Healthier choice recipe: Shaved pumpkin stir-fry

SINGAPORE - I have eaten pumpkin stewed, pureed, grilled and roasted but never stir-fried, thinly shaved, and with its skin.

I was served such an intriguing dish in Luang Prabang, Laos, and never forgot it.

So I worked out a recipe. First, how to get those pumpkin shavings? I found that a potato peeler, especially one with a ceramic blade, works well in such a case.

To make it easier to cut into a pumpkin, just jab it with a knife once or twice to make cuts for the steam to escape, put the whole thing in the microwave oven and cook on high for about three minutes.

You will find that it is much easier to cut after that and to get shavings.

If you are wondering how to eat that hard shell, well, it softens beautifully upon cooking.

As for the seasonings, they are nothing more than chopped garlic, a bit of fish sauce, a splash of white wine and a topping of fresh herbs -- Chinese celery or, perhaps, Thai basil - and they all add up to a delicious whole, with a fragrant flourish from the fresh herbs.

Add sliced green chilli for some bite, cutting through the sweetness of the vegetable.

The result of it all? You get an unusual shaved vegetable dish - sweet and rich with flavour, with texture from the skin - a great accompaniment to any meal, but particularly if you are serving one with South-east Asian flavours.

The pumpkin is one of the most nutritious vegetables.

It is a gourd and the bright orange colour of its flesh is a dead giveaway to its rich supply of an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. This converts to vitamin A in the body.

Studies have shown that a diet rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and protects against heart disease.

It also offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of ageing.

Furthermore, pumpkin is a complex carbohydrate source.

It contains both carbohydrates and fibre, which can help prevent extreme fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

This is especially important for people trying to control their blood sugar levels.

Fibre also adds bulk, helping digestion, alleviating constipation, lowering cholesterol and helping you to feel full.

There are many varieties of pumpkin.

You can choose from the Japanese (deep green skin), the Malaysian (mottled green and white skin) or the creamy beige butternut, which has an elongated bottle shape.

There is also a blue pumpkin from Australia, which has a faded blue tint.

They all have subtly different flavours, but not to worry, the fish sauce, wine and basil in this recipe all deliver wonderful taste notes to the squash.

Whichever pumpkin you choose, you would want one which is heavy for its size.

The lighter ones are drier and have a bigger cavity in the middle.

Generally, stay away from large pumpkins - the smaller ones are sweeter and juicier.

wdspice@gmail.com

Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous recipes for Eat To Live can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.

Shaved pumpkin stir-fry

(For 4-6)

INGREDIENTS

Half a local pumpkin (about 500g)

1 tsp chopped garlic

1 tsp fish sauce or to taste

Black pepper to taste

Handful of fresh herbs: coriander, whole leaves, Thai basil, whole leaves, or Chinese celery, chopped

Optional: sliced green chilli

METHOD

Soften the pumpkin in the microwave using the method described on the left. Then using a sharp knife or a potato peeler, shave off thin slices from the gourd, or thicker pieces if you like.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a fry pan. Soften the chopped garlic in the pan till fragrant but not browned.

Add the pumpkin shavings and season with fish sauce.

Toss, adding half a cup of water or white wine, if needed, to soften the vegetable. It should take just five minutes or so.

Just before serving, garnish with basil or a selection of fresh herbs, chopped, and if liked, some green chilli. Offer as a vegetable accompaniment to any meal.


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