It’s official: I’ve roasted my first pumpkin of the season! I used it in a rich, protein-packed stew, inspired by African recipes I’ve collected that make the most of squash or yams and spices. Once I learned how easy it was to roast and puree a pumpkin, I never thought of them as mere decoration—nor have I ever looked at canned pumpkin (which is always nice in a pinch) the same way.
Yes, roasting your own pumpkin and making the puree involves an extra couple of steps. So does creating the nut butter that will bring richness, protein and flavor to the dish I’m preparing. But going this “extra mile” is worth the work, in my opinion, for all kinds of reasons: flavor and freshness; local pumpkin means a lower carbon footprint; and integrity of ingredients.
Also keep in mind that this recipe makes a BIG pot of stew, which will be a wonderful leftover later in the week when there is no time to cook. I’ve even had it for breakfast on cold winter mornings! You can also freeze this soup, but you may find that once thawed it might be better completely pureed, since garbanzo beans can change texture sometimes—take a taste/texture test and decide.
Here’s my recipe for this fall nutritional powerhouse, followed by tips on preparing your pumpkin and making homemade nut butters.
Vegetarian African Stew
- Two cups dry garbanzo beans, sorted and pre-soaked at least five hours or overnight. Drain the soaking water and precook the beans until tender but not mushy. I do this step the day before and store the drained, precooked beans in the frig. Saves time, especially if you’re serving the stew for a dinner party. Note that the beans are going to spend a lot of time in the pot during the actual dish preparation, so a little under-done is better than completely done. Also, if you are short on stock, bean water works well for part of the liquid in this recipe.
- *Two-thirds cup cashews (You can use other nuts here, like peanuts or pistachios or pine nuts. I just happen to think cashews work the best because their high-fat content creates a really creamy consistency.) Pre-soaked in a little water for about 20 minutes, then drain. Grind in a food processor with a tiny bit of olive oil until smooth and somewhat creamy. Think of the consistency of natural peanut butter. Again, I usually make this a day or even two before the meal, whenever time allows. Fresh nut butters keep in your frig a couple of weeks.
- **Five to six cups pumpkin puree. Yep, I do this the day before, too. In fact, I think it is best to start the day before because fresh pumpkin contains more water than processed pumpkin in a can and will need to drain in the frig for a while. I let it sit overnight.
- One-eighth cup olive oil
- One to two teaspoons cumin seeds (We like two.)
- One cup chopped shallots (Yes, you could substitute red or yellow onion.)
- Two cloves garlic, chopped or sliced, but not finely minced (This recipe is on the stove a long time compared to many dishes. Keeping the garlic in larger pieces will ensure it won’t burn up in the cooking process.
- One-half teaspoon turmeric
- Fresh crushed pepper (For this dish I like Penzys Tri-color Peppercorns that I hand crush.)
- Salt to taste ( I use a fair amount in this dish by the end, but I add it a little at a time at each stage. You can always add more, but getting it out of the pot once it is in is pretty tough.)
- Four to Five cups vegetable stock (You can use homemade or commercial—I’ve done both. Or, if you are not vegetarian, you can use free-range chicken stock and add in some chopped up free-range organic chicken meat near the end of the recipe. A favorite addition of my husband’s to his portion of the stew.)
- Two cups fresh tomatoes, chopped. (In the winter, I use a bag of cherry toms from my freezer, but a 28-ounce can of good-quality organic whole tomatoes works well, too.)
- Hot sauce to taste (I use fresh Harissa, if I have it—about one teaspoon, but your favorite chili puree or hot sauce will do. You want a pure pepper flavor here, not a lot of other elements like sweeteners or intense salt, so check the label. You could also add a fresh jalapeño near the end of your sauté step above, I think. So you choose.)
- A quarter cup fresh lemon juice
- One teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg (could be optional)
- Cilantro, finely chopped
How to Prepare:
Heat the olive oil and the cumin seeds in your stew pot until aromatic. Add your chopped shallots and garlic with a good sprinkle of salt. Sauté for several minutes until they begin to caramelize.
Add the turmeric with a little more salt and a few pinches of your fresh-crushed pepper and stir.
Add the vegetable stock, pumpkin puree, cashew butter, hot sauce and tomatoes. Stir and bring to a good boil.
Reduce heat to a low simmer. Partially cover the pot and continue on very low heat for about a couple of hours. Check the taste every so often to see if you need more salt. What you want to happen is for this mixture to become very creamy, which will take some time. But this isn’t fussy, so the occasional pot stir and taste test leaves you plenty of time for the rest of your meal preparation, or a load of laundry or a cup of tea and quick read. Just make sure the soup does not begin to stick—low heat and occasional stirring are the keys.
When the soup is in its last 15 minutes or so, squeeze in your quarter cup of lemon juice, adjust the salt and pepper and add the nutmeg. (I do add more pepper here, maybe a half teaspoon.)
Sprinkle with the fresh cilantro at serving time.
*Making Your Own Nut Butter
Any nut can be turned into butter. Here are some tips on creaming popular varities;
Cashews: Raw cashews can be processed without soaking, if you are going to use them in a recipe that requires their presence to be more meaty. If you want a cashew cream, as I did above, soaking helps you achieve that. Remember the cashew cream cheesecake I made? In that case, I really needed a consistency to rival cream cheese, so extra steps and ingredients were needed.
Peanuts: For your own peanut butter, just process to desired consistency and refrigerate in a jar. If organic whole peanuts are on sale, this is a thrifty way to go compared to organic commercial.
Pecans: I learned to make pecan butter (just as delicious and decadent as it sounds) from my friend Pam, who really needs to avoid dairy butter. I toast them very lightly in the oven (which brings out incredible flavor), put them in the processor with a few drips of olive oil and process. Pecans process easily, especially toasted ones, so a vigilant eye is necessary to avoid getting them too runny.
Almonds: These are a tougher nut to crack, so to speak. Since I have a standard food processor, I either toast or soak my almonds first and then pre-chop them to help my little processor along. Take care with almonds not to injure your equipment. Ninjas and Vitamix Blenders will need no prep, as I understand them.
Walnuts: Treat walnuts like pecans. I like them lightly pre-toasted because English and black walnuts can impart a slightly bitter flavor, depending on where they come from and their freshness. Toasting, in my experience, eliminates this taste and sweetens them slightly. They, like pecans, are soft, so process with a little olive oil and vigilance.
What’s your favorite homemade nut butter? How do you use it?
**Working with Fresh Pumpkin
My market is loaded with little sugar pie pumpkins, which I think are the best varieties for any baking or cooking. The bigger your pumpkin, the harder it will be to work with and the less sweet I think you will find the finished taste. Save the giants for the Jack-O-Lanterns. I learned everything I know about cooking large squash from my kitchen bible: The Joy of Cooking. I cannot encourage you enough to get a copy of the latest edition for your own kitchen. Fascinating, well-written, clear and creative—The Joy of Cooking is a culinary encyclopedia as much as a cookbook.
Wash and pierce a three- to five-pound pie pumpkin with a sharp chefs knife, just as you would prepare a baked potato. Remove the stem as much as you can. Place the pumpkin on a sturdy, rimmed sheet pan and place in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees.
The baking time for your pumpkin will depend on its size. After a half-hour, check it by poking with a roasting fork. What you are looking for is a completely soft squash that pierces easily. My experience has always been one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. You don’t want the squash to burn.
If you do have a large pumpkin and want to roast it, you can cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and bake cut-side down in the same manner.
Once your pumpkin is thoroughly baked, let it cool until you can easily handle it. Then, slice it sideways and scoop out the seeds. (My daughter loves fresh roasted pumpkin seeds, so I take the time to separate them from the membrane, let them dry a couple days on waxed paper and them toss will a little olive oil and salt and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes.)
Scoop your cooked pumpkin flesh into your blender jar and begin to puree. This requires some patience for my blender. I go through several cycles of mashing the pumpkin down, pureeing, mashing the pumpkin down, pureeing. I want a very smooth consistency similar to what you’d find with canned pumpkin.
Once I have the consistency I want, I place the puree in a colander lined with clean, unbleached paper towels. Set this over a bowl in the frig and allow the pumpkin to drain a few hours to overnight. I think this step ensures the right level of moisture for baking, especially.
The drained pumpkin puree can be used immediately, kept in a tightly sealed container in the frig for a few days or frozen in dated containers. I’ve successfully done all three.
Have a favorite pumpkin recipe?