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Family Central: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I love carving jack-o-lanterns, but at the back of my foodie mind, it’s always felt just a tiny bit wasteful. Yes, I know those beautiful big pumpkins that we use for Halloween decorations aren’t really edible like a pie pumpkin – the flesh is too watery and stringy – but it’s always seemed a little bit callous, slicing up a pumpkin just for fun and throwing the whole thing out after a few days.

So I love the idea, popularized by a lot of food magazines and cooking shows lately, of actually cooking eating part of the jack-o-lantern. The seeds, of course.

Roasted pumpkin seeds are easy to make – it’s the getting them out of the pumpkin part that’s hard. But tasks like that are why you had kids, right? So just take the pumpkins and the kids outside and let them have at it. (If you insist on doing it inside, I suggest placing disposable tablecloths not just on the table but underneath it, to catch the pumpkin guts that are inevitably going to splatter.)

Roasted pumpkin seeds are great little healthy snacks, or a nice addition to trail mix, oatmeal, yogurt, or even salads. Here’s how to make them with the kids:

  1. Lop off the top of the pumpkin. (I find a regular serrated kitchen knife to work better than those little saws you can get as part of a pumpkin-carving “kit”)
  2. Next, get to scooping. This is where to get the kids involved. They can start with their hands, just pulling out loose pumpkin innards and plopping ‘em into a large bowl. (You can make them wear plastic food-prep gloves if you’re a clean freak, but I just make sure they’ve scrubbed their little paws really well first.) Yes, this will get messy; that’s part of the fun.  When kids have scooped out as much as they can, go behind them with a large spoon and scrape out anything that’s left.
  3. Separate the pumpkin seeds from the stringy pulp. It’s best to do this immediately; if you let the seeds and pulp dry, it’s much harder to separate them.  One method is to fill a large basin or sink with cold water and dump in the pumpkin innards; the pulp will sink and the seeds will float, and you can scoop out the seeds using a ladle. If the pulp is more stubbornly attached, and it often is, you may need to rub the seeds gently with your hands to remove all pulp. Any pulp or flesh left on the seeds will burn when you roast them, so it’s important to get off as much as you can.
  4. Remove seeds to a cookie sheet or platter, lined with paper towels, to dry for at least 30 minutes and up to one day.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Now it’s time to season.  Pumpkin seeds are delicious roasted with just a little oil and sea salt or kosher salt; figure on a couple of teaspoons of oil per cup of seeds, plus seasoning to taste. Some other  ideas to try:
    • Curried seeds: Combine about 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 tablespoon of sugar, about a tablespoon of olive oil, and a dash of salt with two cups of seeds.
    • Honey-roasted: Combine about two tablespoons melted butter, two tablespoons honey, one tablespoon brown sugar, and a dash of salt with two cups of seeds. If desired, add up to a teaspoon of cinnamon.
    • Spicy-chili seeds: Combine 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes or cayenne pepper, a dash salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and two cups of seeds.
  7. Spread prepared seeds on a cookie sheet, sprayed with a bit of cooking spray. Roast in oven about ten minutes; remove and stir. Roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool, then eat! Leftover seeds can be stored in a zippered bag or a plastic container for up to a week.