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Monday, March 11, 2013

Curried Pumpkin Soup

When I started to research pumpkin recipes, I was looking primarily for desserts. Wading through the low carb websites for pies, cakes, cookies and puddings, it did occur to me that I might find other kinds of dishes. After all,  pumpkin is a winter squash; butternut, acorn and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) squash are used in all kinds of recipes and one popular variation is soup. I was able to find a variety of pumpkin soup recipes, but the dishes that intrigued me most were the ones that used curry powder or paste and coconut milk. For my first batch, the only seasonings I used were Indian curry powder and sea salt. The result was acceptable but somewhat bland. In the end, I decided  to go with something familiar: my own recipe for vegetarian curry. I used the same spices, multiplying the amount to match the the number of servings the soup would yield. In addition,  I added leeks and garlic to round out the flavor. Success! Sometimes I toss in a package of defrosted frozen spinach in at the end, but you can use any other vegetables you like. Or leave out the veggies altogether - it's thick and flavorful enough on it's own.

Curried Pumpkin Soup


1 oz trimmed leeks
1 T coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 -13.5 oz can light coconut milk
2 C mashed pumpkin
1 C mushroom broth
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chile powder


1 - 10 oz package frozen spinach (you can also use fresh spinach).


*Heat oil in the soup pot, and sauté the leeks for about 3 minutes over a medium heat - they should be nicely browned on the edges.  Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and increase the heat until it starts to bubble. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered,  for 10 - 15 minutes, stirring frequently.  If you're adding vegetables, put them in now. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Divide the soup into individual portions and store in airtight containers in the refrigerator or the freezer.

Optional: To achieve a more uniform consistency, purée the soup in a blender or food processor.

Makes 4 cups of soup.

Total (without spinach) : 609.5 cal, 54.39 g total carbs, 42.06 g net carbs, 43.13 g fat, 12.33 g fiber and 4.68 g protein.

Makes 5 - 3/4 C servings and each has 121 cal, 10.88 g total carbs, 8.63 g net carbs, 10.78 g fat, 2.47 g fiber and .94 g protein.

Total with spinach:  691.5 cal, 66.35 g total carbs, 45.82 g net carbs, 43.13 g fat, 20.53 g fiber and 14.99 g protein.

Makes about 6 - 3/4 cup servings and each has 125.25 cal, 11.06 g total carbs, 9.16 g net carbs, 7.19 g fat, 3.41 g fiber and 2.5 g protein. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

How to Work with Fresh Pumpkin

Even before I started messing around with fresh pumpkin (which is not as scary as I thought it would be), I noticed a discrepancy between the nutritional information found on the labels of the two brands of canned pumpkin  I've used. I went online to look at the various databases and none of the numbers matched up. To make things even more confusing, the cup to oz/g ratios didn't match either. To give you an idea of these wildly varying values, here is a comparison:

1/2 C (100 g) 40 cal, 9 g total carbs, 4 g net carbs, 0 fat, 5 g fiber, 2 g protein.
Farmer's Market: 
1/2 C (100 g) 45 cal, 9 g total carbs, 8 g net carbs, 0 fat, 1 g fiber, 1 g protein.
1/2 C (122.5 g) 41.5 cal, 10 g total carbs, 6.5 g net carbs, 0 fat, 3.5 g fiber, 1.5 g protein.
1.2 C (122.5 g) 41.5 cal, 9.9 g total carbs, 6.35 g net carbs, .35 g fat, 3.55 g fiber, 1.35 g protein. (USDA Natural Agriculture Library Nutrition Data Lab)
 1/2 C (122.5g) 42 cal, 9.91 g total carbs, 6.31 net carbs, .28 g fat, 2.9 g fiber, 1.35 g protein.

 I've noticed the same phenomenon on other packaged food products. I try to use unprocessed food as much as possible, but I can't fit a dairy into my one bedroom apartment so I have to buy prepackaged cheese, for example. If you compare the nutritional values for the same kind of cheese made by different companies, the numbers don't match up. Same thing for frozen fruits and vegetables. As someone who really needs to keep track of net carbohydrates, in particular, I was dismayed. Clearly the food manufacturers fudged their labels; I measured 1 cup of canned pumpkin and it is, indeed, 122.5 g. And the manufacture's labels both claim to have 4 - 1/2 servings (they don't - it comes out to  3 1/4 cups per15 oz can). I've noticed this on other labels as well; 1 oz equal 28 grams but it is sometimes represented on labels as having 28.5 g or 30g. What's interesting is that the USDA website shows two sets of values - for canned pumpkin they show both 100 g and 122.5 g - 100 g being 1 "unit" of measurement and 122.5 g for the 1/2 C measurement. The moral of the story is that you can't trust the manufacturer's labels  But none of the database's numbers match up either. Why the discrepancy and which one is the most accurate?

As it turns out, there isn't a whole lot of information on the subject of nutrition labels and their accuracy available on the internet, but I was able to clarify a few things for myself. Each nutritional database conducts multiple laboratory tests to determine the values of any given food. The values they publish are averages of the data derived from those tests. They do this because the nutritional content of any "natural" food, grown in different places and under different conditions, isn't uniform. In addition, those values change over time. Agricultural practices have been modified to create greater yields and  changes in climate and soil can increase or decrease nutritional values. Also, certain foods are bred to make them more palatable. One example is that many fruits have been bred over time to make them sweeter. Even the nutritional contents of processed and packaged foods are allowed to vary 20% from the values on their labels according to FDA standards and tests have revealed that they sometimes vary even more. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised; corporations often do whatever they can get away with as long as it optimizes their profit margins. The bottom line is that we can never be absolutely certain of the numbers we look at, either on labels or in the databases. I've decided to stick with the data found on the USDA online database to determine nutritional information for my recipes and I'm going to keep in mind that the numbers aren't set in stone.

Using canned pumpkin is low maintenance; it's not a labor intensive process (unless you consider operating a can opener a heavy burden) and it's easy enough to keep the pantry well-stocked. But if you don't mind the work, fresh pumpkin tastes better and there's less to recycle. Having pumpkin seeds to roast is an added bonus. You want to use smaller pumpkins, known as "sugar pumpkins" (they are sometimes labeled as such in grocery stores), because they are sweeter and the texture is less grainy than larger pumpkins.

 A 3 pound pumpkin will yield around 2 cups (490 g) of mashed  or pureed pumpkin. There are several methods for cooking fresh pumpkin; it can be boiled, steamed and even microwaved, but I decided to try baking it and I was pleased with the results.

Baked Pumpkin


*Preheat oven to 375°F.

*Wash the exterior of the pumpkin in warm water and pat dry.

*Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut the pumpkin in half, removing the stem. 

*Scoop out the insides with a spoon and if you want, save the seeds for roasting. 

*Place face-down on a baking sheet lined with foil.

*Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Scoop out insides with a spoon and put in a large bowl. Mash using a hand blender or puree in a food processor or blender.

Total: 98 cal, 29.41 total carbs, 24.01 net carbs, .07 fat, 5.4 g fiber and 3.53 g protein.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

If you want to toss the seeds away with the rest of the gunk that comprises a pumpkin's innards, I don't blame you - separating the seeds is a messy, time consuming chore. On the other hand, if you don't mind getting a little slimy, pumpkin seeds are an excellent snack. They are high in protein, vitamins E and B-complex, and are a good source of essential minerals like copper, manganese, calcium, iron,magnesium, zinc and selenium. They are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids that help lower bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol in the blood. There are a variety of ways they can be seasoned, but I prefer mine plain with just a bit of sea salt. If you've ever tried the packaged seeds, you'll know how overly salty they can be. Food manufacturer's do this on purpose- highly salted, crunchy foods trigger cravings that make you want to eat more (read the New York Times story: The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food if you want to find out more). They also make you crave sweets, so if you're going to the trouble of using fresh pumpkin, using the seeds makes good sense.

After you separate the seeds from the stringy pumpkin innards, you have to wash them. Put the seeds in in a big bowl of water and rub them between your hands.Transfer them to a fine-meshed strainer and rinse them thoroughly. Don't worry if there are are still bits of pumpkin flesh on them - once they've dried out, they are easy to to remove.  Let them sit in the strainer for 30 minutes, then spread them out on a baking pan. You can either use a hair dryer to dry them quickly (seriously!) or place then in a warm oven (120°F - 150°F) and stir them every 10 minutes to speed the drying.

Preheat the oven to 275°F. You can toss the seeds with either olive oil or melted butter and season them with sea salt - depending on how much you have, the ratio should be 1 tablespoon of oil or butter to 1/4 to1/8 tsp sea salt. You can also add a variety of spices to your liking or, if you're like me, you can roast them without oil or seasoning. Spread them evenly on a baking sheet lined with unbleached parchment paper. Bake for 10 - 20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes, depending on how well done you want them. Allow them to cool completely and store in an airtight container.

A 1 oz/28 g serving has 163 cal, 4.17 total carbs, 2.37 net carbs, 13.91 g fat, 1.8 g fiber and 8.46 g protein.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pumpkin Smoothies

Pumpkin smoothies are my new favorite thing! It's a quick and easy way to get your daily dose of vitamins A, B-complex, C and E, as well as using up the canned pumpkin you have left over from baking muffins. While pumpkin has a wonderful creamy texture that makes it a natural for preparing desserts, it lacks natural sweetness. You can resolve this issue by adding the sweetener of your choice (I use stevia) and you can add a variety of other ingredients to make it thicker and more satisfying. I like to add vanilla whey protein powder for a nutritious breakfast drink, but if you prefer a more dessert-like smoothie, you can add yogurt, Neufchatel, ricotta, or cream cheese, along with a bit of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves to mimic a pumpkin-pie flavor. Either way, it's delicious. 

It's a matter of preference when it comes to drink temperatures - I'm sensitive to cold, so when I make my smoothies I use pumpkin I've stored in the fridge. If you want your smoothies to be colder, you  can always add ice or you can store 1/4 C portions in airtight containers in the freezer.

Basic Pumpkin Smoothie


1/4 C canned pumpkin
1 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/4 C heavy cream
3/4 C water
sweetener of choice 

Optional (add any of the following):

*1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder
*1/4 C ricotta cheese
*1/4 C unsweetened yogurt
*1 oz Neufchatel
*1 oz cream cheese
*1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, plus a dash of ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

I'll give you the nutritional information on my favorites:

Pumpkin Protein Smoothie (1 C almond milk, 1/4 C canned pumpkin, vanilla whey protein powder) has 148 cal, 8.46 g total carbs, 6.66 g net carbs, 2.67 g fat, 1.8 g fiber and 19.5 g protein.

Pumpkin Ricotta Smoothie (1 C almond milk, 1/4 C canned pumpkin, 1/4 C ricotta cheese, 1 drop liquid stevia) has 171 cal,   8.96 g total carbs, 7.16 net carbs, 10.67 g fat, 1.8 g fiber and 8.68 g protein.

Pumpkin Neufchatel Smoothie (1 C almond milk, 1/4 C canned pumpkin, 1 oz Neufchatel, 1 drop liquid stevia) has 221 cal, 8.96 total carbs,  7.16 net carbs, 14.67 g fat, 1.8 g fiber and 5.68 g protein.