How to Cook with Pumpkin Seeds

Chefs are doing way more than just throwing them in the oven

If you're like us, the best part about annual pumpkin carving isn't the jack-o'-lantern itself but its by-product: the seeds. And if all you're doing is throwing them in the oven (or worse, throwing them in the garbage), you're missing out on a surprising number of culinary uses. Just take it from some of the country's brightest chefs, who are using these buttery seeds in ways that might just convince you to carve a few extra pumpkins this year.

First, let's get this out of the way: Yes, the pale-white seeds you scoop out of the gourds look different than the green pepitas used to garnish tacos or pepper granola. Most carving pumpkins have seeds with edible outer shells hiding the green pepitas inside, but there are also varieties grown specifically for the inner seeds that lack this outer hull. 

In Nashville, James Beard Award-winning chef RJ Cooper makes an unconventional pumpkin seed "risotto" at his restaurant, Henley. Pepitas are soaked in pumpkin juice for almost a week before being cooked sous vide until tender; Cooper then spins them into a creamy dish enriched with homemade pumpkin milk before showering the completed plate in truffles and fried sourdough starter.

Photo: Angelina Howard

"When you taste a poached pumpkin seed, it has that kind of firm meatiness to it," he says of the dish, which was inspired by something similar he saw using sunflower seeds. Pepitas give his version an al dente bite strikingly similar to real rice, for a fall menu item that counters conventional pumpkin-filled pastas.

For Anita Jaisinghani, chef at Pondicheri in New York, another advantage of pumpkin seeds is that they provide the same richness and texture as nuts, giving her flexibility to navigate allergies in her restaurant's dining room. She turns the colorful green seeds into a vibrant chutney to be spread onto paper-thin dosa cradling a filling of sautéed vegetables. Like Cooper, Jaisinghani wanted to find a more substantial and flavorful alternative to other commonly used seeds. "I've got a sesame seed chutney, but I wanted something more hearty," she says.  

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Aside from her pumpkin seed chutney, the chef also keeps them on hand in a mix of black sesame and sunflower seeds as a day-to-day condiment to sprinkle on top of morning scrambled eggs and avocado toasts. "It's really there for both a punch of flavor as well as something that's good for you," she adds. 

Though you could hollow out enough pumpkins to satisfy your fill of seeds this season, you could also take Cooper's advice and go the store-bought pepita route. "We would have killed two or three pumpkin farms by now if we did it any other way," he jokes. And if you don't have a spare week to replicate his labor-intensive pumpkin seed risotto, don't worry—here are some other chef-inspired ideas for using this fall ingredient.

Use It as a Base for Homemade Dips

Give hummus a unique spin by swapping out a portion of the chickpeas for pumpkin seeds. Or do as chef Alex Stupak does and make the Mexican all-pumpkin seed dip called sikil pak

Replace Nuts in Condiments & Sauces

Over in Oklahoma City, chef Jason Campbell of Mary Eddy's replaces the hazelnuts in traditional romesco for toasted pepitas and uses the sauce both as base for pizza and as a condiment for braised meats. You can try the same idea by switching out pricey pine nuts for pumpkin seeds in your go-to pesto recipe. 

Make Your Own Seed Butters

Instead of peanuts or almonds, throw roast pepitas into a food processor and purée them until they transform into a rich, luxurious spread that will have you questioning peanut butter's place in a sandwich.

Make Vegan Nut Milk

At Café Integral in NYC, equal parts pumpkin seeds and raw cashews are soaked overnight before being blended into a dairy-free alternative for your morning cup of coffee and, yes, even your pumpkin spice latte.