Kitchen Shrink: The seedy side of pumpkins

Catharine L. Kaufman
Catharine L. Kaufman

Folks across the land are gearing up for festivals, gordo gourd contests, and family jack-o’-lantern bonding as they carve welcoming symbols for Halloween. Most of the time the precious innards are discarded, but Native Americans have revered the mighty pumpkin seed for centuries for treating everything from parasites and snakebites to gastric discomforts and kidney ailments. Pumpkin seeds are now landing on the radar of nutritional gurus and top chefs, not just at the height of the fruit’s harvest, but throughout the year. Here’s why.

Reap the benefits

These soft and chewy forest green seeds (aka pepitas) are flat and elliptical and loaded with stress-busting Vitamin B, iron, copper, magnesium, heart-healthy fatty acids and zinc, the latter making them powerful warriors against osteoporosis. There’s more.

Pumpkin seeds contain phytosterols that put the skids on LDL cholesterol levels, L-tryptophan for a natural sleep aid and mood elevator, antioxidant Vitamin E, and essential amino acids for enzyme production, controlling concentration and other key mental and physical functions.

These unctuous, lubricating, anti-inflammatory treasures have been touted for relieving creaky, squeaky arthritic joints, dialing up lung, prostate, kidney and bladder health, and acting as nature’s Metamucil. In addition, since pepitas are low in allergens, they have a wide range of appeal (and tolerance), especially for the peanut allergic and sensitive.

Pepita picking and prep

Pumpkin seeds can be purchased in bulk or packaged form, some with the cream-colored hulls intact, others already shelled, and raw, roasted and salted, or jazzed up with a variety of herbs and spices. Make sure they are dry without any moisture or musty aroma. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months to maintain their nutritional integrity and fine taste and texture.

To prepare fresh pumpkin seeds, use a large scooper and scrape them from the gourd’s cavity. Remove the residual pulp. Dry with a paper towel or absorbent cloth. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, drizzle with virgin olive oil, and season with desired sweet spices (brown sugar, ginger powder and cinnamon) or savory ones (sea salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, cumin, garlic or chili powder). Roast in a moderate oven until golden.

Munch as a high protein snack, toss in muffins, quick breads, cookies, waffles or pancakes, add some crunch and fiber to salads, blend in ground meats to add pizzazz to turkey or beef burgers, or swap out costly and allergen-laced pine nuts when making pesto dishes. Top avocado gazpacho with toasted chile-lime pumpkin seeds, or ice cream sundaes with praline pepitas.

Shelling out for Halloween

If you’re hosting a Halloween soiree, or want to dole out some healthier delights to trick or treaters, try pumpkin seed goodies, such as, salted pepita and honey brittle, pumpkin seed granola bars or trail mix with dried berries and dark chocolate morsels, pepita chip cookies, or sealed bags of assorted flavors of roasted pumpkin seeds.

As the skeleton said to his dinner guests on Halloween – bone appétit!

Pumpkin Seed Spice Cake

(Where possible, use organics)

Source: Executive Chef David Warner at Pacific Beach’s JRDN Restaurant + Tower23 Hotel.

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