Preparing pumpkin seeds need not be only a Halloween treat. Pumpkins keep well for months, especially if gently harvested from your own garden. But if you can't grow your own pumpkins, or find one at the farmers market, chances are you can still buy the seeds. These days, pumpkin seeds growing reputation as a good source of protein, iron and unsaturated fat make them easier to find at the store---raw or roasted, hulled or in their shells, salted or unsalted.
Virtually any pumpkin will yield seeds suitable for roasting or drying, according to cookbook author Didi Emmons. She notes that true pepitas---the hulled, green Mexican delicacy---come from the inside of the pumpkin seed and are consequently smaller than the unshelled snacks Americans may be used to. Nonetheless, you can achieve a pepita-like snack by adding Mexican spices to your unshelled seeds before roasting.
Basic Roasting Methods
Scoop out the seedy pulp from inside a pumpkin. Place the seeds in a colander in a sink. Under cold running water, separate the stringy pulp from the seeds. Spread the seeds on one or two cookie sheets and allow them to air dry overnight. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the seeds on one or two baking sheets in single layers. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the cookie sheets, pour a tablespoon of olive oil and seasonings of your choice over each cookie sheet, stir to coat the seeds, and cook an additional 40 minutes. Stir occasionally during the roasting process. Remove from the oven and cool before eating. Store extra seeds in an airtight container in the freezer.
It's worth noting that some health-oriented recipes call for a much shorter cooking time, and at a lower temperature, in order to preserve the seeds' essential fatty oils. Try roasting the seeds at about 170 degrees for 20 minutes, compare it to the more traditional method described above, and use whichever one you prefer.
Dried pumpkin seeds make a useful alternative to roasted pumpkin seeds, according to the National Center for Home Preservation. Spread washed seeds to dry in the sun for several days in dry weather. Alternatively, place them in a dehydrator set at 115 degrees for at least one hour, or dry them in the oven at the lowest setting for three to four hours.
Store-bought Pumpkin Seeds
Due to their increasing popularity, some health food stores, ethnic markets and even supermarkets now stock raw pumpkin seeds. Prepare them as described above, or toast them on a cast iron pan on the stove. Add just a touch of oil and stir the seeds until they begin to pop slightly and turn brown.
Eat roasted pumpkin seeds by themselves, or combined with nuts and dried fruits, for snacking. Use the seeds to garnish soups, slaws and salads. Grind them in a coffee bean grinder for use in mole sauce and soup, as well as a meat substitute in burritos or meatloaf.
A cup of pumpkin seeds provides 68 percent of the daily protein requirement. The seeds also contain high amounts of magnesium, manganese, iron, phosphorous, copper and zinc. These minerals and vitamins have been linked to prostate and bone health in men, easing of arthritis pain, lower cholesterol and healthier skin.