Pumpkins and all types of squashes abound right now during the fall harvest and in the spirit of Halloween. I have tried to tackle squash as a savory dish on multiple occasions, but I have never been crazy about the outcome. There is just something so sweet about most squash that they beg for sweet applications. Even wrapping squash cubes in bacon didn't win me over, which is insane because bacon is supposed to make everything better. Well, I give in. I'm not trying to fit a round squash into a square hole anymore. I am going to use it as its sweetness begs: for dessert!
Squash is very nutritious for obvious reasons: it's a brightly colored vegetable (well, botanically speaking it's a fruit). Bright color means beta carotene (think carrots), which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. As an anti-inflammatory, beta carotene helps reduce the symptoms of asthma and arthritis. Beta carotene also deters plague formation by keeping cholesterol from oxidizing and building up on the walls of blood vessels; thus, it protects against heart disease. It also protects us against cancer, especially colon cancer (which is further aided by squash's folate and fiber content). Furthermore, beta carotene plays a role in blood sugar regulation, thereby protecting against diabetes and insulin resistance. Squash is also high in fiber, aiding our digestive inner workings. The Vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium content in squash is also quite respectable. Bottom line, it's nutritious!
Squash is a perfect paleo food for getting sweetness out of your food, not adding it to your food. According to its single listing on the international table, pumpkin's glycemic index value is 75, which is a little high (higher than 50 is considered high glycemic), but being a watery, fibrous plant, it has a low, low glycemic load of 3 (I have seen various numbers for different winter squash, but all less than 10). Remember, when we last talked about blood sugar, we defined these terms. Glycemic index is how fast a food is broken down into glucose, which raises your blood sugar, and since pure glucose is 100, we try to avoid foods higher than 50 on that scale. However, we can't dismiss glycemic load, which takes into account the percentage of carbohydrate in the food that is responsible for the spike. In pumpkins, it is low (less than 10 is considered low glycemic load, 20 or more is high). Squash fall into the same category as watermelons (a relative) that, while sweet, have so much water and/or fiber that their glycemic load is negligible.
This inherent, but not dangerous sweetness is something we can enhance with flavor compliments like apple and banana. I find it gratifying to add sweeteners that contribute to the flavor, not just add sweetness. They also add their own host of vitamins and minerals, which trumps honey, agave, and traditional sugars any day. Period.
Main Reference: The World's Healthiest Foods
First off, you can buy canned pumpkin, but it is really simple to make your own and so much better for you and the environment if you rely less upon processed foods. When choosing squash, go for the sweetest you can find. Sweet varieties include the sugar or pie pumpkin (small jack-o-lanturn type), kabocha squash, butternut squash, acorn squash, Hubbard squash, calabaza squash, buttercup squash, or the oddly named sweet potato squash.
Roasting a squash is really easy. Check out Elana's Pantry's step by step guide for pictures and more details, but here is the gist: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, wash the squash and cut it in half (this is tricky with hard rinds, so be careful and use a big, heavy knife!). Scoop out the fibrous, seedy innards and try to fish out the seeds to dry and roast, if you are up to the challenge. Place the cut halves face down in a baking dish with 1/4 inch of water in the bottom. Roast for 30 minutes and give them a check. You are looking for fork-tender flesh all the way to the rind. If you got it, great--allow to cool and then scoop out the roasted squash with a spoon. Why a spoon? Because it'll 'urt more. [sorry, couldn't resist lapsing into my Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves recital :)]
Now you have your roasted squash! What can you do with it? Bake muffins!
How about muffins sweetened only by a mere 3 tablespoons of apple juice and 2 bananas? Is that not awesome?!
Pumpkin Chai Spiced Muffins
Like sipping a steaming, hot mug of chai, these muffins will delight your senses.
Cooking Time: about 45minutes start to finish
Quantity: more than a dozen, so I have to bake in two batches!
1 c roasted pumpkin (see above to prepare)
2 over-ripe bananas, break each into 3-4 chunks
1 T vanilla
3 T apple juice
1.5 c almond flour
1/2 c coconut flour1 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
2 t Ceylon cinnamon
1/2 a nutmeg, grated
3/4 t ground ginger
3/4 t ground cloves
1 t salt
First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare your muffin tins/cups. I have had success with using cut squares of parchment (see pic in my last muffin recipe) in the cups as makeshift (read: cheap) muffin cups, but they are really annoying to keep in place while trying to dish in the batter. If you are really into baking, you can splurge on silicon muffin cups at $13 for 6, which then need no fussing or even a muffin tin (they can bake on a cookie sheet!). I just got mine and am so enamored with them! Or go ahead and trust your nonstick muffin tin one more time. These things just tend to fail after a few uses, but go ahead and live on the edge if you must. Just be sure to grease liberally with coconut oil and don't tell me I didn't warn you if they stick.
Okay, now that you have your oven cranking, muffin tins/cups prepped, and ingredients assembled, let's make muffins! Add the coconut flour and cream of tartar to a sifter (or food processor) and sift into a large bowl (or whirl in your food processor to combine, then add to your bowl). Sifting the coconut flour and cream of tartar ensures none of those annoying clumps that are so difficult to mix out. Skip this and you'll be squashing beads of coconut flour and cream of tartar for the next five minutes, seriously. Next, add the remaining dry ingredients to the bowl and mix throughly. Then, add all the wet ingredients to a food processor and pulse until you break up the banana and squash. Scrape down the sides, then, let 'er whirl for a minute to lighten the color a bit and puree everything evenly (you might need another scraping and whirl to accomplish this). Give your wet ingredients a final whirl to aerate them (you should see bubbles when you lift the lid) and add them to the dry ingredients. Mix to evenly incorporate.
Dish your batter into muffin tins/cups and bake for 25 minutes, then check for any wetness on the top, giggliness, or too light a top color--if present, give them 5 more minutes, then retest. Mine took around 30 minutes and their tops just started to turn a more golden brown with stray spills looking a bit burnt. After finished, remove and cool on a rack (note: don't try to get muffins out of their cups (parchment or silicone) until after they have cooled). Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator with some paper towels underneath and above them to soak up excess moisture. They'll last a good few days if you can resist them!