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November 13, 2013

A healthy, Thai take on the traditional pumpkin pie

Halloween may be done, but pumpkin season rolls on! And it’s a welcome fact of life for a pumpkin lover like me.

I’m a fan of traditional American pumpkin pie, of course, but I also know that pumpkin is versatile, and I thought I might be able to internationalize it a little, too. This recipe, which reflects the influence of Thai cuisine, is a good example. It stars Thai staples like kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk, and complements them with fat-free evaporated milk.

I used to think that Thai food owed almost all of its Thai-ness to lemon grass. But that was before I learned about kaffir lime leaves. When I was finally introduced to them, I was knocked out by the intensity and richness of their scent and taste, and impressed by their ability to improve both sweet and savory dishes.

I like to use them to infuse sugar syrup, then add it to lemonade or iced tea. You can find kaffir lime leaves in Asian grocers, online and often at natural foods stores. You can find them fresh (they freeze and store well), or even thinly sliced and jarred.

This recipe calls for canned pumpkin, an ingredient at which I used to turn up my nose. Happily, I figured out after a while that pumpkins, like tomatoes, don’t suffer from canning. They’re harvested at peak ripeness, then cooked and canned immediately, which ensures that both flavor and health benefits are retained.

Besides, who has the time to cut up, seed, cook and puree fresh pumpkin, especially when fresh pumpkin can be watery and lackluster? Still, be sure to read the label. You want “solid pack” canned pumpkin with no added sugar, salt or other additives.

Deliciousness aside, pumpkin is a smart choice for dessert. Canned or fresh, it’s full of carotenoids and fiber, and it boasts more potassium than a banana. And a cup of canned pumpkin has just 80 calories.

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