Pumpkins are an iconic symbol of fall. They make beautiful centerpieces, can be carved into scary jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, and baked up into delicious treats that grace the Thanksgiving table. They can also add variety to this week's meal planning ritual.
Did you know pumpkins are loaded with vitamins and anti-oxidants that are crucial to a healthy diet? Pumpkins are low in fat and calories. They are an excellent source of fiber, beta-carotene, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E. A diet full of vitamin rich pumpkins has been shown to help reduce heart attacks and strokes, support a healthy digestive system, maintain a healthy weight, and curb hunger. Pumpkin seeds and oil provide an excellent source of zinc and the heart healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids.
Pumpkins are a member of the gourd family, which includes squash and watermelon. They are available in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. In general pumpkins are bright orange or yellow in color but can also be dark green, white, and red. Their weight can range from a few ounces to over 100 pounds.
Field pumpkins are popular for carving around Halloween but due to their fibrous flesh they do not do well for cooking. Smaller ‘sugar’ pumpkins have a sweet, mild flavor and more tender flesh that is perfect for cooking. When selecting pumpkins, look for ones that are free from cracks, soft spots, and blemishes, that feel solid and heavy for their size, and still have the stems intact. Pumpkins should be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a month or can be refrigerated for up to three months, and pumpkin puree can be frozen for up to 16 months.
While you can make your own pumpkin puree, there many excellent pumpkin puree brands on the market today. If buying canned or frozen pumpkin, look for varieties that are 100% pure pumpkin.
Pumpkin can be enjoyed in a variety of ways; from added to baked goods, such as cakes, bread, pies and cookies, or added to soup and chili or even enjoyed in this flavorful and healthy Black Bean and Pumpkin Quesadillas!
Black Bean Pumpkin Quesadillas
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes Serves 4
1 (15 1/2 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 1/3 cup Colby jack cheese
8 flour tortillas
In a medium sauce pan combine beans, pumpkin, chicken and spices. Let cook for 3-4 minutes or until heated through. Once heated mash bean/pumpkin mixture with potato masher or fork until mixed together.
Spread bean/pumpkin mixture on 4 of the tortillas. Top bean mixture with a generous amount of cheese. Top with remaining 4 tortillas. In a medium sized sauce pan coated with cooking spray, cook each quesadilla until cheese is melted and tortilla is crisp, flipping once through cooking. Repeat with reaming quesadillas.
Serve with salsa or sour cream for dipping.
Chef note: This recipe can be made into a hearty vegetarian/vegan meal by omitting the chicken and adding another can of black beans. To make vegan replace the cheese with a vegan cheese substitute.
Chef Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family friendly meals since she was 9 years old in her mother’s kitchen. She is an avid crockpotter and knows how to get food on the table in a pinch.