Paradise Park Cafe Puts Twang Into Pumpkins for Fall

A North Oakland neighborhood cafe uses pumpkins in ice cream burritos and savory tacos with slaw, sweet potato, and corn.


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Pumpkin makes an appearance at North Oakland’s Paradise Park Cafe.

Photo by Lori Eanes

When I was 19, and living abroad in London, my English aunt surprised me on Halloween with a steaming, whole pumpkin on a plate. Stifling a smile, I appreciated her kindness. But privately I was distressed. Didn’t she know pumpkins were for decoration and that edible pumpkin came from … a can?

Fresh pumpkins—not the larger varietals whose flesh can be watery and stringy, but the small, rich “sugar” or “pie” pumpkins, roughly 8 inches or less in diameter—are rich, sweet, and delicious when grilled, steamed, or roasted. Every part is edible and nourishing.

Rachel Herbert, co-owner with her partner Dana Oppenheim of North Oakland’s new Paradise Park Cafe, grew up abroad as her parents’ careers took them to El Salvador, India, Pakistan, and other countries. She remembers well how cooking with pumpkin sparked conviviality when they would seek it out to celebrate American holidays in other lands.

“Pumpkin is a really nostalgic ingredient for me personally,” said Herbert. “It reminds me of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, because it’s not about giving items; it’s about the gift of food and sharing a meal with the people who you love.”

At Paradise Park Cafe, that nostalgic pumpkin flavor shows up on the fall menu, including in pumpkin ice cream burritos—pumpkin ice cream wrapped in a flour tortilla, flash fried, and topped with chocolate, caramel, and sea salt—and these pumpkin-and-sweet-potato tacos made with pumpkin seeds, tangy cabbage slaw, and love.

 

Pumpkin Tacos With Tangy Corn and Cabbage Slaw

 

Slaw

1 head of green cabbage

1 head of purple cabbage

3 ears of grilled (or boiled) corn

 

Dressing

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup half and half

1 cup sugar

3 teaspoons mayonnaise

1 clove (1 teaspoon) garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

 

Filling

1 sugar pumpkin

1 sweet potato

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or any neutral oil)

½ teaspoon cayenne or mild paprika

Salt and pepper

12-18 corn tortillas

Roasted pumpkin seeds (available at most markets)

Fresh lime, cut into wedges

 

Shred the cabbage then grill or boil the corn, cutting the kernels from the cobs when done. Let cool. Mix the cabbage and corn. Mix all the dressing ingredients and toss the mixture in the dressing. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour; the longer it sits, the more flavor.

For the filling, first preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice off the pumpkin top, scooping out the seeds with a spoon (reserving seeds for roasting if desired). Then pour ¼ cup water into a rimmed baking pan.

Cut the pumpkin into quarters and place it flesh-side down in the prepared pan. Bake it for 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender enough to peel. Remove it from the oven, but leave the oven on.

Cool the pumpkin before peeling, then cut the flesh into cubes. Peel and cut the sweet potato into the same-sized cubes as the pumpkin. Toss the pumpkin and sweet potato cubes with the grapeseed oil, cayenne or mild paprika, and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the cubed pumpkin and sweet potato in a single layer on a clean roasting pan and return to the oven to roast until crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove to a serving bowl and let cool slightly.

Guests can assemble their own tacos. Take a (preferably warm) corn tortilla, top with a spoonful of cooked pumpkin-sweet potato mixture, a spoonful of cabbage slaw, and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds as desired. For the final touch, squeeze a wedge of lime over your taco to add acidity and round out the flavor).

 

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