Recipe: Carve out a fun snack with pumpkin seeds

10/23/2013 12:00 AM

10/22/2013 10:20 AM

New York City has a zillion charms, but it may not be the ideal place to celebrate Halloween. Here’s the problem: Where do you display your jack-o’-lantern if you live in an apartment building with no porch?

Then again, my family and I are New Yorkers, and a little defect like this was not going to keep us from carving scary faces into pumpkins. As a kid, I loved this kind of art project even though – or because? – it was so messy. It also was kind of dangerous, given the sharp knives required.

Some years my mom would get ambitious and turn the pumpkin seeds into a snack. It was a lot of work. We had to separate the seeds from the fibrous pulp, wash them thoroughly, then dry them on towels before we roasted them. Drying the seeds was a particular ordeal. They tended to stick to the towels, and those that didn’t stick to the towels could end up sticking anywhere, floor to ceiling.

But the finished product was wonderful: nutty, chewy, salty, seasonal. I missed them!

So this year, with Halloween looming, I decided to cast toasted pumpkin seeds as the star of a healthful snack mix. A delight for young or old, it makes a great after-school treat, or an appetizer at a Halloween party.

And I’ve managed to eliminate the sticking-to-the-towel problem.

Finding the best way to toast the seeds took several trials. I tried high-heat roasting and low-heat roasting before deciding, following a tip from a Twitter buddy, that sautéing them in a skillet on top of the stove produced the most succulent result. The sticking-to-the-towel thing? Just dry the wet seeds in the oven for 10 minutes before toasting them in the skillet. No towels required.

And by the way, pumpkin seeds, like most seeds, are very good for us. They’re a great source of magnesium and zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. And then there are the economic and ecological bonuses. The seeds are free, a byproduct of the pumpkin carving. It’s not unlike being able to make a chicken stock out of the bones of a roast chicken.

Speaking of healthfulness, this recipe pairs the pumpkin seeds with a fellow good-for-you all-star: chickpeas. A staple of soups, stews and salads, chickpeas lately have been popping up as a crispy snack. Who knew they could cross over into potato chip land? And it’s easy, too. Just dry them, toss them with a bit of oil (and spices, if you’d like), then bake them in a 400-degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

I rounded out this snack mix with dried cranberries and nuts. It happens to be cranberry season, but any one of your favorite dried fruits would do, including cherries, apricots and raisins. Nut-wise, I’m partial to pistachios, but go with what you like best.

As for the seasoning, extra-virgin olive oil and salt constitute a simple and tasty accent. But depending on the occasion and guests, you could jazz it up, adding curry powder, smoked paprika or dried rosemary.

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