Saturday, November 5, 2011

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

The fall season is pumpkin season. Pumpkin carving is always a fun family activity, and while most pumpkins used for carving are not great choices for turning into pumpkin pie, their seeds make a simple, tasty seasonal snack. The pumpkin seeds have a nutty flavor when roasted, that can hold up well to a wide variety of seasonings.

It all starts, of course, with your pumpkins. Most people will carve a fairly large pumpkin in the days leading up to halloween. The planning for your toasted pumpkin seeds starts when you first slice open the top of your pumpkin and clean out all the stringy, seed laden pulp. Separate the seeds from the pulp as well as possible. There will always be little bits of pulp clinging to the seeds- so it's a good idea to rinse them under running water to get off as much as you can, then lay them out to dry. Put the seeds in large bowl lined with paper towels, and let them air dry for a day or two before preparing to roast them.

Roasting the seeds is as simple as it gets. To start, I'll toss the seeds with a tablespoon or so of olive oil- just enough to give them a light coating. This will help the seeds brown nicely, and allow our seasonings to stick to the seeds. Some people enjoy their roasted seeds plain- and they are quite good, but I prefer to push things a little since the seeds hold up well to strong flavors. A good base seasoning is simply salt, ground black pepper, and a little Hungarian paprika (for the color as much as the flavor)- enough of each to lightly coat all your seeds- starting from this flavor base, you can add almost any herb or spice you like. For a spicy kick, add some red chili flakes, for something more savory, try adding a little thyme or oregano. You can even go for something more exotic such as turmeric or cumin- use your imagination. Despite all of these great ideas- the base spice mix of salt, pepper, and paprika works just great by itself, so that's what I'm sticking with this time.

Spread your seeds out onto a baking tray in a single layer. The seeds are already oily, so you won't need to grease the tray. Roast the seeds in a 350 degree oven for about fifteen minutes - make sure to flip them over about halfway through so they brown evenly. When the seeds are a nice golden-brown, they are done. Give them another light shot of salt and toss as soon as they come out of the oven, then set them aside to cool off. After a few minutes, they should be cool enough to eat, but still a little warm (this is when they are at their best) - you may even hear the kernels inside still sizzle for a bit. The roasting brings out their nutty flavors- which are at their height when the seeds are still slightly warm (not that they aren't good later when they cool off too). Feel free to use your imagination and try out different flavors with your pumpkin seeds. They are an addictive snack by themselves, but they can also make a great garnish for a salad- there are many possibilities to explore.

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