Turkish Kabak Tatlisi (Poached Pumpkin)

My two-week series on Turkish food draws to a close with this sweet poached pumpkin dessert, Kabak Tatlisi. When I received a small pumpkin in my weekly CSA delivery last week, I flipped through my Turkish cookbook and found the inspiration I needed. This poached pumpkin recipe is delicious and a perfect dessert idea for upcoming Halloween or Thanksgiving celebrations.

When it comes to pumpkin, I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’ve come to realize that pumpkin is an ingredient which I don’t give much respect. Never do I use it in its natural form but instead only when it’s pureed (and nearly always from a can). I love that this recipe celebrates pumpkin and allows it to shine.

The magic of this recipe is that the pumpkin gives off its natural juices which are then used to make a poaching liquid. The recipe is a simple ratio of sugar and pumpkin, 1 part sugar 2 parts pumpkin. You can season with cloves and I like the addition of lemon for a subtle zing.

Poached Pumpkin (Kabak Tatlisi)
adapted from The Food and Cooking of Turkey

4 cups pumpkin (peeled, seeded, cubed)
2 cups sugar
1 lemon, juiced
5 cloves
1/2 cup walnuts

Cut the pumpkin cubes into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes. Place pumpkin into a small pan. Add the sugar and stir to combine. Cover the pan and allow to sit for 3-4 hours. The sugar will draw out an amazing amount of liquid from the pumpkin.

When I uncovered the pan 4 hours later, the liquid had covered the pumpkin. Place on a medium burner and bring to a simmer. Add the cloves and lemon juice. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. During the last 5 minutes the pumpkin color will change and will take on a bright orange ‘candied’ look. Remove from heat.

Serve in bowls along with the syrup. Crush walnuts over the top. Grab a spoon and dig in!

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the poached pumpkin. The cloves give a nice spicy warmth to the syrup. The pumpkin flavor is mellow (and thoroughly delicious).

Soon it will be Halloween and everyone will be buying pumpkins from the market. During Halloween, we carve pumpkins for decoration and don’t even use their flesh. After eating this dessert it’s sad to see so much good pumpkin wasted for the holiday. I would much rather eat a bowlful of this than have a carved pumpkin on my doorstep. :-)

With my Turkish series drawing to a close, does anyone have a suggestion for what region or ethnic cuisine I explore next? Leave me a comment and let me know what you’d like to learn more about.

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  • Manggy September 25, 2008, 8:39 pm

    I would say Filipino, but you will no doubt pounce on me for that… So I won’t ;) How about Scandinavian food?
    “Get herring. Place in a jar of brine. Wait for herring to be pickled.”
    Here, we have a dish of squash cubes and string beans simmered in coconut milk and a little shrimp paste. It doesn’t look very pretty but it tastes good :) What I don’t have too often is squash in dessert, though!

  • Aysegul September 26, 2008, 12:18 pm

    Great Job! Looks delicious! This is my husbands favorite sweet dish, always begging me to make it, but I’m to afraid to attempt it. But well done! Im proud of you!

    You should definetly attempt some South American food.


  • farida September 26, 2008, 3:25 pm

    Allen, you did a great job again! This is one delicious dessert. Especially now that the pumpkin season is in full swing, everybody should try this yummy delight:)

  • Cynthia September 26, 2008, 7:36 pm

    This is very interesting. Will keep it in mind when looking for something different for dessert.

  • Peter G September 27, 2008, 1:09 am

    Another intriguing recipe Allen. Pumpkin is something I wouldn’t even consider poaching to make it into a dessert. Love the whole concept!

  • Cassie September 27, 2008, 9:25 am

    Allen, love these sort of simple recipes. Haven’t ever seen pumpkin used this way and would totally give this a try.

  • Astra Libris September 28, 2008, 4:16 pm

    Allen, I have so enjoyed your Turkish series, and I am so excited that you will continue the series theme with another cuisine!! I vote for Israeli/Lebanese/Middle Eastern cuisine, but that’s probably stemming from my personal bias… ;-)

  • White On Rice Couple September 28, 2008, 5:18 pm

    Pumpkin can be tough to please, but your great recipe is perfect to be a crowd pleaser, even for the most picky of pumpkin eaters.

  • heather September 28, 2008, 7:57 pm

    i love pumpkin! this looks delicious!

  • Joe September 28, 2008, 10:01 pm

    As the evenings in autumn are getting cooler, it is a great dessert served hot or warm. It also reminds me of the typical desserts that my parents made when I was growing up in Hong Kong – sweet potatoes / yam cubes served in a hot sugary broth (made with rock or cane sugar and water) with a few slices of ginger.

  • Fearless Kitchen September 30, 2008, 10:00 am

    This is really interesting. I’ve never really seen pumpkin prepared this way before! I bet my husband would really like this dish.

  • Carolyn Jung October 1, 2008, 1:56 pm

    I tell ya, when I see pumpkins on sale in the grocery store, I am not ready for summer to end. But when I see recipes like this, I think welcoming fall won’t be so bad after all.

  • Jude October 1, 2008, 10:43 pm

    I’ve never worked with pumpkin myself, unless it’s from a can. I’m liking the simplicity — It’ll definitely let the fresh pumpkin shine.

  • ozge October 20, 2008, 12:46 pm

    Hi Allen,
    Just a quick tip, if you decide to prepare this desert again, please top it with little amount of tahini. Just a little teaspoon for a bite size. I think you will like it…

  • Aylin October 27, 2008, 8:38 am

    I love this simple dessert. So autumny…

  • TheBiblioholic November 8, 2008, 10:36 am

    I love this dessert, but have had no luck making it with pumpkins found in the U.S. The Turkish variety turns out dense and mealy, whereas when I try to make it in the U.S. it comes out crispy and juicy. I was planning on trying some other varieties like butternut squash to see if that turns out better. Any thoughts?

  • TheBiblioholic November 13, 2008, 12:08 am

    Update: Butternut squash worked out nicely! Sweet potato too.

  • Camilla November 23, 2008, 6:00 pm

    I make this desert every year…taught to me by my mother who would aso make it often. Very deicious and something differant than the ordinary pumpkin pie. You must have the crushed walnuts though or it doesnt taste quite the same. Also, I dont serve mine with as much syrup as it shows in the picture above. If you are thinking about trying this, do. It is very easy to make- pealing the pumpkin is the toughest part :)

  • Sharp November 28, 2008, 9:00 am

    My husband and I were just scanning the net to find this dessert and variations on the recipe which is both of our favourites. We live in South West Turkey and my husband is Turkish and a fabulous cook. We have a beautiful fresh pumpkin and we will serve the Kabak Tatlisi with Kaymak, the very special and delicious cream from the top of full fat set yoghurt with crushed walnuts and pistacio. We have missed your series on Turkish food, but this was definately the best dessert to include. We will definately be checking in again… thanks.

  • YILDIZ January 23, 2009, 4:22 am

    Allen, I suggest you caucasian cuisine. I am Turkish but roots are from Georgia and ı also like Abkhazian meals. For example to the best of my knowledge “Çerkez Tavuğu” you cooked is Abkhazian food. And there is a lot of work for you, because it is a huge area intrecting each other. Caucasian cuisine includes traditional cuisines of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia-Alania, Abkhazia, and the Adyghe.

    I admire your works.may the force be with you :)

  • filiz October 4, 2009, 12:39 pm

    Mum is cooking this dessert today. I saw your site when I was searching for it. The color looks great, well done.
    I cook that dessert in the oven with a very long cooking time, so you don’t let the pumpkin sit in the sugar, the liquid is drawn from the pumpkin when it’s in the oven. Then you get a little bit crispy cover with a softer inside, and the syrup becomes ticker. Hope you like it if you try… but mum is cooking in your way :)

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