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Pumpkins for health

By West Norwood Therapies Team, Oct 30 2015 09:00AM

Our acupuncturist Philippa Summers suggests some scrumptious seasonal pumpkin recipes for tasty, warming health benefits.

Recipe by Ottolenghi Photograph: Colin Campbell Colin Campbell/Colin Campbell

Halloween is upon us, there is a chill in the air and pumpkins abound. In Chinese Medicine pumpkins and squashes are valued for their natural subtle sweetness which combined with gently, warming spices like cinnamon, ginger and star anise help to support the digestive functions of the stomach and spleen, which in turn is seen to have a significant influence on absorbing and assimilating the nourishment from our food efficiently.

There are many varieties of pumpkin and squash which are far sweeter than the ubiquitous orange Halloween variety. They keep well and can be cooked up into wonderfully warming soups and stews, throughout autumn and winter. You may use the discarded flesh and seeds of your Halloween pumpkin or choose some of the tastier varieties of squash, including Butternut and the grey skinned Crown Prince pumpkin. Here are a couple of delicious recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi: Pumpkin, Saffron and Orange Soup with caramelised pumpkin seeds and The Ultimate Winter Couscous.

Pumpkin, saffron & orange soup with caramelised pumpkin seeds (Yotam Ottolenghi)

Pumpkin, saffron & orange soup with caramelised pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin, saffron & orange soup with caramelised pumpkin seeds

Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

550g pumpkin flesh, cut into 2cm cubes

2 medium carrots, thinly sliced

1 tsp saffron fronds

1 litre water or vegetable stock

2 tsp grated orange zest

6 tbsp crème fraîche

Salt and white pepper

For the pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp sunflower oil

60g pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp golden (or maple) syrup

½ tbsp soft brown sugar

½ tsp salt

1 pinch ground black pepper

1 big pinch cayenne pepper

First prepare the seeds. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line an oven tray with greaseproof paper and brush with sunflower oil. Put the pumpkin seeds in a bowl with all the other ingredients, spread over the tray and bake for 12-15 minutes, stirring a few times, until a nice, golden colour. Leave to cool down.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion, season and sauté over high heat for a minute, stirring all the time. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft, sweet and golden brown, but not very dark.

Add the pumpkin, carrot and saffron, pour in water or stock to cover the vegetables and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the pumpkin and carrots are almost tender. Add the orange zest and simmer for five minutes longer. When the vegetables are thoroughly cooked, blitz the soup with a hand blender or liquidiser - you want it with a bit of texture, not too smooth. Add extra water or stock if it is too thick. Season to taste.

Serve in shallow bowls with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of the caramelised seeds.

The Ultimate Winter Couscous ( Yotam Ottolenghi)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

8 shallots, peeled

2 cinnamon sticks

4 star anise

3 bay leaves

5 tbsp olive oil

1½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp chilli flakes

300g squash, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks (cleaned weight)

100g unsulphured dried apricots, roughly chopped

200g chickpeas (cooked or tinned)

350ml water (or chickpea liquor)

170g couscous

1 big pinch saffron fronds

260ml vegetable stock

20g butter, cut into small pieces

25g harissa

25g preserved lemon, finely chopped

1 handful picked coriander leaves

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the carrots, parsnips and shallots into a large, oven-proof dish, add the cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, four tablespoons of oil, half a teaspoon of salt and all the spices, and mix. Roast for 15 minutes, then add the squash, stir and roast for 35 minutes more, by which time the vegetables should have softened but retained their bite. Add the apricots, chickpeas and liquid, then return to the oven for 10 minutes, until hot.

Around 15 minutes before the vegetables will be ready, put the couscous in a heatproof bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, the saffron and half a teaspoon of salt. Boil the stock, pour over the couscous and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 10 minutes, then add the butter and fluff up with a fork until it melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.

To serve, fill the base of a deep plate with couscous. Stir the harissa and lemon into the vegetables, taste, adjust the seasoning and spoon on to the centre of the couscous. Garnish with lots of coriander.

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