When McDonald's released its Pumpkin Spice Latte on August 31 this year, the internet was predictably horrified/ecstatic. Starbucks wasn't supposed to start selling PSL until September 6, but they started taking orders the day after McDonald's did. The horrified reaction was OH MY GOD IT'S STILL SUMMER PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES ARE FOR NORMIES! But take the latte out of the equation, and I think we can all agree that pumpkin is the perfect fall food. Trader Joe's does pumpkin like crazy, and no one seems to be furious at them. They are currently peddling Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter, Pumpkin Soup Crackers, Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli, Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels, and dozens of other pumpkin products. They even sell pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds. Well played, Trader Joe's.
You've probably already noticed pumpkin on the menu at many local restaurants. If you've only experienced pumpkin in pie form, shame on you! Here are some savory and sweet pumpkin dishes that'll keep you gorging on gourds all the way through Thanksgiving.
Pumpkin Fried Rice at Ginza in Bellevue
Take a deep breath, because I'm about to ask you to cross a bridge for dinner. Asking someone from Seattle to grab dinner on the Eastside is often met with gephyrophobia so fierce, you'd think they were being asked to go off the bridge, not over it. But in 15 minutes flat, I drove from Eastlake to Bellevue's Main Street, which will forevermore be known as "Pumpkin Fried Rice Heaven Street."
The pumpkin fried rice is not on Ginza's online menu, so I assumed it was a "secret" dish, equivalent to an Animal Style burger at In-N-Out, and I looked forward to ordering it with a whisper and a wink. Alas, it is printed on the actual dinner menu at Ginza, and as you weave through the restaurant to get to your table, you'll see the pumpkin fried rice is a popular dish: At least half the tables had ordered it. Served in a whole, roasted, green kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin), the fried rice is practically exploding from its edible vessel, flowing down the sides of the pumpkin like umami lava. Balanced on top of the generous heap of rice, like a little hat, is the pumpkin's lid.
Japanese food often excels at contrasting textures, and this is no exception. The rice is laced with crispy bits of bacon, exceptionally tender lumps of shrimp, hunks of pumpkin and, best of all, crispy clumps of rice that browned up nicely on the bottom of the pan. You'll have to fight over those.
Kabocha is the most luxurious of squashes, creamy and smooth when roasted or steamed, so it would be a mistake to treat this one merely as a bowl. Scoop out a bit of its flesh as you scoop out some rice—and rest assured that this dish is served year round.
Prawns and Pumpkin Curry at Buddha Ruksa
There are many Thai restaurants in Seattle that serve a pumpkin curry, and the version at West Seattle's Buddha Ruksa is as solid as they come. The Prawns and Pumpkin Curry is just what it sounds like: The star ingredients are bathed in a creamy coconut-milk red curry, with a few chunks of red bell pepper and lots of sweet Thai basil. But pumpkin lovers will get what they came for. The big chunks are tender and velvety, and they seemed to be cut with a ridged cleaver, adding a welcome bit of contrasting texture. The mildest they'll go on this dish is "2 stars, medium" but even this curry has a nice little kick to it. Eaten over rice, this makes for a fine autumn day lunch.
Ellenos Pumpkin Pie Real Greek Yogurt
I have never regarded yogurt as a particularly enjoyable or interesting food. Yogurt is easy to throw in a lunch bag, yogurt is pretty healthy, yogurt is... fine. But then I tasted Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt, made right here in Seattle. Ellenos is like the Elvis of yogurt. After dipping your spoon into their "traditional family recipe" of ethereally smooth, thick, luscious Greek yogurt, you will want to passionately scream and cry and faint and throw your panties at it. And if you've already eaten your way through Ellenos's lemon curd and passion fruit and mocha flavors, you will be thrilled to know that Ellenos whips up an autumnal seasonal flavor: pumpkin pie.
Peeling back the cup's silvery seal reveals a thick layer of crumbly, buttery, oat-laced "pie crust" crumbles, glittery with pumpkin-pie spices. Now is a good time to take a moment to decide on your approach. You can stir the crumbles into the creamy layers of honey-sweetened plain yogurt and pumpkin-pie puree. Or you can dip your spoon deep into the cup and carefully excavate a perfect spoonful of all three components, each flavor clear but perfectly married in your mouth. It's an artful spoonful of layers—orange, cream, and sandy brown—like an edible slice of the Grand Canyon. Can you guess which approach I took?
Eat this treat in public at your own risk. I surprised myself by audibly "Mmmmmmm!"-ing after my first bite, taken aback by how rich and silky, how pumpkin pie–y, how satisfying this YOGURT could be. Ellenos Pumpkin Pie Greek yogurt is a tastier dessert than a scoop of ice cream, more delicious and definitely more texturally pleasing than an actual slice of pumpkin pie. And yes, this is most definitely a dessert. Not that there's anything wrong with throwing it into your lunch bag.
Top Pot Doughnuts' Pumpkin Old-Fashioned
Craggy and crisp on the outside, super moist and cakey within, the crumb of Top Pot's Pumpkin Old-Fashioned is dreamy. But despite its pumpkin color, and the promise of real pumpkin puree folded in, there was no pumpkin flavor to speak of. If I had been given this doughnut while blindfolded (and I did close my eyes for a couple of bites, for experiment's sake), I'd have no idea that pumpkin was involved. When I looked at photos of the doughnut online, I noticed that Top Pot's pumpkin doughnuts are coated with a matte white, nutmeg-infused glaze. But in person, none of the doughnuts on offer were glazed! Was I cheated out of glaze? Is the glaze where the pumpkin-spice magic lies? That said, you can order one of Top Pot's pumpkin-spice lattes, made with real pumpkin, and dip your doughnut into it.
Pumpkin Pancakes at Geraldine's Counter
When I learned that Geraldine's Counter in Columbia City serves up stacks of pumpkin pancakes, I started to crave them immediately. I imagined a cartoonishly towering stack of sunset-colored flapjacks, topped with a perfect pat of butter and dripping with maple syrup. I imagined taking alternating bites of sweet pumpkin pancake and salty bacon, since Geraldine's serves the best bacon in the city—thick, chewy strips from Bob's Quality Meats across the street. But when I didn't see pumpkin pancakes on the online menu, I called. I was told they're served as a rotating pancake-of-the-day special, which is decided each morning, and there was no way to know when they'd be available. They told me to call back. So I called. And I called again. "No, sorry, no pumpkin pancakes today; try again another day!"
Frustrated by an unsatiated craving and a looming deadline, I took matters into my own hands and bought a box of Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix. I also grabbed a container of pumpkin cream cheese, which I smeared on top of the griddled pancakes. I know, it sounds weird; I've never put cream cheese on a pancake either, but the double dose of pumpkin spice was good. So there. The pancakes weren't quite as delicious as my Geraldine's Counter fantasy, but they're available every damn day of the week. Or at least until the last jar of pumpkin pasta sauce is taken off the shelves.