Hospital chef plants seeds for pink pumpkins, breast cancer awareness Photos courtesy of Bryan Health
Hospital chef Nazim Khan rallies farmers and doctors around the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation and creates delicious, healthy fall pumpkin recipes at Bryan Health in Lincoln, Neb.

Hospital chef plants seeds for pink pumpkins, breast cancer awareness

Now, in harvest mode, he’s using kitchen magic to turn the pumpkins into quinoa salad, silky curry bisque, pumpkin-spiced cupcakes and more. Plus, three great fall pumpkin recipes to try now.

 Nebraska healthcare chef Nazim Khan, CEC, brought together his culinary team, doctors, dietitians and future farmers by getting involved with pink pumpkins last spring.

The Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation raises breast cancer awareness and funds research by selling Porcelain Doll pumpkins, a hybrid variety. The rosy-hued pumpkins are a way to connect the cancer community with agriculture groups like Future Farmers of America (FFA) and chefs in the healthcare industry like Khan.

Khan heard about the project from an employee in the hospital’s radiology department. Then he rallied together the hospital’s cancer doctors and staff, the local farmers’ market, Old Cheney Road Farmers’ Market, and the Norris, Neb., chapter of FFA. The future farmers planted the pink pumpkin seeds and cared for them all summer long.

“I was scared yet excited,” said future farmer Caitlyn Harvey, who has been an FFA member for three years, and this was her first big growing project. “I did my best to maintain the water every day and make sure no animals were getting the plants.”

As the pumpkins grew all summer in the Nebraska sun and rain, Khan represented Bryan every month at the farmers’ market, doing healthy cooking demos and distributing recipe cards and literature from the hospital about preventing and recovering from cancer.

“When I came here, I always wanted to be part of the community,” he says, “And I jumped in, but then I said, ‘What else can we do?’ Our director said we could do a farmers’ market demo, and it’s a great way to show a healthy choice of eating and at the same time talk about cancer awareness.”

In the last couple of weeks, the successful crop of pink pumpkins has been harvested, the bright color a source of pride for the young farmers.

“I’m excited about how the pumpkins turned out! The plant itself may not be the brightest shade of green you’ve ever seen, but the pumpkins themselves look very pink,” says future farmer Carter Burenheide. Another FFA student, Meghan Essink, says she’s lost family to cancer, and so the project had a personal connection for her.

The Norris FFA chapter took on the project with the plan of selling the pumpkins with 50 percent of proceeds going to the Pink Pumpkin Foundation, 25 percent to Bryan Hospital and 25 percent to the Norris FFA Chapter, according to Kristyn Jones, agriculture educator and FFA advisor with the Norris School District.

Jones and Khan have both noticed that the Nebraska soil seems to be great for the pumpkins’ pink color; pumpkins grown here have been looking brighter pink than those grown in other states.

And just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pink pumpkins tie in with the hospital’s presence at the market perfectly.

Khan created three cozy/healthy fall recipes with the pink pumpkins, all of which may be appearing soon on hospital retail and patient menus, but probably with regular orange pumpkins (due to the limited supply of the pink variety), a fine substitute for anyone trying these recipes, Khan notes.

  • Curried pink pumpkin bisque: Peeled and diced pink pumpkin is tossed with curry powder, diced onions, nutmeg, minced garlic and bit of oil, then roasted in the oven. (Khan says the pumpkin can be cut in half then roasted first, making it easier to peel). Heavy cream and veggie or chicken stock is added, then it’s puréed into a beautiful bisque. Get the recipe here.
  • Pumpkin and quinoa salad: Diced pumpkin is seasoned with Cajun spices, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, then roasted with a bit of oil. Then, cooked quinoa, parsley, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and feta cheese come together for one healthy salad. Get the recipe here. 
  • Pink pumpkin cupcakes: For these sweet treats, Khan worked with a bamboo pick/skewer company to get special breast cancer awareness-themed accessories for the cupcakes. Get the recipe here. 
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