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Pump it Up: Ways to Raise Your Pumpkin Game

25 October, 2021

I’ve frequently looked at pumpkin as an ingredient so ubiquitous this time of year that I am not sure what else can be done to it or done with it. They are also often so large and unwieldy, I’ve found myself asking a pumpkin: “Why can’t you be something else? Perhaps an acorn squash?” I know, there are many sizes of pumpkin and even the large ones need not be intimidating, so I set out to prove to myself that I, a pumpkin-resistant person of a pumpkin-less youth, can also cook with pumpkin and enjoy it. 

I can joyfully report that pumpkin is a delightful thickener of soups, with a sweetness that requires little adornment by way of added sugars. Blended with white miso and chicken stock, I created a savory, creamy soup without a hint of cream and with wonderful depth. This is a soup that requires a spatula at the bottom of the bowl, it is so satisfying. Since miso is inherently salty, I seasoned the soup with just a single twist of my black pepper mill and fresh parsley from my window box. No added salt.

It’s lovely and nourishing on its own, and also makes an excellent dip for grilled cheese sandwiches, especially now that tomatoes are no longer in season. I adore a grilled cheese sandwich, brushed with butter, but come October, I feel a bit guilty reaching for the tomato soup.

I baked puréed pumpkin into bibingka, a Filipino coconut rice cake that is my go-to dessert for all occasions, and is the cousin or ancestor of that most beloved of Hawaii’s desserts: butter mochi. This bibingka is lighter, less cloying than most pumpkin pies, but scratches that same itch with its buttery, creamy, almost gelatinous texture.

My bibingka is made with rice flour, which makes this an ideal pumpkin dessert for someone avoiding gluten. It’s the ideal dish to bring to a potluck (after all, Thanksgiving is around the corner) as each pan contains eighteen generous portions. This bibingka freezes well, but do not refrigerate it – rice flour has a propensity to harden. Serve it warm, ideally with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Bibingka is a kind of baked rice cake that comes from the Philippines and is usually eaten for breakfast or as a snack.

I’m warning you now: carving pumpkins - the ones stacked outside the grocery stores - are different from the pumpkins you want to cook and bake with. They are not inedible, but they are not your most flavorful option. By all means, roast the seeds of carving pumpkins and snack on them, those are your rewards for carving a jack-o-lantern. Go to the produce aisle and get your roasting or baking pumpkin there. Or in a pinch, buy a can of pureed pumpkin, no one will judge you. 

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