Saturday, October 9, 2010

Making Pepitas or Roasted Pumpkin seeds

A Reader recently asked what pumpkin variety grow best for seeds to make pepitas, and whether they had to be peeled/shelled... and how to do it. Of course I had an idea about varieties but I no clue about shelling, so naturally I had to investigate, and try the processes myself.

There is confusion about what are pumpkins vs winter squash. Both are Curcubits and I have written about them here. Although in the same family, the main differences are that "pumpkins" are used when ripe in pies and carved Halloween pumpkins; the flesh is somewhat coarse and/or strongly flavored, hence is not generally served as a baked vegetable. Winter squash are used when ripe as a table vegetable or in pies; flesh is usually fine-grained and of mild flavor, hence is most suitable for cooking or baking.

The seeds of either pumpkins or winter squash are edible and may be roasted; the nutritional value of the seeds is the same for both. They are a good source of protein, zinc, tryptophan, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, phytosterols, and other vitamins, and are even said to lower cholesterol. Depending on where you live, the seeds may be called pepitas, but are often just called pumpkin seeds in English.

"A pepita (from the Mexican Spanish: pepita de calabaza, meaning "little seed of squash") or pumpkin seed is an edible seed of a pumpkin or other cultivar of squash (genus Cucurbita), typically rather flat and asymmetrically oval, and light green in color inside a white hull,  although some varieties produce seeds without a hull. The word can refer either to the hulled kernel or unhulled whole seed, and most commonly refers to the roasted end product. Roasting pumpkin seeds (usually scooped out of jack-o-lanterns) is a popular Halloween treat." ~Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of striatic's photostream

When you cut open a pumpkin or winter squash, the seeds are in a tangle of sticky fibers in the center cavity. They will separate easily from the flesh by using the bowl of a tablespoon raked against the flesh.

Photo Courtesy of mahfrot's photostream

The seeds clean from the stringy fibers easily in a pot of water as in the photo above. I usually put mine in a colander and use a trickle of running water over them, discarding the stringy mass as I pull the seeds loose.

Most folks roast the cleaned seeds without removing the outer husk. (Many folks, especially children, like the ritual of cracking the hulls between their teeth.) I won't post any roasting or seasoning recipes here as I don't have a favorite other than just salt... plus the internet is full of them.

My teeth don't work well enough to crack the hulls anymore, so I have to peel them if I am going to eat them. Actually, I soak ALL seeds and nuts to reduce the phytic acid. If you soak them just long enough, the inner edible seed will begin to sprout, and this actually increases the nutritional value, even after roasting.

How to prepare and peel pumpkin seeds:

Boil one quart of salted water (1-2 Tbs, salt per quart) for each 2 cups of pumpkin seeds. When the water boils, add the seeds, cover and boil for 30 minutes. (I do have a real kitchen stove; I use the hotplate for my coffee in the office so I can work on the computer and watch what I'm cooking for demonstration at the same time.)

Drain seeds in a colander or strainer and allow to cool.

You will notice there is a hard edge still around the seed. I used my fingernail to remove one side, exposing the nutmeat inside, which pulls out easily.

Peeling the seeds is tedious, and the cooled, unpeeled seeds tend to dry out quickly. I ended up putting the unpeeled seeds back in a pot of cool water to keep them soft. The peeled seeds are edible as is (I seasoned mine with salt), or they may be roasted on a cookie sheet in the oven.

To Roast:
Lightly oil a cookie sheet (Olive oil or butter are my preferences) and add the seeds. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 325ºF until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring every 10 minutes or so. You can also sprinkle any number of seasonings on them before roasting: any ground spicy pepper, sugar mixed with pumpkin pie spice, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ rubs... almost anything your taste buds enjoy!

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