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Column: Embrace your inner zombie – eat some pumpkin brains

Once you’ve scooped out Jack’s brains and carved a face on him don’t throw out what’s left over – it’s immensely edible and nutritious.

Fiann Ó Nualláin

THE IRISH EXPORTED to America, along with Famine migration, the notion of carving the heads of turnips to make lamps during the Samhain festival. That idea then returned to these shores as supersized pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns.

It’s a tradition more popular than the original idea, and one almost every home in Ireland is exercising this Halloween. But once you’ve scooped out Jack’s brains and carved a face on him what is left over is immensely edible – so why not embrace your inner zombie and rustle those brains up into something nutritious and health rewarding?

Pumpkin brains (the flesh and seed) is incredibly rich in many vital and vitality-giving polyphenolic antioxidants such as lutein, xanthin, cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene – all the ones that help you regenerate your own human cells, improve night vision for trick-or-treating, boost stamina for helping the Halloween party boogie all night long, and support healthy libido if The Mummy takes a shine to Daddy Cool.

And pumpkin brains are the perfect antidote to all the toffee-apples and alcopops – 100g of the flesh provides less than 30 calories, is packed with fat reducing dietary fibre and contains no hidden saturated fats or cholesterol raising elements. It is a storehouse of nutrition and energy releasing B-complex vitamins.

The seeds of pumpkins are a superfood, full of B-vits but also the winter-proofing mineral zinc to help ward off colds and flus that lurk around the corner this time of year. As well as the helpful zinc, pumpkin seeds contain lignans which, when we ingest them, have an antimicrobial and anti-viral action within our stomachs and bloodstream – further strengthening our immunity.

The seeds are also packed with tryptophan which is converted to GABA (gamma amino butic acid) in the brain and helps fight seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as the days shorten and low light hits us all. GABA is linked with improvements in mood and sleep and with the release of the happy hormone serotonin, and it also regulates the nerve impulses in the human body and helps maintain muscle tone – just because you’re a zombie doesn’t mean you have to let yourself go.

OK, enough about the health facts – how do you make them there brains tasty? Arghhhhhh brains!

Quick and easy luxurious Pumpkin soup (family size)

Ingredients

  • The flesh contents of the carved head of one average pumpkin
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 medium precooked potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or real butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Double cream or sour cream to dress

Method

  • Skin and finely chop the onion
  • Add the butter/oil to a sauce pan and sauté the chopped onion
  • Next, add a cup of water and the pumpkin flesh, stir and bring to boil (add more water if there’s lots of flesh)
  • Once the mixture is boiling and the flesh melting, dice your precooked potatoes and add to pot
  • A hand blender at this point will provide a soft texture
  • Salt and pepper to your taste
  • Serve with a swirl of fresh cream or fold through some sour cream

Sweet Pumpkin bread

Ingredients (per 1lb loaf tin)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of pureed cooked pumpkin (steam or oven cook for 10-20 mins)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F/gasmark 4
  • Mix the dry ingredients together – flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt
  • Add the wet – eggs, oil, pumpkin and water
  • Stir well or fold with electric mixer to a consistent batter – add more water if needed
  • Grease the loaf tin and add the batter
  • Place on the middle rack and bake at 180 C /350 F /gasmark 4 for approximately 1 hour
  • Stick with a knife to check it’s cooked through (the knife should come out clean)
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool before turning out and cooling further
  • Serve hot or wrap in tea towel and refrigerate overnight to deepen flavour and maintain a nice texture

Roasted seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a great snack and are packed with the good fats, but to avoid destroying them in the heat of the oven it is best to not roast them for more than 15 minutes – over 20 minutes and the structure of the good fats alters and the zinc and iron levels decrease too. Note that small seeds can roast within 3-5 minutes, larger seeds in 10-15 minutes, and bear in mind that the top rack will cook them quicker than the middle rack.

Method

  • Wash the flesh from the seeds
  • Boil in salt water for 10 minutes
  • Drain and allow to dry
  • Pre heat oven to 200c/400f/gasmark 6
  • Once dry toss the seeds in a little sunflower or olive oil and spread across a baking tray
  • You can add pepper, salt, curry powder or favourite spices for extra flavour if you chose
  • Roast seeds at 180c/350F/gasmark 4 until lightly brown (usually 10-15 minutes)
  • Stir half way through to even up roasting
  • Remove and stand a moment
  • Serve warm or cold

Fiann Ó Nualláin is an advocate of gardening for health with a background in horticulture, nutrition, naturopathy and ethnobotany. His new book, The Holistic Gardener, published by Mercier Press, is available to buy now. 

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Fiann Ó Nualláin

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