I may have found the perfect base for a delicious smoothie-and it’s big, bright and orange! That’s right, a pumpkin. Pumpkins are seasonal in Fall, local, inexpensive, and full of beta-carotene, iron, and potassium.
All you need to do to use them in a smoothie is to cut the pumpkin into large chunks, steam them until soft, then let them cool and plop them into a blender in much the same way you would a banana. Pumpkins work well because they are starchy and smooth and naturally sweet. You can steam a large amount of pumpkin and store it in the refrigerator for 5-7 days, using it throughout the week as needed.
So, why not just use a banana? Well, ever since I started research for my cookbook, I’ve been on the lookout for a good banana substitute, because I’ve learned that a large percentage of commercial bananas are heavily treated with toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Most of the bananas on our store shelves come from Central America, where pesticides may be used that are actually illegal here in the United States. Those chemicals leach into our air and water, pollute the winter resting places of our summer songbirds, and threaten the health of banana plantation workers.
While buying Organic Fair Trade bananas certainly helps by supporting the elimination or reduction of toxic chemical use, Fair Trade bananas are generally more expensive, harder to find, and flown in from far away, requiring more fuel (and creating more greenhouse gases) to get them to market. Our banana supply is also threatened by long-term problems: The “Cavendish” banana variety that we generally eat is under attack from a virus that threatens to wipe it out or at least make it unfit to supply the global market.
Enter the Pumpkin-a healthy and delicious ingredient that we have growing right in our backyards-and several other varieties of winter squash such as butternut, delicata, or sweet “sugar loaf” squash. You might say, the time is “ripe” to look for banana alternatives!
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Pie pumpkins or sweet pumpkins work better here than the jack-o-lantern variety, as their flesh is sweeter and less watery. These varieties are also smaller and thus easier to work with. Save the pumpkin seeds for toasting; pumpkin seeds are a rich source of magnesium, iron, and zinc, and recent studies suggest that they can help lower cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory effects, alleviating chronic conditions like arthritis.
- Sweet apple
- Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla extract
- Milk or juice
Scrub the pumpkin and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds. Chop the pumpkin into 2-inch chunks. Steam the cut pumpkin for about 12 minutes, until tender. Cool.
Put approximately ¾ cup of pumpkin, or the equivalent of 1 small banana, into a blender. Add chopped apple and spices to taste. Pour in enough milk or juice for desired consistency. Blend.
In November of 2009, Ten Speed Press/Random House will publish Louisa’s first cookbook, Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of healthy, eco-conscious recipes, tips, and entertaining ideas.