Ghapama (Armenian Stuffed Pumpkin)

A wonderful, baked pumpkin dish full of buttery, honey-sweetened rice, dried fruit, diced apples and chopped nuts. Is Ghapama a side dish, a dessert, or a meal in itself? You get to decide! Or, if you're like me, you'll serve it with dinner, eat more for dessert and have a second helping for breakfast (if there's any left)

This festive Armenian dish is served during the Fall and at many holidays including New Year's. With it's colorful and artistic flair, it will make a beautiful presentation at your dinner table. For added fun, be sure to eat it while you play a recording of the Armenian folk song that was written about this very dish: "Hey, Jan Ghapama!"

What ingredients do I need to make Ghapama?

  • Pumpkins: The filling in this recipe made enough to fill three, small pie pumpkins, but you could fill a single larger pumpkin (approximately 3.5 pounds) instead.
  • Basmati riceThis type of rice has a nice airy and aromatic texture that lends itself well to the filling and baking process.
  • Salt: Use regular table salt or sea salt if you desire.
  • Butter: You'll melt the salted butter with the honey to make a syrup.
  • Honey: The wholesome flavor of honey works so well with this baked pumpkin dish. But you could substitute sugar or maple syrup if you prefer.
  • Cinnamon: Adds a bit of warmth and savoriness without being overpowering.  I experimented with nutmeg and allspice but found that the simplicity of cinnamon alone highlighted this dish best.
  • Chopped walnuts: Walnuts are the most common nut used in Ghapama, although some recipes call for chopped almonds.  You could also try cashews or pecans.  However, again, I preferred the simple combination of walnuts and cinnamon.
  • Dried fruit (e.g. raisins, cranberries, diced apricots and diced dates add nice color, sweetness and texture.  You could also include dried plums or any other dried fruits that strike your fancy.)
  • Fresh, diced green apple: Some recipes do not call for any apple, but I found that the addition of it gave a bit of welcome crunch and tartness.

How do I make Ghapama?

Wash the outside of the pumpkin(s) and cut the lids out in a starburst shape (for a tighter fitting lid and pretty presentation) or a plain circle. Then, clean out all the pulp, seeds and stringy fibers and rinse the inside out.

Pre-cook the basmati rice.  First rinse the rice under cool water in a fine mesh sieve.  Then add a cup of rice, 2 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt to a pot.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until about half-way done.  Then remove the rice from heat and drain and reserve the cooking liquid.  Place the rice in a large bowl to cool down quickly and allow enough room to stir in remaining ingredients.

Chop the apricots, dates or any other dried fruit that you are using in addition to the raisins and dried cranberries. Also core and dice up a green apple.
Melt the butter and honey together on low heat in a small saucepan.

Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the inside of the pumpkin(s) with approximately 1 tablespoon of the honey butter mixture. Pour the remaining honey butter mixture into the rice and stir.  Then add the dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon to the bowl and toss until combined.

Fill the pumpkin(s) with the rice mixture.  Loosely pack the mixture into the pumpkins until it nearly fills the brim. Pour the reserved cooking liquid (from the rice) on top of each filled pumpkin (trying to distribute the liquid evenly).  You can add a few tablespoons water to each pumpkin if you don't think you have enough cooking liquid to finish cooking the rice.

Secure the pumpkins lids on each pumpkin and then place the pumpkins on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Lightly spray the outside of each pumpkin with cooking spray to give the pumpkins a glossy finish. Bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the pumpkin flesh is soft.  (You can test by gently poking it after about 50 minutes of baking and see if it gives.)

To serve, cut slices from top to bottom all around the pumpkin and serve a piece of the pumpkin along with a scoop of filling.

If added sweetness is desired, you can drizzle a little extra honey on top just before serving.

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