Seasonal grub: Pumpkins and Squash

Pumpkins and winter squash are one of the most colourful and versatile autumn harvest time crops. There’s nothing much more cheerful than a display of pumpkins and squash in a multitude of sizes, shapes and colours. They’re relatively easy to grow and this is a good way of tasting unusual squashes that aren’t readily available in stores. They can be stored in a cool dark place for several months before eating. However, if crowing your own crops isn’t your thing there are several varieties that are regularly stocked in our supermarkets and grocery shops.

They are officially classed as vegetables, but are also delicious eaten in sweet recipes.

Pumpkins and squash are thought to have originated in South America, but they weren’t the round orange type we think of when we think of Hallowe’en, they were a more elongated shape. The Native Americans were cultivating pumpkins and squash long before the European settlers arrived. The natives introduced this unusual crop to the pilgrims which meant they had a nutritious food source throughout the winter, thus saving many lives and quickly became a staple food for the new settlers’ Thanksgiving celebration.

Not only are Pumpkins and Squash delicious they are also very good for you. They are low in calories and high in fibre. They are high in beta-carotene which is a valuable antioxidant, and doctors believe a diet rich in beta-carotene can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

As well as eating the flesh of pumpkins and squash the seeds are also delicious toasted and are high in protein, iron and the B vitamins.

Pumpkin pie is probably the recipe that springs to mind when thinking out pumpkins and squash, but equally as good are recipes such as pumpkin or squash pancakes, roasted squash soup, squash and root vegetable curry or pumpkin cakes. Chunks of squash or pumpkin (with the seeds scraped out and reserved for roasting later) skin on, make a delicious addition to the British Sunday roast, just pop them in the roasting tray with your roast potatoes. I’ve included below my own favourite pumpkin/squash recipe, a simple but tasty risotto. Why not treat yourself this Autumn and experiment with these colourful fruits of the harvest?

Pumpkin or Squash Risotto

Ingredients

570ml/1 pint vegetable or chicken stock
1 small onion chopped
Pinch mixed herbs
2 tbsp olive oil
2oz butter
250g/9oz pumpkin or squash chopped
50g/2oz butter
Salt and pepper
Fresh parmesan to garnish

Method

In a large frying pan fry the onion in the oil until soft but not brown.

Add the rice and mix well to coat the grains with the oil, add a cupful of hot stock and simmer until the stock is almost absorbed.

Add the pumpkin or squash and another cup of stock, continue to simmer until the stock is almost absorbed once again.

Continue to add a spoonful of stock at a time until the rice is cooked, traditionally it should be ‘al dente’, that is cooked but still with a little firmness to it, but if you prefer it softer that’s fine. You may still have a little stock left when the rice is cooked, and at this stage season with salt and pepper and stir in the butter, the texture should be loose and creamy.

This whole process will take about 20 mins.

Serve with grated parmesan. Delicious!

Hope I've got you into the spirit for experimenting with something that most people reserve for carving once a year. Try my risotto or get creative and experiment with the flavours!

Glass of water kefir with ice cubes

Health benefits of water kefir

What is water kefir?

Water kefir (pronounced kee-fer or kuh-fear depending on who you listen to!) is a fermented beverage which acts as an intense probiotic, in a similar way to those expensive little pots of probiotic drinks you can buy in the supermarket which typically contain a few healthy bacteria, as opposed to kefir which contains more than 30.

Water kefir is made from water kefir ‘grains’ which are actually a mixture of bacteria, yeast, protein and sugar. The grains are grown in filtered water and ferment over a few days until ready to drink. Water kefir has a mild slightly sweet taste and is slightly carbonated. Everyone can drink water kefir, young, old, even pregnant women. Water kefir does not contain dairy or gluten. Diabetics can drink water kefir as long as they monitor their blood sugar regularly.

Why do we need kefir?

Our gut is naturally full of bacteria, which should ideally be balanced with ‘good’ and ‘bad'. This bacteria is vital for digesting food, developing our immune system and generally keeping us in good health. If our gut bacteria is out of balance, which is all too common in an age where we routinely take antibiotics and eat so much processed food then drinking water kefir or consuming other fermented food can be a way of achieving a healthy gut.

Health benefits of water kefir

In recent years there have been many studies into the health benefits of a healthy gut and it is now believed this can improve our digestion which has a healing effect on IBS including bloating, indigestion, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation and leaky gut, it can reduce inflammation and allergies, it can restore balance to our skin and improve skin conditions such as acne and eczema, and generally promote optimum health.

How much water kefir should I drink?

Kefir is best served with ice

It is best to introduce water kefir slowly, starting with half a glass or so once a day gradually allowing your gut to adjust and increasing eventually to between one and four glasses per day. Water kefir can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Where can I buy water kefir?

Water kefir grains are available to buy at Gym & Tonic allowing you to can make your own, alternatively a limited amount of bottled water kefir is also available for £5 for the first bottle and £4 thereafter with a returned empty bottle. It can also be made to order. Please email nabil@gym-tonic.net or speak to a member of the team for more info!

Check out Essential Reflexology for more health related treatments and products. Drink up and enjoy the benefits!