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Jewish Pumpkin Recipes

October 21, 2015 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

Different and delicious!

During the Renaissance, Jewish communities along the Mediterranean were among the first Europeans to integrate pumpkin into their cooking, introduced to this New World food through their connections with Portuguese and other Jewish traders. Pumpkin dishes soon spread throughout the Jewish world, particularly in Sephardi communities.

These days when pumpkins are plentiful, try experimenting with some of these traditional recipes. Bitayavon!

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin is a key ingredient in many Sephardi Rosh Hashanah recipes. By eating pumpkin, we're expressing our hope that, just as the pumpkin's thick skin covers and protects it, we too will be thoroughly protected in the new year. These spiced pumpkin pancakes - a Rosh Hashanah specialty in many families - are so good, they can be enjoyed all year round, too!

  • 2 lbs pumpkin or winter squash, halved, seeded, then halved again
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
  • 1/4 t ground allspice
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t ground white pepper
  • About 1/4 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
  • Yogurt or sour cream (optional, for dairy meals)
  • Brown sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line a tray with paper towels to drain the pancakes and have a baking sheet ready for keeping the pancakes warm.

Put the pumpkin or squash cut side down in a casserole dish and add about 1/4inch water. Cover and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. (To poach the pumpkin, cut it into 6 or 8 pieces. Add to a large saucepan with enough boiling salted water to cover it halfway. Return to a boil, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat, turning once or twice, 15-20 minutes or until tender.

Remove cooked pumpkin to a plate and let cool slightly. Scoop out pulp. Cut pulp into pieces and mash it with a fork. Press pulp gently in a strainer to remove excess liquid. Transfer pulp to a bowl.

Mix flour, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, sugar, salt and white pepper in a medium bowl until it becomes a very thick batter. Add to mashed pumpkin and mix very well.

Heat oil in a deep, heavy skillet over medium heat. Fry pumpkin mixture by tablespoonfuls, flattening each after adding, about 2 minutes or until golden brown on each side. Turn carefully with 2 slotted spatulas so oil doesn't splatter. Transfer to paper towels. Stir batter before frying each new bach. Add more oil to the pan as necessary, and heat it before adding more pancakes. After frying about half the batter, put pancakes on baking sheet and keep war in oven.

Pa tops of pancakes with paper towels before serving. Serve hot or warm. Top with yogurt, if using, and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Serves 4-6

(From 1,000 Jewish Recipes by Faye Levy. IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., Foster City, CA: 2000.)

Libyan Spicy Pumpkin Dip

Libyan Spicy Pumpkin DipJewish cookbook writer Marlena Spieler came across this spicy dip in a Libyan-Jewish restaurant in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv. It's an intriguing dip that goes well with raw vegetables or slices of crusty bread to dip.

  • 3-4 T (45-60 ml) olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 5-8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 lb. (675 g) pumpkin, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 t (5-10 ml) ground cumin
  • 1 t (5 mil) paprika
  • 1/4 - 1/2 t (1.5 - 2.5 ml) ground ginger
  • 1/2 - 1/2 t (1.5 - 2.5 ml) curry powder
  • 3 oz (75 g) chopped canned tomatoes or diced fresh tomatoes and 1 - 2 T (15 - 30 ml) tomato paste
  • 1/2 - 1 red jalapeno or serrano chilli, chopped, or cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of sugar, if necessary
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • Salt
  • 2 T (30 ml) chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, to garnish

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and half the garlic and fry until softened. Add the pumpkin, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until half-tender.

Add the spices to the pan and cook for 1 - 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, chilli, sugar, and salt and cook over a medium-high heat until the liquid has evaporated.

When the pumpkin is tender, mash to a coarse puree. Add the remaining garlic and taste for seasoning, then stir in the lemon juice to taste. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with the chopped fresh coriander.

Serves 6 - 8.

(From The Jewish Heritage Cookbook: a fascinating journey through the rich and diverse history of the Jewish cuisine by Marlena Spieler. Lorenz Books, New York, NY: 2002.)

Tangy Tunisian Mashed Pumpkin

This salad from the Tunisian Jewish community is traditionally served as a first course, but it makes a great accompaniment to chicken and meat meals, too.

  • 1/2 t Harissa, Zehug (spicy sauces available in many Middle Eastern grocery stores) or bottled hot sauce, to taste
  • 3 lbs. sugar pumpkin (can also use acorn or butternut squash instead)
  • 1 green onion, white and green parts, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 1/2 t paprika
  • 1 t ground caraway seeds
  • 1 T strained fresh lemon juice
  • 1 - 3 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 T chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish

To cook pumpkin on stovetop: cut squash or pumpkin in pieces and cut off peel. Remove seeds. Cut pumpkin meat in approx. 1 1/2 inch cubes. (You should have 5-6 cups.) Combine pumpkin cubes in a medium saucepan with 2 cups water and pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally so that all pieces come in contact with the water, about 25 minutes or until very tender when pierced with sharp knife. Drain thoroughly.

To cook pumpkin in microwave: cut in half and remove seeds. Put halved pumpkin in glass baking dish cut-side down. Add 1/4 water to dish. Cover and microwave on high about 12 minutes or until tender; check by piercing meat in thickest part with fork.

Mash squash pieces with a fork; leave a few small chunks if desired. Transfer to a colander and let drain 1 hour.

Put pumpkin in a bowl and add green onion, garlic, hot sauce, paprika, caraway seeds, lemon juice, 1 T olive oil, and salt to taste. Mix well, cover, and chill.

Serve pumpkin in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. If you like, drizzle olive oil over top. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

(1,000 Jewish Recipes by Faye Levy. IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., Foster City, CA: 2000.)

Pumpkin Bourekas

Pumpkin BourekasThese small pies - originally popular with Jewish communities in Turkey and the Balkans - today are popular throughout the Jewish world. This pumpkin filling is rich and delicious; try serving it as a first course or a snack.

For the dough:

  • 1 t yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t salt
  • oil
  • 1 T grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for topping

For the filling:

  • 2 lbs. pumpkin, cooked, drained and mashed
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 t sugar
  • salt

Prepare the filling by combining pumpkin and cheese. Stir in eggs, sugar, and salt, mixing well.

Prepare the dough by dissolving the yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Stir in 3 cups flour, salt and remaining 1/2 cup lukewarm water, then knead thoroughly and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes, covered.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and knead each part on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place each part into a pan filled with enough oil to just cover the bottom. Turn the dough over once in the oil and cover with waxed paper. Let dough stand for another 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

On a lightly oiled work surface, place one part of the dough and stretch it gradually until it is about 15 inches square. Mi the remaining 1/2 cup flour with 1 T cheese. Sprinkle the dough with the cheese mixture and fold both ends towards the middle. Sprinkle the dough again with the cheese mixture and fold the dough in half.

Cut into 6 portions and set aside until all sections of the dough have been worked in this manner. Stretch each portion into a 5-inch square and place about 1 T of the pumpkin filling in the center. Fold each point of the square toward the center, overlapping the points.

Place on a well greased baking sheet and sprinkle the tops with cheese. Bake until golden brown, 10-20 minutes.

(From Sephardi Israeli Cuisine: A Mediterranean Mosaic by Sheilah Kaufman. Hippocrene Books, Inc, New York: 2002.)

Oshi Tos Kadu (Stuffed Pumpkin)

Oshi Tos Kadu (Stuffed Pumpkin)Cookbook writer Claudia Roden recalls that when she went to buy a pumpkin to make this festive Bukharan Jewish specialty, the smallest pumpkin she could find was 14 pounds - so that's the size she designed this recipe around. If you buy a smaller pumpkin, you can decrease the other ingredients proportionately.

Some traditional versions of Oshi Tos Kadu include meat, and over the years I've found this dish is very easy to alter to suit what's in the pantry. (I've added currants, roasted chestnuts, and different spices: this dish is so magnificent, it always seems to come out well.) I've also found that when you use small pie pumpkins, it's not necessary to remove excess pumpkin meat.

Be sure to wash the pumpkin before you cook it. Long cooking renders the skin soft, and you can eat the entire pumpkin sliced - skin and all.

  • 1 orange pumpkin about 14 lbs (6 kg)
  • Salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) light vegetable oil
  • 4 cups (800 g) long-grain rice
  • 1/4 t saffron powder of 1/2 t threads
  • 3 tart apples
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) raisins or sultanas
  • A large bunch of coriander, chopped (3/4 cup)

With a strong, sharp knife, cut out a round lid about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter around the stem end of the pumpkin and lift it out. Scrape inside and scoop out and discard the seeds and loose fibers. Remove some of the flesh from the lid and also from the sides by hacking it with the knife (reserve it for other recipes). Sprinkle inside with a little salt and the sugar, and stand it on a double piece of foil in a baking pan large enough to hold it.

Make the filling: Fry the onions in 2 T of the oil until golden. Bing a large pot of salted water to the boil and throw the rice in. Let it come to the boil again, and simmer for about 12 minutes, until the rice is still a little underdone; then drain and pour into a mixing bowl. Mix the saffron powder with 1-2 T of boiling water - or crush saffron threads in a little coffee cup before soaking in the boiling water, then mix well with the rice.

Peel and core the apples, and coarsely chop them in a food processor, adding the lemon juice to prevent them from browning Add them to the rice with the fried onions and the raisins, the remaining oil, and the coriander. Stir well and season with salt and pepper.

Fill the pumpkin with the rice mixture and put the lid on. Pour about 3/4 inch (2 cm) of water in the baking pan and bake at 375 degrees F (190 C) for about 2 2/1 hours, or until the pumpkin is soft and the rice very tender. Serve hot, cut into slices.

Serves more than 20.

For a meat filling for a 3 lb (1 1/2 kg) pumpkin, fry one chopped onion in 2 T of vegetable oil until golden. Add 1/2 lb (250 g) ground beef and fry, stirring and crushing it with a fork, until it changes color. Season with salt and pepper and mix with one cup (200 g) of rice that has been boiled in plenty of salted water until still a little underdone, then drained. Add a large bunch of coriander, chopped (1 cup), 4 T of raisins, and 3 chopped tomatoes, and mix well. Stuff the pumpkin and bake for almost 2 hours.

Serves 6-8.

(From The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York With More than 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi Recipes by Claudia Roden. Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 1996.)

Moroccan Meatball and Pumpkin Stew

I was delighted to come across this recipe: this rich Moroccan-Jewish stew is fancy enough to serve for holidays, yet is simple to make and economical too.

  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley or cilantro (or a mixture of the two)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • 1/2 t turmeric
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
  • 2 t cinnamon to taste
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup soft pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2 lbs. pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place raisins and prunes in a dish and cover with boiling water. Let stand 10 minutes.

Combine ground beef, grated onion, parsley, egg, bread crumbs, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, turmeric, and half the cinnamon and ginger in a bowl and mix well.

In a large heavy-bottom pot, and saute the sliced onions in olive oil until golden brown. Add the water to the onions and bring to a boil.

Shape the meat into walnut-sized balls, and drop into the simmering liquid. Cook the balls until firm, about 10-15 minutes, until firm.

Transfer meat, onions, and liquid to a deep casserole dish. Drain the fruits and add them to the casserole along with almonds and pumpkin and stir gently to mix.

Sprinkle the brown sugar and remaining cinnamon over the top, and bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350 degree F oven until the pumpkin is tender, about one hour. Serve with couscous.

Serves 6-8.

Pumpkin Halwa (Pudding)

Pumpkin Halwa (Pudding)The Bene Israel community of India lived for centuries almost completely isolated from other Jewish communities; they were "discovered" in the 1700s by the Cochin Jewish community of India who recognized them as Jewish by certain key practices, and who sent teachers to instruct them in Jewish learning. Most Bene Israel Jews eventually moved to Bombay, and in recent years many have moved to Israel.

This Bene Israel recipe is for a rich pumpkin pudding, called "Halwa" like other Indian desserts.

  • 1 lb (500 g) orange pumpkin, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
  • Seeds of 3 cardamom pods or 1/2 t ground cardamom
  • 2/3 cup (150 ml) clotted or heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (75 g) coarsely chopped almonds and pistachios

Steam the pumpkin in a pot with a tight-fitting lid and about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of water. It will release a lot of juice. Cook with the lid off for a few minutes to evaporate some of the water. Add the sugar and cardamom seeds and cook until thick and slightly jammy. Let it cool beore folding in the cream and nuts. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

(From The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York With More than 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi Recipes by Claudia Roden. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, New York: 1996.)


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