If you and your family love pumpkin, it doesn't have to be restricted to pies and cookies. Appetizers are a great way to showcase the versatile appeal of this autumnal squash. Best of all, pumpkin tamales and empanadas are a fun project your kids can help assemble before you cook and serve them. Delicious appetizers and family togetherness -- there's nothing better.
If you've made other types of tamales before, the technique for pumpkin tamales is the same. Buy corn husks and masa harina, which is special corn flour made for tamales, at any grocery store that stocks Mexican foods. Start soaking the corn husks in warm water about an hour before you want to make the tamales. Follow the directions on the flour package to make the tamale batter in one bowl. In another bowl, mix your pumpkin filling together. Both savory and sweet pumpkin tamale recipes exist, with sweet ones tasting a little like pumpkin pie. Spread the batter in the middle of each corn husk, then spoon in about a tablespoon of pumpkin filling. Fold the corn husk shut, so the filling is enclosed in the batter. Steam the tamales over plenty of hot water on your stove. Don't let the water touch the tamales as they cook, and don't let the pot boil dry as you steam them. Tamales are done when you can easily peel the corn husk away from the tamale inside.
Empanadas are little pocket-sized pies. Use store-bought pie crusts or your favorite pie crust recipe, then use an upside-down water glass to cut out small circles. Make a sweet or savory pumpkin filling, depending on your taste. Spoon a tablespoon of filling into the center of each dough circle. Wet your finger in a little water and brush it around the edge of the circle. Fold the circle of dough in half, pressing air away from the center as you press the edges shut. Press the tines of a fork into the edge to create pretty fluting, like you might do with a full-sized pie.
Pumpkin Polenta Cakes
Mix canned pumpkin, cinnamon and cloves into polenta in place of some of the water as you cook it. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper according to your taste. Let the polenta cool to room temperature, then spoon it onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic wrap tightly around the polenta to shape it into a log, about 2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate for eight hours, or overnight. The next day, cut it into disks about 1/2 inch thick. Heat some olive oil in a pan, until you can splash droplets of water in the pan and have them skitter across its surface. Gently pan-fry each polenta cake on both sides, until each side is golden brown. Serve hot.
Tempura Pumpkin Slices
Peel a pumpkin and remove the seeds and guts. Slice the pumpkin into thin slices, about a quarter of an inch thick and no longer than two inches in any direction. Buy a tempura batter mix from the Asian aisle of your grocery store and follow package directions to mix the batter. Add ice cubes to the batter to ensure it is adequately chilled before you dip the pumpkin slices in it (this improves the texture of the finished product). Pour vegetable oil into a pot, to a depth of at least 2 inches. If you have a deep-fat fryer, you can use that instead -- use clean oil if you fry often. Bring the oil up to a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit; check the temperature with a thermometer to ensure that it's hot enough. Don't put the battered pumpkin slices into the oil too early, or they'll end up greasy and mushy. Foods fried in oil that is the correct temperature absorb less oil than foods cooked in oil with too low a temperature. Drain the tempura pumpkin slices on a rack before serving.
Roasted, salted pumpkin seeds make a tasty appetizer on their own. However, you can add them to other dishes to add texture and crunch. Combine chopped beets, onion, chicken and and oranges with a mixture of ranch dressing, mustard, honey and vinegar. Spoon the salad into individual phyllo cups and sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top. Make a quick pumpkin seed brittle by caramelizing the seeds in a heated sugar and water mixture, then pouring it onto wax paper to cool and harden. As with nuts, be careful giving pumpkin seeds to children younger than 5 years old to prevent a choking hazard.