Vegetable full of treasures to enjoy
Golden and sweet, the pumpkin is the vegetable that best represents the autumn harvest season.
The squash is full of treasures: The flesh can be cooked in all kinds of savory and sweet dishes, and the seeds make a nutritious and delicious snack.
“Pumpkin is something I grew up eating, my mother used to make different kinds of sweet pumpkin cakes and buns as healthy treats. I’m very fond of the sweet flavor of pumpkin and the warmness it brings, and I often cook pumpkins because it’s not only delicious, but also provides fiber and impressive nutrition,” said Chen Lu, a 27-year-old pumpkin lover.
There are different cultivars of pumpkin available on the market, offering distinctive tastes and textures suitable for different dishes. The sweet and soft pumpkin is the most common and it is often sold by the slice for easier handling and cooking.
Pumpkin rice congee is a popular breakfast or dinner choice in China. You need only to remove the pumpkin skin and cut the sweet flesh into cubes before boiling in water along with rice. The pumpkin flesh will become soft and break apart in the congee to add a natural sweetness. The congee is best served with some pickles and fermented tofu.
Pumpkin’s sweet flesh is also used to make various kinds of staple dishes, especially for children. After the pumpkin is steamed, the soft flesh is rolled with some flour to create a dough that can be pan-fried to make small pancakes or yeast is added so the dough leavens to make steamed buns.
It’s easy to make an oil-free pumpkin cake for breakfast. Simply mix the steamed pumpkin flesh with flour at a proportion of 2:1 and make a soft dough, let it sit for an hour and then roll out into thin, tortilla-like pancakes that can be cooked quickly on non-stick pans.
As pork is often cooked with something sweet, like sweet and sour pork ribs, pumpkin is a great vegetable to pair with the meat. Cubes of pumpkin can also be steamed with pork ribs with fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, ginger and scallion.
Pumpkin glutinous rice balls are a popular snack that can serve as a simple dessert. The recipe is easy to follow. Simply steam slices of peeled pumpkin and make it into a mash, then add glutinous rice flour (the same weight as the raw pumpkin) and form a dough. Make small round balls and then boil them in water, serve with brown sugar syrup and garnish with sesame seeds.
The expensive fish maw and chicken hotpot has been trending for a couple of years in Shanghai, and the golden yellow stock is actually achieved by adding pumpkin puree and juice, giving the stock a delicate sweetness.
There is a green peeled pumpkin that has a higher moisture content and less sugar, which may not taste very good when cooked alone but can excel in savory dishes such as stir-frying with scallion and sautéing with salted egg yolks.
“The vegetable pumpkin, as it’s called in my family, is crunchier and less starchy. The stir-fry is light and perfect for dinner, but it has a sweet and salty flavor that people who are not fans of adding sugar in savory dishes need to get used to,” said Chen.
This type of pumpkin can be finely shredded and added to a thin batter to make savory pancakes. In some places, the extra thin shreds are mixed with minced pork and seasoned with salt and spices to make a filling for dumplings.
A Japanese variety called Kabocha pumpkin is a newer variety that has become immensely popular in China. Here it goes by the name beibei nangua. The small round pumpkins with their dark green peel and bright orange flesh have a chestnut-like texture, a very low level of moisture and a much higher sugar content.
Whole Kabocha pumpkins can be steamed directly and serve as a staple. One person can finish a smaller pumpkin easily and many people opt for a pumpkin as a meal when losing weight. However, Kabocha pumpkins carry more calories than regular pumpkins, so portion size is important.
It’s very difficult to slice the extra hard Kabocha pumpkins and you need to be extra careful when handling them. Slices of Kabocha pumpkin can be roasted alongside other vegetables with a simple salt and pepper seasoning.
Pumpkins are an excellent ingredient for vegetarian and vegan dishes. You can make a vegan version of the Cantonese-style clay pot rice using cubes of pumpkin and shitake mushrooms.
When making braised pumpkin, the skin is edible when thoroughly cleaned and it adds a contrasting texture to the soft flesh. The dish only requires some soy sauce and rice wine as seasoning.
Snacking on pumpkin
Like potatoes, yam and sweet potatoes, pumpkins are a starchy root vegetable and a good ingredient to make chips. Deep-fried pumpkin chips are crunchy and can be either sweet or savory depending on taste. Dehydrated pumpkin chips are a healthier non-fried alternative.
Pumpkin seeds are very popular in China. The white, flat seeds are commonly baked or stir-fried and can be enjoyed directly for their original flavor or with salt and five-spice powder seasonings.
Nori sheet with nutty filling has been growing popular in the snack world — a thin layer of nuts is sandwiched between two pieces of the savory nori to add richer flavor and crunchier texture, and pumpkin seed is a popular nori sandwich filling choice.
For the sweet tooth, pumpkin seed nut bar is a crunchy and addictive snack made by mixing toasted pumpkin seeds with malt syrup, other types of nuts like peanuts or almond as well as sesame seeds may also be added to enrich the flavor. A good quality pumpkin seed bar should not be sticking to the teeth and highlight a beautiful crunchy texture.
Pumpkin cake is a classic tea dessert. The dense round cakes are deep-fried cookie sandwiches with soft pumpkin filling and a coat of sesame seeds on the side, they are glossy and very sweet.
However, one traditional Chinese snack named pumpkin puff that many people grew up eating at school is not entirely made of pumpkin, but a deep-fried puffed snack made of wheat flour with some pumpkin flour and seasonings. The swirled shaped snack has a salty and spicy flavor.