When it comes to gardening, I have more of a knack for killing plants than producing any kind of successful harvest. As such, it has befallen my husband to take full charge of tending to our summer garden, and his most treasured plant is this enormous, enthusiastic pumpkin vine.
Its produce will be of the Halloween carving variety, not so great for eating. Luckily, I’ve still got some plans for its smaller, younger leaves, which as it turns out, are edible and popular in many cuisines!
One of the younger pumpkin leaves, suitable for cooking.
How to Prepare Pumpkin Leaves
Covered in fuzz and possessing a thick, fibrous spine, pumpkin leaves aren’t all that intuitively edible. They take a little bit of advance preparation before you can use them in recipes.
The best description I’ve seen of this process was written by Laina Poon, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, where pumpkin leaves are a common ingredient. In her article in Countryside Magazine, she details a simple method:
“Holding the leaf upside down by its stem, you see that the stem is hollow. Use your thumbnail to split half or a third of the stem and snap it backward so that the flesh breaks cleanly, but the outer fibers do not. Pull gently, removing the fibers from the outside of the stem and the back of the leaf. Repeat until you have de-strung a good pile, because, like all greens, pumpkin leaves cook down quite a bit.”
How to Cook Pumpkin Leaves
Once you’ve de-strung a pile of pumpkin leaves, you can cook them in a variety of ways. In Malawi, they are often simmered simply with tomatoes just for a few minutes until the leaves are tender.
Italian pasta recipes include the leaves and stems, blanched briefly, then fried with oil and garlic before being tossed with chopped tomatoes. The Malaysian dish Pucuk Labu combines smaller, tender pumpkin leaves and shoots with anchovies, garlic and sliced onions, all simmered in rich coconut milk.
What Do Pumpkin Leaves Taste Like?
Oh, and as for the taste, Earl from El Perfecto describes them as follows:
"The pumpkin greens lacked any bitterness that other greens tend to have, which surprised me. These might be the sweetest greens I have eaten. Even my son and wife enjoyed them. The flavor reminded me of a mixture of green beans, broccoli, spinach and asparagus."
Have you ever cooked pumpkin leaves? What other garden goodies do you cook with that others might throw on the compost heap?
(Image credits: Coco Morante)