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Chat Leftovers: Peeling Pumpkins

It's that time again: We're minutes away from another Food section Free Range chat, where you pepper us with questions (freshly ground, of course) and we do our best to answer them. And we're always feeling so fab on the day the section comes out that we bestow books on those of you who ask a good question, or inject a clever observation, or maybe just make us laugh. So plan to be there.

If we don't get to your question today, take heart: I might be able to address it in next week's Chat Leftovers. Here's one we couldn't get to last week. An ideal topic for the season:

Any tips for cutting pumpkin? My favorite recipe for this time of year is kadu bouranee (pumpkin + meat sauce + yogurt sauce), and all the recipes I’ve found start with peeling the pumpkin and dicing it before cooking. It usually takes me 45-60 minutes to do this for one little sugar pumpkin (with a few injuries). Getting into the pumpkin to start is hard enough (can eventually do it with pointy knife to start and leverage to finish), but peeling is the real kicker. My Y-shaped peeler is useless against the hard rind, and I’m pretty sure I’m ruining my chef’s knife trying to cut it off (1/8th of a pumpkin at a time).

At the Falls Church Farmers Market on Saturday, I spied a sugar pumpkin, remembered your question and decided to get some guidance from the farmer who was selling it. How do I cut up that pumpkin without hurting myself, I asked, and she looked at me and answered, “Drop it.”


“I’m serious.”

Well, maybe it works for her, but I pictured what would happen if I let that pumpkin splat onto the kitchen floor – or I guess the basement floor would be more effective; it’s concrete – and crossed it off the list of possible strategies.

So what does that leave us?

While it might seem sensible to cut the pumpkin into sections first and then peel, I think it’s actually more cumbersome. The pieces are more likely to slip from your grasp, which is a bad thing when a very sharp knife is involved. Here’s a better way to tackle the job.

First, you DO have a very sharp knife, right? That’s a must. (And no, you will not ruin it on a pumpkin peel.)

Cut off the top and bottom, then let the peeling begin. (Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

The idea is to approach the squash in the same way you’d pith a grapefruit. First, cut a slice off the bottom so it sits flat. Then do the same for the top. Now, holding the pumpkin down firmly, use the knife to slice off the peel in strips from top to bottom. (If the curve makes it tough to get all the way to the bottom, just flip it over and cut from the other side.) It still won’t be easy, but it’ll be better than trying to attack it with your little peeler.

I’d love to hear about other people’s techniques for this job. I’ve read that microwaving chunks of pumpkin makes peeling easy if it’s a puree you’re after. But if you want chunks or dice, as in the kadu bouranee, will that still work? Weigh in if you’re a pumpkin pro.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  October 7, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
 | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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I've found that with every recipe I use for a thick-skinned squash - pumpkin/butternut/etc halving it, deseeding it and roasting it first in a olive oil (and maybe seasonings) always helps the recipe turn out better. I think it somehow intensifies the flavors.

The roasting has the added bonus of not having to peel the squash - you just scoop out all the flesh.

Bonus points: soak those pumpkin seeds in water and you can easily get rid of all the frondy stuff and then roast the seeds themselves! I love a little oil and paprika - yum, yum, yum!

Posted by: jackrussellterrier | October 7, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

The key here is a very sharp, heavy-bladed knife. A wimpy little cheapo knife won't get you anywhere. If your favorite dish depends on winter squash, a good knife like the one pictured with this article is a decent investment. You only need one, not the entire set.

When peeling butternut squash, which I hate to do because I'm lazy - roasting is definitely a good alternative - I start by cutting the bulbous part off from the neck, so that I can tackle the curved part separately. Then, if the neck is too long and thin to handle safely, it gets halved. Then proceed as above.

Posted by: northgs | October 7, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Bake - whole. How long to bake depends on what you want to do: bake till soft for puree, soup etc, bake until you can pierce the skin easily but still firm if you need chunks or slices.


Posted by: rowandk | October 7, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

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