Mini Pumpkins: beyond jack-o-lantern

Pumpkins and October. What more needs to be said? Except that pumpkins offer more than just the usual Halloween fun. You can certainly scoop out the seeds and carve a jack-o-latern, but how about stuffing one instead? Or roast thick slices and toss into a green salad. Sauté the orange cubes with onions, or a few spices, add vegetable stock and purée the lot—velvety soup is on the way. And who can resist the fiery hue? Plus fall’s most beloved squash is packed with healthy nutrients like alpha and beta-carotene and Vitamin C. Pumpkin has something for everyone to love—from Dr. Mom to the candy-coveting, trick-or-treater in the house.

This week we’re packing our minis with a savory rice and kale mix. Kids and adults will delight in the festive package sitting on each plate—just pop off the lid and scoop. The recipe is simple and affords plenty of opportunity for creativity. Plus it makes thrifty use of rice left from Saturday night’s Chinese take-out. There’s always a bit left without a mate, and that’s just what you need. The ratio of ingredients is adaptable—use more rice or kale depending on your preference. Just don’t skimp on the onion and garlic.

Toss in a few sliced mushrooms, bell pepper cubes or peeled pumpkin, if it suits you. Or whatever else lingers in the fridge. We suggest cooking up a double portion of the stuffing and serve what doesn’t fit into the pumpkins on the side—unstuffed. There’s only so much you can shoehorn into a personal-sized squash, and we crave a bit more. You might even find yourself mixing up the rice on its own—long after winter squash season is over. We do. Toss in cubed zucchini—a favorite variation (pictured at right above).

Oh, and maybe not tonight, but sometime soon we’ll be mixing up a favorite salad combination, just right for fall—roasted pumpkin with perky greens like escarole or arugula and tart pomegranate seeds. As we were saying—what more needs to be said?

Mini Pumpkins Stuffed with Brown Rice, Kale and Pine Nuts

This recipe makes enough to stuff four mini pumpkins (give or take). We mix up a double batch though (double all the ingredients except the squash), so we have extra rice to pile on the plate.

It’s best to use leftover rice for this (raid the takeout doggy bag). Otherwise, about 2/3 cup uncooked brown rice will yield 2 cups cooked. Be sure to cool the rice fully before you mix it with the kale and onion, or you’ll end up with a sticky mess instead of fluffy stuffing.

Serves 4


  • 4 mini pumpkins
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 fat clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves finely chopped (yields about 2 cups chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cups cooked rice (completely cooled)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar


  1. Cut a lid out of each pumpkin, as you would for a Halloween jack-o-lantern (see top photo). Pry the lid out carefully with a knife, keeping it in one piece. Scrape seeds and stringy pulp out of the squash cavity and discard (or rinse seeds, dry and toast in a 350 degree oven until golden brown—a great snack). Remove seeds and pulp from pumpkin lid. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until golden brown, stirring frequently (about 15 minutes). Add garlic and kale and cook for a couple more minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add pine nuts. Toast until they turn golden brown, shaking the pan frequently to turn nuts and prevent them from burning.
  5. Add rice and pine nuts to the large skillet and stir to mix with kale and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a splash or two of balsamic vinegar.
  6. Remove rice mixture from the heat. Carefully spoon mixture into the cavity of each pumpkin, pressing down gently to pack the mixture in. Replace the lid on the top of each—to close. Place into a large casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes until squash is very soft (poke it with a fork to test).
  7. Serve with extra rice mixture (we double the stuffing recipe so we have plenty) on the side.
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