Pumpkins and Jews? Believe it or not, pumpkins have a long history in Jewish cuisine — notably Sephardic, Italian-Jewish and Syrian-Jewish — because Jews were early adopters of squash when it made its way over the Atlantic Ocean from the New World sites where it was domesticated, such as Mexico, Peru and the eastern United States.
I have long stuffed pumpkins with soups and stews … and even a kugel (www.tinyurl.com/kugel-pumpkin)! Now I’ve got some recipes for pumpkins stuffed with cheese tamales and a Thai-flavored vegetable curry.
Use any pumpkin grown for eating, or try a green-skinned (but orange-fleshed) kabocha, commonly known as a Japanese pumpkin.
Look for kosher or vegetarian tamales in the freezer section; plain cheese ones are fine, but I like ones with green chiles and/or vegetables. Buy kosher Thai red curry paste online or seek out vegetarian brands in local markets; be careful, because spiciness varies.
Serves 3 to 4
2- to 3-lb. cooking pumpkin
1/2 cup milk
4 to 5 cheese tamales (with green chiles if possible)
2 Tbs. oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 to 2 Tbs. chopped green chiles (optional if tamales have chiles)
1/4 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped zucchini
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp. paprika
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut off top of pumpkin and clean out seeds and strings. Place pumpkin in roasting pan. Pour in milk. Bake about 20-30 minutes until pumpkin flesh is starting to soften. While pumpkin is roasting, steam tamales. Unwrap from husks. Heat oil in large fry pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onion and garlic until browned. Add chiles, corn and zucchini. Sauté until softened. Break up tamales. Stir into vegetables with salt and pepper. Pack into pumpkin, stirring any milk remaining on the bottom into mixture. Sprinkle paprika on top. Return to oven in pan. Bake 45 to 60 minutes, until pumpkin flesh is soft and stuffing heated through. When serving, scoop out pumpkin with filling.
Thai-Flavored Vegetables in a Pumpkin
3- to 4-lb. cooking pumpkin
15-oz. can coconut milk, divided
2 Tbs. oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic cloves
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 to 2 Tbs. prepared Thai red curry paste, or to taste
1 cup sweet potato (1/2-inch chunks)
1 cup carrot slices (1/4-inch rounds)
1 cup red pepper (1/2-inch chunks)
1 cup unpeeled Asian, Thai or Italian eggplant (1/2-inch chunks)
1 cup quartered mushroom caps
2 cups extra firm tofu, drained (1/2-inch cubes)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, divided
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut top off pumpkin, reserve. Clean out seeds and strings. Pour half of coconut milk into pumpkin; cover with its top. Put in rimmed baking pan. Bake about 20 to 30 minutes, until flesh begins to soften.
While pumpkin is cooking, heat oil in wok or large fry pan over high heat. Sauté onions, garlic and ginger until beginning to brown. Stir in curry paste and remaining coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Add sweet potatoes, carrots and peppers. Simmer a few minutes and add eggplant, mushrooms and tofu. Simmer gently until vegetables are about half cooked. Take off heat. Stir in 1/4 cup basil.
Once pumpkin is ready, remove top and add vegetables and sauce to coconut milk inside pumpkin. Stir well. Replace pumpkin top. Return pan to oven for 45 to 60 minutes, or until pumpkin flesh is soft and vegetables cooked. To serve, remove top, sprinkle with remaining basil and scoop out some of the pumpkin with the curry.