Millions of people carve pumpkins every year as Halloween nears. While it is loads of fun to create an image, design or simple Jack-O-Lantern face on the front of a pumpkin, the best part is often discarded and forgotten about; I'm talking about the seeds.
I always thought the stringy flesh of a pumpkin was nasty, slimy and needed to get off of my hands as quickly as possible. It wasn't until one of my college roommates collected the seeds from our pumpkins and said she was going to roast them for snacks that I realized the "disgusting" inside portion of the pumpkin was not so bad after all.
So that you can use as much of the pumpkin as possible -- even after the Jack-O-Lantern develops mold and you're forced to throw it away -- we offer these ten ways to cook with pumpkin seeds.
First, you have to clean the seeds before you can use them. It will take a while, but there's no way to get around it. Remove all of the pulp from the seeds by rubbing them between your fingers, then rinse them in a colander to wash off the rest of the flesh. To make sure the enzyme inhibitors in the seeds don't irritate your stomach, soak them in salt water for at least six hours, or as long as 48 hours. Try using 1/4 cup of salt to 2 cups of water to begin, and adjust as desired. Dry the seeds by laying them flat on a towel.
Now we can begin with the ten best ways to cook with pumpkin seeds.
10. Plainly Roasted
The most simple and common recipe for cooking with pumpkin seeds is to roast them. Roast them as they are to eat as a simple snack, sprinkle on top a salad or add to bread, muffins, pancakes, etc. You can also season the seeds with olive oil or butter, and evenly coat them in salt. Put them in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or so. Cool before eating.
9. Granola Bars
Bring out the flavors of the season by combining pumpkin purée with oats, cinnamon, brown sugar, a touch of honey and pumpkin seeds. Add a variety of dried fruits, such as cranberries or raisins, and other ingredients, including almonds, chocolate or white chocolate chips, and a hint of vanilla extract. Flatten the granola mixture onto a baking sheet, then bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the granola is held together firmly. Cool, then cut into bars, circles or any shape you desire.
8. Pumpkin Seed Butter
Rather than sticking with plain almond butter or peanut butter this fall, add pumpkin seeds to a food processor, and grind them into a butter, just as this blogger does. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a 350-degree oven until they are golden brown (10 minutes or so), then place in a food processor and pulse until the seeds are puréed. Add extra spices and ingredients, such as cinnamon and honey, as well as other nuts, like almonds, to the pumpkin seeds, and purée in the food processor to create a sweet nut-and-seed butter.
It's definitely not too early to start making confections and candies. Pumpkin seeds can easily be sweetened when used to make candy. With nothing but butter, brown sugar, honey and pumpkin seeds, you can make an incredible crunchy brittle, such as this recipe from Martha Stewart. Boil the brown sugar with the honey until it reaches 280 degrees on a candy thermometer, then stir in the pumpkin seeds and cook until the mixture reaches 300 degrees. Pour it onto a baking sheet to cool, then break into pieces and enjoy.
Try this recipe from Half Baked Harvest: Coat pumpkin seeds with olive oil, paprika and chili powder, along with salt and pepper, then roast in a 350-degree oven for approximately 15 minutes. Add the roasted pumpkin seeds, along with roasted garlic and cannellini beans, to a food processor, just as you did with the butter, then pulse/purée for about two or three minutes. Slowly pour olive oil into the food processor as you purée the seeds and beans. Season with spices to taste, and voila! You have hummus.
Add a crunchy component to your guacamole by incorporating pumpkin seeds. This vegan blog recommends toasting the seeds prior to mixing them into the guacamole to bring out the natural flavors of the pepitas. Mix your guacamole just as normally would -- avocado, lime juice, cilantro, salt, tomatoes -- then toss in a few tablespoons of toasted pumpkin seeds for a nutty, seasonal guacamole. The extra component also makes for a beautiful presentation.
Bake a batch of pumpkin muffins and a batch of apple-spice muffins, adding a cup of fresh pumpkin seeds to the batter for each. This enhances the natural flavor of the pumpkin and complements the sweetness of apples in the spice muffins. Decorate the tops of each muffin with fresh pumpkin seeds just before baking.
If making brittle or hard candy is not your cup of tea, season pumpkin seeds with sweet spices and sugar to "candy" the seeds while they roast in the oven. Coat the pumpkin seeds with brown sugar and butter, as well as cinnamon and/or pumpkin pie spice; add a dash of salt to balance the sweetness. Roast the pumpkin seeds low and slow in a 250-degree oven for 45 minutes. Let the seeds cool completely before serving.
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2. Rice Pudding
Transform plain rice pudding into something complex and scrumptious by incorporating pumpkin seeds, raisins (soak them in rum for an hour for added flavor), butter and brown sugar, as in this Food Network recipe. Mix pumpkin seeds with butter and salt to brown the seeds and bring out the natural nutty flavors, then mix with the rum-soaked raisins and brown sugar for more sweetness. Scoop a spoonful over rice pudding. It's creamy, sweet, nutty, and a great dessert for the fall and winter months.
Take the spicy route when cooking pumpkin seeds. Rather than adding sugar and cinnamon, season the seeds with cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, salt and olive oil. Enjoy as a snack at work, or serve during get-togethers with friends. You can also sprinkle these seeds on salads in place of croutons or other nuts.