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5 sweet and savory pumpkin spice recipes that are rocking our fall

CNET logo CNET 10/9/2021 David Watsky
Pumpkin spice is potent but can give sweet and savory dishes a warming lift when added in moderation. David Watsky/CNET © Provided by CNET Pumpkin spice is potent but can give sweet and savory dishes a warming lift when added in moderation. David Watsky/CNET

If you love pumpkin spice, this is your season, the stuff is everywhere. Pumpkin spice lattes are nothing new, but this seasonal spice has found its way into a raft of other drinks and dishes since the craze took off. Pumpkin spice is normally found in pies, cakes and other baked goods, but the dynamic blend of warm spices works well in savory applications, smoothies and cocktails too.

The pumpkin spice mac and cheese (with actual pumpkin puree) was my favorite of the bunch. © David Watsky/CNET

The pumpkin spice mac and cheese (with actual pumpkin puree) was my favorite of the bunch.

I put a twist on the PSL earlier this fall with this pumpkin cream cold foam iced coffee for all the iced coffee drinkers out there. I liked it so much I decided to keep things rolling and try some more unusual pumpkin spice recipes. Pumpkin spice chili, pumpkin spice mac and cheese and pumpkin nachos were just a few of the dishes that made the cut. 

There are plenty of store-bought foods to try including this decadent creamy pumpkin spice mochi and Snack Magic's pumpkin spice mini rice cakes drizzled with icing, both of which did not last even a day in my house. But there are other classic fall recipes that you can add pumpkin spice. It's the flavor equivalent of wrapping them up in a warm wool sweater and we're all over it.

I took a jar Spiceology's pumpkin spice and started dreaming up savory recipes that a dash of the powerful autumn spice might give a nice fall fluff-up. I let the components of the classic pumpkin spice mixture -- cinnamon, clove, ginger and others -- lead the way. Here are a few unusual pumpkin spice recipes I made that have definitely earned a place in the regular rotation.

What is pumpkin spice seasoning and how is it used?

You don't have to like pumpkin to enjoy pumpkin spice, and that's because there's no squash in the mix at all. Rather, pumpkin spice is a blend of warm fall ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger. These spices are often reserved for baking -- but not always. Chili, for instance, does well with a hit of cinnamon and I always grind fresh nutmeg into a béchamel (cheese sauce) for mac and cheese. And smoothies, well that seemed like a natural fit for these warm baking spices. Oh, and happy hour happens every day around here, so I'd be remiss not to try some pumpkin spice in a cocktail. Whisky, of course (though bourbon, rum or brandy could work well, too). 

I also gleefully discovered a pumpkin spice salsa recently that was already great on its own, and so a plate of pumpkin spice nachos was bound to happen. Call it dumb luck, but all five of my pumpkin spice creations turned out pretty darn good. So much so that I plan to make them all again, if only to prove all those fall-phobic pumpkin spice haters wrong. If you're looking for unusual pumpkin spice recipes of the savory sort, I have some of those in my findings below.

Pumpkin spice chili

I have a tried and true chili recipe (the secret is a few ounces of stout or other dark beer) so I went with old faithful and added a dash of pumpkin spice. The big takeaway here is that less is more: pumpkin spice is potent and lends a nice warmth to the chili but overdo it, and you'll be sorry. Start slowly and keep tasting until you've got a nice balance of chili spice and pumpkin spice. 

Add your pumpkin spice chili slowly as not to overpower the entire dish. David Watsky/CNET © Provided by CNET Add your pumpkin spice chili slowly as not to overpower the entire dish. David Watsky/CNET

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can northern beans
  • 28 ounces tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice mix
  • 12 fluid ounces stout beer
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream

Directions

1. In a Dutch oven or soup pot on medium heat, saute onion carrots, garlic and celery until soft, about 8 minutes.

2. Reduce heat to low and slowly add in ground turkey, breaking it up aggressively as it cooks so you end up with small pieces of turkey and not big chunks.

3. Add the tomato puree, stout beer and all spices into the pot and stir. Cover and let simmer on low for an hour stirring occasionally.

4. Serve with tortilla chips or rice and topped with cheddar and sour cream.

Pumpkin spice mac and cheese

This was the recipe I was most pleased with of the lot. I used actual pumpkin puree in my béchamel, which adds a creaminess but doesn't overwhelm the cheesy flavor. I was a little more liberal with the pumpkin spice here than in the chili and it totally worked. That said, I would also suggest adding the spice into the cheese sauce slowly until it tastes right. Remember, the pumpkin spice will only intensify as the dish simmers on the stove. 

The pumpkin spice mac and cheese (with actual pumpkin puree) was my favorite of the bunch. David Watsky/CNET © Provided by CNET The pumpkin spice mac and cheese (with actual pumpkin puree) was my favorite of the bunch. David Watsky/CNET

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 12 ounces fusilli pasta (can substitute other shaped pasta)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 ounces shredded gouda
  • 1/2 cup toasted panko
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice (or add to taste)
  • Fresh sage leaf, optional

Directions

1. Mix the milk and pumpkin puree in a bowl and whisk. Meanwhile, in a large pot, boil pasta for 8 to 9 minutes or until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and set it aside. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add flour over the melted butter and whisk together to make a roux. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes. If using sage, add it now.

3. Whisk pumpkin-milk mixture into the flour mixture and continue to whisk until fully incorporated. Simmer the mixture until it develops a consistency thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. Add salt, pepper and pumpkin spice slowly and to taste.

4. Turn off heat and stir grated cheese into the béchamel sauce one handful at a time.

5. Reduce the heat to low and gently stir pasta into the sauce, ½ cup at a time until all of the pasta has been added and is fully coated in sauce. 

6. Add mixture to baking dish, top with panko bread crumbs and more cheese and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until breadcrumbs brown and cheese is bubbling. 

7. Let cool and serve.

Pumpkin spice nachos (yes!)

I took the lazy way out here and just used a jar of Tastin' Jamaican's delicious pumpkin spice salsa with shredded cheese. This is perfect fall football watch-party fare.

You probably don't need a detailed recipe for nachos, right? Here's a quick recap anyway: Sprinkle grated cheddar and pumpkin spice salsa over tortilla chips on a baking tray. Bake at 300 degrees F until the cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream, guacamole or any other classic nacho dippers. 

This Tastin' Jamaican pumpkin spice salsa is the real deal. David Watsky/CNET © Provided by CNET This Tastin' Jamaican pumpkin spice salsa is the real deal. David Watsky/CNET

Pumpkin spice peanut butter-banana smoothie

This was a no-brainer since I often dose a peanut butter and banana smoothie with nutmeg or cinnamon anyways. The complex pumpkin spice breathed a whole new life into my beloved, blended breakfast.

Ingredients and directions

  • 1/2 cup frozen banana
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 cup almond milk or other nut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice mix
  • 1/2 cup of ice

Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Serve with a dusting of pumpkin spice.

You have lots of options for pumpkin-spicing your smoothie these days. David Watsky/CNET © Provided by CNET You have lots of options for pumpkin-spicing your smoothie these days. David Watsky/CNET

Pumpkin spice old-fashioned

You could easily sprinkle a little pumpkin spice into the shaker while you're muddling the sugar, but I chose to make a pumpkin spice simple syrup -- I think it paid off big time. 

Pumpkin spice old-fashioned. If you know, you know. David Watsky/CNET © Provided by CNET Pumpkin spice old-fashioned. If you know, you know. David Watsky/CNET

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice syrup
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 2 ounces bourbon 
  • Orange peel for garnish

Directions

1. Add the pumpkin spice syrup and bitters to a rocks glass. Add the water and stir until dissolved.

2. Fill glass with one large ice cube, add the bourbon and gently stir.

3. Express the oil of a fresh orange peel over the glass and drop it into the cocktail.

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