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, 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. I missed them!
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 afterschool 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.
HEALTHY HALLOWEEN SNACK MIX
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (20 minutes active)
Makes about 3 cups
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons spice blend, such as curry powder, garam masala, chili powder, divided (optional)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups raw pumpkin seeds, cleaned and drained, but not patted dry
3/4 cup dried cranberries, dried cherries, raisins, or a mix
3/4 cup unsalted raw or roasted pistachios, peanuts, almonds or cashews
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Dry the chickpeas thoroughly by spreading them on a large plate and patting them dry with kitchen towels. Transfer to a bowl, then toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1 teaspoon of the spice blend, if using, and salt and pepper to taste. Once the chickpeas are evenly coated, transfer them to a baking sheet and spread them in a single layer. Bake on oven's middle rack until golden and crispy, 25 to 35 minutes, shaking the tray to toss after the first 15 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the chickpeas to a serving bowl. Reduce the oven to 300 F.
Arrange the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on the sheet pan. Bake on the oven's middle rack for 10 minutes.
After the pumpkin seeds have baked, in a large skillet over medium, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the pumpkins seeds and cook, stirring, for 7 to 10 minutes. Add the remaining teaspoon of spice blend, if using, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook, stirring, until the pumpkin seeds are golden and crispy, another 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer the seeds to the serving bowl. Add the cranberries and pistachios and toss well.
Nutrition information per 1/4 cup serving: 305 calories; 180 calories from fat (59 percent of total calories); 20 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 21 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 14 g protein; 335 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."