For this Turkish pumpkin dessert, pumpkin (or any winter squash) chunks are slow roasted in a sugar syrup and then sprinkled with toasted buttered walnuts.
[Editor’s Note: Pumpkin and winter squash are in the same family and are largely swappable in recipes. So for this recipe, we use the terms pumpkin and squash interchangeably.]
Pumpkin with walnuts is a surprising and easy-to-make Turkish recipe called kabak tatlisi. The cooking method is sorta fascinating: First you macerate chunks of pumpkin in sugar until they weep, then you cook the squash at a low temperature. As the squash chunks cool, they absorb the syrupy juices. The dessert—yes, pumpkin for dessert—goes beautifully with walnuts and a cultured cream such as crème fraîche or even yogurt.
Yes, it’s had to find good baking pumpkins. And don’t be tempted to repurpose your Jack-o’-lantern pumpkin, as we can guarantee it’s going to be bland. Cookbook author Paula Wolfert suggests using any winter squash with an orange interior that’s dense enough to hold its shape through cooking, such as butternut or Hubbard squash. If you happen upon something called “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins,” they’ll work, too. All of these varieties will produce an appropriately sweet dessert with an intense flavor and tender, almost velvety texture.–Renee Schettler Rossi
How to Peel Pumpkin or Squash
As stated above, whatever gourd you go for, bear in mind that oddly shaped squashes can be tricky to peel. We suggest sticking with a relatively smooth butternut squash, which is far easier to peel than a bumpy gourd. Here’s how you do it. Simply take a sharp chef’s knife and carefully halve the squash lengthwise. Scoop out those stringy seeds (a grapefruit spoon works really swell for this), then place the squash, cut-side down, on a cutting board or other work surface and run a vegetable peeler along its length. Tada! Easy peasy peeling with all fingers accounted for and intact.
Turkish Pumpkin with Walnuts | Kabak Tatlisi
- 1 1/3 to 1 3/4 pounds pumpkin, or other sweet, edible winter squash such as butternut or Hubbard
- 1 cup superfine sugar (or you can make your own by blitzing granulated sugar in a blender until fine but not powdery)
- 1/3 cup walnuts (halves or pieces), preferably freshly shelled
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 1 cup cultured cream such as crème fraîche, whipped cream, or Greek yogurt (optional)
Prepare the pumpkin
- Peel and trim the pumpkin. You should have about 1 pound. Cut the squash into 1-inch chunks.
- Toss the pumpkin with the sugar in a shallow ceramic baking dish and let stand until the squash weeps and the sugar dissolves, at least 30 minutes and perhaps as long as 1 hour.
Roast the pumpkin
- Crank the oven to 300°F (150°C).
- Use a wooden spoon to toss the pumpkin and sugar. Cover with a crumpled sheet of damp parchment paper and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the juices bubble and the pumpkin is tender throughout. Turn off the oven but do not remove the dish. Instead, let the pumpkin cool inside the warm environment so it can continue to reabsorb the syrupy juices. Store the pumpkin and its syrup in a cool place or in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld. Let the pumpkin return to room temperature before serving.
Assemble the dessert
- Just before serving, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the walnuts and cook, tossing frequently, until they’re glistening. Spoon the squash and a few teaspoons of the syrup into individual serving bowls and sprinkle with the toasted walnuts. Garnish with dollops of cultured cream, whipped cream, or yogurt, if desired.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This was so good. It does need the walnuts, but I could see other nuts working here, too. My brother-in-law and husband thought about Thanksgiving. My brother-in-law also thought it reminded him of his grandmother. I couldn’t find a 1 1/3-pound butternut squash. I found the smallest one possible and it was 1 3/4 pounds. There’s enough sugar to cover this amount. I turned off the oven after 1 1/2 hours and left it in the oven as directed. Then I served it later for dessert. It was perfect. I would definitely make this again—maybe with other squashes and with other nuts.
Paula Wolfert. If you aren’t already a fan of hers from other terrific recipes on the site—Ribollita in the Style of Siena, Stewed Leafy Greens with Tahini, and Therapeutic Drink to Ward Off Colds—then let this be a marvelous introduction. This recipe is easy, well worth the time it takes, and a lovely dessert which could be served alone or on a little buffet of desserts. It’s rich, colorful, and not your predictable Turkish or Middle Eastern sweet ending of baklava; in fact, it was rich enough to serve without the crème fraiche. The directions are terrific, accurate, and helpful. I went right from cooking the squash to cooling the squash and then serving. A little goes a long way! Although it serves 4, it could easily serve more in a smaller, but still satisfying, serving size. What would you eat before this? The site is full of options, of which I will list a few of my personal favorites: Turkish Baked Eggplant with Chile, Feta, and Mint; Warm Lentil Salad; Jerusalem Salad; Rice Pilaf with Dried Cherries and Toasted Pistachios; Middle Eastern Salad; Pomegranate Walnut Relish. Sweet Tea would be a lovely accompaniment.
I wasn’t sure about this recipe but was intrigued enough to try it. Am I ever glad I did. This is a very simple, refreshing dessert. I used butternut squash and followed the recipe exactly—well not really. I used regular granulated sugar and let the squash sit with the sugar for about an hour before it hit the oven. The syrup was fantastic and the texture of the squash was almost meaty. We served it with plain Greek yogurt and it was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the syrupy squash. I toasted the walnuts just a little longer than called for and the crunchiness was a nice touch to the softness of the squash. I will make this again!
Originally published October 22, 2017