TRAVERSE CITY — Native Americans were the first to use pumpkin seeds as food — and they were on to a good thing.
The seeds are not only tasty but also are pretty healthy. They’re low in cholesterol and sodium and are a good source of protein, magnesium and zinc.
And what better time of the year to roast pumpkin seeds for snacks than Halloween. You already remove the seeds to carve pumpkins, so why not salvage a snack from the refuse along the way.
Pumpkin seeds can be tough to separate from the membrane scooped from the guts of a pumpkin, but we’ve got some help from the pros.
One method is to soak the seeds in water, letting the membranes fall to the bottom of the bowl and the seeds float to the top. But Tom Sisco, Oryana Natural Foods Market chef and kitchen manager, has a more thorough technique.
“The best way to clean them is to rinse them the best you can by hand, spread them out and pat them dry,” said Sisco, whose wife throws a pumpkin-carving party every year for the couple’s nieces, nephews and grandchildren. “Once they’re dry, take a vegetable brush and get the rest of the stuff off with the brush.”
The seeds are good roasted plain or with salt, but you can dress them up, too. Sisco’s favorite recipe is for sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds and calls for brown sugar, Worchestershire sauce and hot pepper (see recipe below). Or try sprinkling the seeds after roasting with a little brown sugar, cinnamon or paprika.
To roast seeds plain, the chef recommends placing them in a 275- to 300-degree oven for a half-hour to 45 minutes, depending on how many seeds you’re roasting and how crispy you want them. Flip the seeds in the pan halfway through to prevent burning and to encourage more even roasting.
Plain roasted seeds are an ingredient in one of Oryana’s popular granolas, Sisco said. To try making the granola at home, toast rolled oats, pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a 250-degree oven for 15 minutes. Add raisins, dried cranberries and dried coconut flakes and sweeten it all with a blend of agave nectar, honey and vanilla (agave has twice the sweetness of sugar but half the glycemic index, an important measurement for diabetics). Then turn the mixture out onto a baking sheet and put it back in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
For salted pumpkin seeds, place lightly dried seeds in a bowl and toss them with salt before roasting them. Do NOT soak the seeds in saltwater, which makes them tender, said Eric Patterson, co-owner/chef of The Cook’s House.
“I don’t know what it is about northern Michiganders and saltwater. You guys put everything in saltwater,” said Patterson, who gives his pumpkin seeds extra crunch by roasting them at 375 degrees “until you smell them.”
One of Patterson’s favorite ways to serve the seeds: toss roasted seeds in a pan with a dollop of melted butter and sugar, cook until the sugar melts a little, then sprinkle the seeds with salt and a spice like cayenne or cashmere chili pepper.
“Spread them out and cool them and you have some sweet and salty pumpkin seeds,” he said.
You can enjoy the taste of pumpkin seeds all winter long by roasting their hardier relatives. Reid Johnston, owner of Second Spring Farm in Cedar, said almost any winter squash seeds can be roasted and will offer a similar flavor.
“Pumpkins are just a kind of squash. When you buy a can of pumpkin in the store it’s likely a butternut squash,” said Johnston, who sells several varieties of squash at local farmers markets. “Why people typically roast seeds from pumpkins is because they have a large seed cavity,” resulting in larger yields and making for easier scooping.
Other winter squashes with relatively large cavities include hubbard, delicata and acorn, he said. But you can also roast butternut squash, which has a smaller cavity.
Julie Dyson first tried roasting butternut squash seeds about two years ago while cooking at a small café in Indiana.
“I was making butternut squash soup and the garnish was roasted butternut squash seeds,” said Dyson, who now helps harvest the squash on Johnston’s farm.
To prepare the seeds, she suggests washing them with water and brushing away the membranes, just as you would for pumpkin seeds. Then toss them with a splash of olive oil, ¼ to 1/2 teaspoon of salt and about 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet or jellyroll pan and roast them at 350 to 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring them with a spoon about halfway through.
“They will start popping like popcorn, but that’s no big deal,” she said.
Pumpkin and other squash seeds are hard to store and are best eaten fresh.
“I would probably devour that in about 10 minutes, but if you wanted to store them you could put them on the counter and cover with foil,” Dyson said.
Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
2 to 3 c. raw pumpkin seeds
2 T. butter
1 T. brown sugar
1 T. Worchestershire sauce
1 t. salt
2 drops hot pepper (or more, if you like things hot)
In a saucepan, melt butter. Add seasonings and pumpkin seeds and stir. Turn out onto a baking pan and roast at 275 to 300 degrees for a half-hour to 45 minutes.