international pumpkin recipes (how other countries eat pumpkin)

Pumpkins were an important foodstuff long before they were better loved as decorations, but plenty of people still eat them too, in far more diverse forms than pie. The term “pumpkin” can be pretty flexible—in America, we associate it with the spherical orange specimens carved up around Halloween, but in the UK and elsewhere, it’s often used to refer to winter squashes like butternut. And in fact, from acorn squash to sugar pumpkins, they’re all closely related—and all are cooked in various places around the world.

Technically, pumpkins are simply a type of squash; they belong to the cucurbitaceae or gourd family, with different types belonging to various species under that larger umbrella. Hubbard squashes, kabocha squashes, and turban squashes, for example, plus some larger pumpkins, are classed as Cucurbita maxima, while other pumpkins, including smaller pie varieties, as well as acorn squash, delicata squash, and zucchini, fall under the Cucurbita pepo label. Butternut squash is a Cucurbita moschata member, and those are all the most important edible examples. The more helpful way to distinguish them may be by comparing summer squash and winter squash; the so-called summer varieties are usually smaller, softer, milder in flavor, and either green or yellow, while the winter squashes (including pumpkins of all stripes) are generally larger, harder, sweeter, and some shade of orange or red (at least inside, and often without as well).

So when it comes to the festive fall pumpkins and squashes that show up in force as summer ends, it makes sense to lump them together in the kitchen, more or less. Taking “pumpkin” to mean all sorts of winter squash, then, let’s take a look at how it’s eaten across the globe. We couldn’t cover everything (like the German cream of pumpkin soup called Kurbiscremesuppe that’s similar to a lot of our favorite butternut squash soups, for instance, or Italy’s pumpkin gnocchi), but here’s an annotated A to Z of some lesser-known—but equally delicious—preparations for pumpkin.

Afghanistan

Kadu Bouranee (Spiced Afghan Pumpkin with Yogurt)

Kadu Bouranee (Spiced Afghan Pumpkin with Garlic Yogurt and Mint)

Cooking the Globe

There are various ways to make (and spell) this Afghan appetizer, but tender pumpkin and garlic yogurt are constants. Sometimes the pumpkin is sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar before being baked, but here it’s simmered in a richly spiced tomato sauce before being topped with the cooling yogurt and fresh mint. Use small sugar pumpkins if you can find them, or butternut squash if not. Get the recipe.

Argentina

Carbonada en Zapallo (Argentine Beef Stew in a Pumpkin)

Carbonada en Zapallo (Argentine Beef Stew in a Pumpkin)

Global Table Adventure

This showstopping Argentinian beef stew with corn, peppers, and dried apricots is cooked and served inside a pumpkin. Scrape some of the tender orange flesh up with each serving of stew. Get the recipe.

Armenia

Ghapama (Armenian Stuffed Pumpkin)

Ghapama (Armenian Rice Stuffed Pumpkin)

SBS

Pumpkins naturally lend themselves to stuffing with all sorts of things—in Armenia, it’s often rice studded with dried fruit and nuts and sweetened with honey. The resulting dish is sliced so that it falls open like a flower, and is traditionally served around Christmas. You can use a larger sugar pumpkin for this, and bake it in your oven if that’s easiest, but a campfire works too. Get the recipe.

Brazil

Camarão na Moraga (Shrimp Stuffed Pumpkin)

Camarão na Moraga (Brazilian Shrimp Stuffed Pumpkin)

Adore Foods

In Brazil, you might find chicken stew in a pumpkin shell, but seafood seems a bit more remarkable. In this traditional dish, soft cheese is spread inside a pumpkin before fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, and shrimp are added and stewed. It makes an unusually delicious fall centerpiece, with lots of rice to soak up all the juices. Get the recipe.

Doce de Abóbora con Coco

Doce de Abóbora con Coco (Brazilian pumpkin jam with coconut)

Olivia’s Cuisine

Brazil has sweet ways with pumpkin too; doce de abóbora is a jammy pumpkin compote of sorts, which can be as simple as pumpkin and sugar cooked down on the stove, but you can also add coconut and warm spices like cinnamon and cloves. Try it with fresh white cheese, requeijão if you can find it (which happens to be the same cheese traditionally used in the shrimp stew above). Get the recipe.

China

Fried Chinese Pumpkin Cake

Fried Chinese Pumpkin Cake with Red Bean Paste

China Sichuan Food

Just as pumpkins symbolize fall and harvest time in the U.S., they’re linked to the mid-autumn festival in China and are eaten in various forms. Fried sweet cakes made from steamed pumpkin and glutinous rice flour are traditionally filled with red bean paste, but you could also try them with brown sugar centers. Get the recipe.

Chinese Steamed Pumpkin Cake

Savory Chinese Steamed Pumpkin Cake with Shrimp

Huang Kitchen

For a savory Chinese take on pumpkin, this delicate steamed cake combines it with dried shrimp, minced chicken (you can also use pork), shiitake mushrooms, and preserved turnips. Get the recipe.

Egypt

Kar Assaly (Pumpkin Bechamel Pie)

Kar Assaly (Egyptian Pumpkin Bechamel Pie)

The Wanderlust Queen

Egypt’s version of pumpkin pie has plenty of cinnamon and sugar, but there its similarities to our classic Thanksgiving dessert end. It’s crustless, the gently cooked pumpkin is left in chunks with a layer of nuts and raisins in the middle, and it’s topped off with a creamy béchamel. Get the recipe.

India

Kaddu Ka Halwa

Kaddu Ka Halwa (Indian pumpkin sweet)

Whisk Affair

In India, pumpkin may be made into soup or stewed with savory spices, but it can also be served for dessert. Frying almonds, cashews, and pistachios in ghee before adding shredded pumpkin, milk, sugar, and khoya (or evaporated milk solids, which you can make at home) before cooking it down results in a tender yet toothsome sweet. Get the recipe.

Japan

Simmered Kabocha Squash (Japanese Pumpkin)

Simmered Kabocha Squash (Japanese Pumpkin)

Just One Cookbook

Simply seasoned with dashi, soy, and sake, kabocha squash’s natural earthy sweetness shines through, but fresh julienned ginger makes an eye-opening counterpoint to this understated and refined Japanese dish. Get the recipe.

Korea

Hobakjuk (Sweet Pumpkin Porridge with Rice Balls)

Hobakjuk (Sweet Pumpkin Porridge with Rice Balls)

My Korean Kitchen

This sweet pumpkin (or kabocha squash) porridge is dotted with delightfully chewy rice cake balls to complement and contrast the velvety texture surrounding them. Serve it for breakfast or dessert, or as a get-well bowl of comfort—pumpkin is full of nutrients that can help boost the immune system. Get the recipe.

Mexico

Calabaza en Tacha (Mexican Candied Pumpkin)

Calabaza en Tacha (Mexican Candied Pumpkin)

Muy Bueno Cookbook

Pumpkins are native to Mexico, and one of the most popular ways to cook them (aside from empanadas), is to steam or simmer them until tender and serve in a cinnamon and piloncillo syrup with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. These are popular for Day of the Dead, which happens to fall in prime pumpkin time (aka autumn). Get the recipe.

Russia

Pumpkin Oladyi

Pumpkin Oladyi (Russian Pumpkin Pancakes)

Global Table Adventure

There are plenty of pumpkin pancake examples, like the Sephardic Jewish versions, sometimes sweet (bimuelos de kalavasa), and sometimes savory (kibbet yakteen). “Russian pancakes” may make you think of blini, but oladyi are fluffy little griddle cakes made with kefir (or buttermilk), and they take well to moist pumpkin puree in the batter too. Get the recipe.

South Africa

Pampoenkoekies

Pampoenkoekies (South African Pumpkin Fritters)

Immaculate Bites

These South African pumpkin fritters pack in all the familiar flavors of fall, thanks to cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and sugar—and a drizzle of caramel sauce on top. Get the recipe.

Thailand

Sankaya (Thai Pumpkin Custard)

Sankaya (Steamed Thai Pumpkin Custard)

Rachel Cooks Thai

This is a simple but impressive dessert from Thailand, in which a coconut milk and palm sugar custard is poured into a kabocha squash and steamed before the whole thing is cut open to reveal the sweet and tender interior. You can make it in small sugar pumpkins too. Get the recipe.

Vietnam

Canh Bi Do Thit (Pumpkin Soup)

Canh Bi Do Thit (Vietnamese Pumpkin Soup)

Vicky Pham

Pumpkin soup doesn’t have to be creamy and rich; here, chunks of pumpkin (or kabocha squash) are simmered with pork in a spicy broth for something a little lighter, but just as warming for the colder months. Get the recipe.

Zimbabwe

Nhopi (Pumpkin and Peanut Butter Mash)

nhopi, zimbabwean pumpkin peanut mash

Global Table Adventure

Pumpkin is eaten in many African countries, in various ways (even the leaves are eaten, as in ugu soup), but try pureeing butternut squash—or even sugar pumpkin—with peanut butter for an intriguing alternative to mashed potatoes. Get the recipes.

Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.

Related Video: How to Make Smoky Pumpkin Hummus

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Jen is an associate content producer at Chowhound. Raised on scrapple and blue crabs, she hails from Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Portland (Oregon) for so long it feels like home. She enjoys the rain, reads, writes, eats, and cooks voraciously, and stops to pet every stray cat she sees. Continually working on building her Gourmet magazine collection, she will never get over its cancellation. Read more of her work.
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