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Spicy Pumpkin Dip is a delicious way to take advantage of all the vitamin A pumpkins have to offer. The dip is really a twist on hummus. Photo by Sue Doeden

Spice up your autumn with pumpkin dip

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It was a sunny afternoon during the last week of September. I was driving up and down rolling hills and rounding curves as I enjoyed the scenery along a Minnesota county road. I knew it was autumn when I saw a large, can't-miss-it sign that announced Grandpa's Pumpkin Patch. I slowed down and pulled into the driveway, even as I thought to myself this was a place to visit with a carload of young children.

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Bright pumpkins in all shapes and sizes were piled in long rows, basking in the September sun. I grabbed one of the big wagons parked near the pumpkins and began filling it up as I strolled through the impressive display. I never saw Grandpa. I wanted to thank him for sorting the pumpkins by size and for having all the little pie pumpkins in a pile by themselves. I wound up with several of those cuties in my wagon.

These edible, orange winter squash are not all created equal. The big, bright, deep-ribbed pumpkins that make the best Jack-o-lanterns don't make the best pie. And they don't make the best Spicy Pumpkin Dip.

For cooking and baking, choose the smaller pumpkins, often referred to as pie pumpkins. Their flesh is deep orange and sweet, with a smooth texture. The larger pumpkins have stringy, watery flesh with little taste.

There is more than one way to cook a pumpkin for pureeing. I like to bake it just like I would any other winter squash. I cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and strings, and then lay it cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet, pour a little water around it and bake it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until it's tender. Once cool enough to handle, I puree the flesh in my food processor. I often freeze the puree in small portions to use later.

Spicy Pumpkin Dip is a delicious way to take advantage of all that vitamin A pumpkins have to offer. The dip is really a twist on hummus, with garbanzo beans (chickpeas), tahini (sesame paste) and garlic. Cumin and cayenne round out the flavors and give the dip a little kick. You control the heat, though, by deciding how much cayenne to stir into the bowl.

I make Toasted Pita Chips often, using them to scoop up all sorts of dips. They're especially delicious with Spicy Pumpkin Dip. Use the large, traditional size pocket bread cut into one-bite-sized wedges. The miniature-sized rounds of pocket bread also are fun to use. Just cut them in half and prepare as the recipe directs. I always use the whole wheat or multi-grain varieties.

Creamy, delectable and healthful Spicy Pumpkin Dip with Toasted Pita Chips will delight everyone at your next gathering with family and friends.

Spicy Pumpkin Dip with Toasted Pita Chips

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped red onion

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin or about 1-1/2 cups of pureed cooked pumpkin

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

3 tablespoons tahini (ground sesame seeds)

1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

Place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion. Saute the onion for several minutes, until tender and just beginning to turn brown. Stir in the garlic, brown sugar and cumin. Continue to cook and stir until sugar is dissolved and onions appear caramelized, about 2 or 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Pour remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice in blender or food processor. Add onion mixture, pumpkin and beans. Process until nearly smooth. Add the tahini and continue to process until mixture is smooth.

Transfer dip to a mixing bowl. Stir in cayenne, starting with just 1/2 teaspoon and adding more according to your own taste. Season with salt. Refrigerate for at least a few hours in a tightly sealed container.

Prepare Toasted Pita Chips.

Toasted Pita Chips

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 package pita breads

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine cumin, paprika and salt. Whisk in the olive oil.

Cut each pita bread in half, separating the top from the bottom. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the rough side of each half with the olive oil mixture. Cut each half into four wedges. Place the wedges on a baking sheet. Bake the pita chips until light golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes, but this will depend on the thickness of the wedges.

Cool the chips and store in an airtight container.

Tips from the cook

--Try stirring 1 cup of chopped, toasted pecans into the smooth dip. It adds texture and a new dimension of flavor.

--Be sure to buy the canned pumpkin that has no spices added to it, just pure pumpkin puree.

--The creamy-colored, irregularly-shaped garbanzo bean is often called a chickpea.

--Tahini is a thick paste made from ground sesame seeds. Common in Middle Eastern cuisine, it brings nutty richness to this dip. It can be found in jars or cans in most grocery stores. It often needs to be stirred to mix the oil and paste. Once opened, store it in the refrigerator.

--Bake the chips in two batches, with the thinner wedges on one baking sheet and the thicker wedges all together on another baking sheet.

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