One of the things I enjoy the most about living overseas is the challenge to re-create certain staples of die-hard American cuisine. Cream of Mushroom Soup was always a particular stumbling block growing up in a country without Campbell’s®, and the recipes for substitutes always proved so time-consuming that I often ended up scrapping the dish altogether. Sour cream can be another surprisingly elusive ingredient, though the observant cook can often find close equivalents- in Uzbekistan we called it kaimok, and in Lebanon we use labneh. It is during the holiday season that the lack of American ingredients is often most sorely felt, and this year’s Thanksgiving was no exception. However, it is in these moments that necessity is indeed the mother of invention, ending in either creative masterpieces or epic failures.
While the grocery stores in Beirut tend to be fairly well stocked, canned pumpkin is one item chronically in short supply. Clearly a necessary item in one of my seasonal favorites, pumpkin pie, I remembered how my mom used to bake her own pumpkins, and I decided to try it for myself. For those of you who, either out of necessity or perhaps curiosity, would like to follow suit, here are the directions on how to bake your own pumpkin:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Slice the raw pumpkin in half and clean out the fleshy insides including the seeds.
3) Place the two halves of the pumpkin face down on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan.
4) Place in oven and allow to bake until soft when poked with a fork- about 1½ -2 hours depending on the size of the pumpkin. Take care in lifting the pumpkin halves off of the pan as hot steam will be trapped underneath.
5) Allow the pumpkin to cool slightly before scooping it out of the skin.
6) Store in the fridge in an air-tight container until ready for use.
*You may also puree the pumpkin for a smoother consistency, but this may make it runnier and alter the consistency of some recipes.
I usually like to save the pumpkin seeds to toast in the oven with a little bit of salt- a tasty and healthy snack, but one of my roommates also found this recipe for Pumpkin Seed Milk. We teased her endlessly for it, but Pumpkin Seed Milk is actually surprisingly good, especially if you like Soy or Almond Milk. It is also extremely good for you- pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of Magnesium and Zinc among other things, and can help reduce cholesterol.
As far as pumpkin pie goes, I have yet to find a recipe that I prefer to the one straight off the Libby’s® can, but since Evaporated Milk is also often hard to come by, below is a modified recipe using reduced sugar and Sweetened Condensed Milk:
Baked Pumpkin Pie
- 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust
- ¼ c. white sugar
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. ground ginger
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- 2 eggs
- 2 c. baked pumpkin
- 1 ½ c. Sweetened Condensed Milk
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Roll out pie crust and place in a greased 9 inch pie tin.
3. Combine remaining dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl.
4. Beat eggs lightly and add pumpkin and dry ingredients using an electric mixer or by hand.
5. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk.
6. Pour into pie shell and bake for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until knife inserted into the middle of the pie comes out clean. Cover with tin foil if crust begins to brown before fully cooked.
7. Allow to cool completely, then store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.