute no more than ¼ cup of applesauce for ¼ cup of olive oil or the muffins may get a bit chewy. The muffins call for "real" maple syrup. Don't skimp and use a maple-flavored syrup as the taste won't be the same.

While not everyone is a fan of those seasonal pumpkin spiced lattes, there is a pumpkin dish that will please the whole family. Forget about the heavy pumpkin pie loaded with whipped cream. Pumpkin dishes don't have to be full of sugar and calories to be appetizing and appealing. Enjoy this great fruit without feeling guilty. Happy Eating!

Pumpkin Dip

  • 3/4 cup low-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger Dash nutmeg
  • Sliced apples
  • Pear slices
  • Pretzel chips
  • Graham crackers

In a medium sized bowl, use a mixer and beat together the cream cheese, brown sugar and pumpkin. Beat until the mixture is light and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the maple syrup and seasonings and beat until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

Serve with sliced fruit, pretzel chips or graham crackers.

Maple Glazed Pumpkin Muffins

Adapted from pinchofyum.com

For the muffins:

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 eggs

For the glaze topping:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1-2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl, blend together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the pumpkin, oil, maple syrup, milk and eggs.

Combine the dry and wet ingredients in a large mixing bowl, stirring until just combined.

Prepare a muffin tin by placing paper muffin cups into the pan or spraying the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fill each muffin tin about three-quarters full. Press your thumb slightly in the top of the dough - this helps to make the muffins cook with a nice rounded top.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 22 minutes, just until the tops are puffy and spring back when a fork is lightly pressed on the top. Remove from oven and let the muffins cool 15 to 30 minutes.

To make the glaze: Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and add the powdered sugar and vanilla and stir; the mixture will be thick and sticky. Add the maple syrup. Add water, one spoonful at a time until the desired consistency of the glaze is reached. Drizzle spoonfuls over each muffin.