Pumpkin seeds make for a tasty, healthful snack

The Associated PressOctober 30, 2013 

New York City has a zillion charms, but it might 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, it was the kind of art project I loved, 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.

So this year, with Halloween looming, I decided to cast toasted pumpkin seeds as the star of a healthy 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 sauteing 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 by-product 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 F 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 comprise 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.

QUINCE from C3

NEARLY CANDIED QUINCE 3 cups water, or 2 cups Riesling plus 1 cup water

11/2 cups sugar

Zest of 1 tangerine or 3 wide strips orange zest

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds

3 cloves

4 to 6 large quince (about 1 pound)

1/4 cup late-harvest riesling, muscat or other dessert wine

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the water (or diluted wine), sugar, zest, cinnamon and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then simmer over low heat while you prepare the quince.

Peel the quince, cut them into wedges about three-fourths-inch wide at the center and remove the cores; you should have about 4 cups. Put them in a shallow dish, like a gratin dish. Pour two-thirds of the syrup over the fruit, including the spices. Bake, uncovered, for about 2 hours, turning the fruit every 30 minutes for the first 11/2 hours and then more frequently during the last 30 minutes, as the syrup will be well-reduced by then. You want it to caramelize and thicken but not burn. When done, the quince should be nearly translucent and slightly rosy.

Remove from the oven and immediately add the dessert wine. At this point, you can serve either warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate, covered with the syrup.

50 minutes, plus about 2 hours baking. Serves 8 to 12

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