Everything but the pumpkin

Crunchy, nutty and delicious, there’s so much more to pumpkin seeds or pepitas than a hasty handful snack. They’re a calorie-dense snack rich in mono-unsaturated fats to help lower cholesterol as well as high in magnesium, potassium,, zinc and iron. Pumpkin seeds, often called pepitas, are also an excellent source of tryptophan and glutamate, both of which aid sleep and relieve anxiety. One could go on and on about the nutritious value of this incredible “super food,” but the true value is their culinary versatility and, of course, they taste fabulous!

Pepitas are rather common in Latin-American cuisine, which is why it’s not a surprise to see them on the menu at places like Mizado, the inviting “Pan-Latin” cuisine restaurant on the edge of New Orleans’ city limits on Pontchartrain Boulevard. Diners can discover pepitas in dishes like their fresh, Gulf shrimp salad with cilantro, tomatillo, manchego and cotija; a Peruvian ceviche called a Tiradito with sashimi-grade tuna, citrus ponzu, avocado and melon; and their Chile de Arbol salsa with with sesame seeds, apple cider and cloves.

Uptown on Magazine Street, the folks at Del Fuego Taqueria are no strangers to the green beauties of the gourd. My favorite dish aside from the Mission Burrito with carnitas would have to be their “loaded” guacamole overflowing with chicharrón (cracklins), cotija, roasted poblano peppers, bacon and, you guessed it, pepitas.

Head downtown to Johnny Sanchez where traditional Mexican cuisine is prepared with a decidedly modern slant by chefs/owners Aarón Sánchez and John Besh. Among items like “Albondigas” or Mexican meatballs made with creamy masa, and chipotle and squash blossom tacos, one can try a wood-fired shrimp salad with roasted squash and avocado drizzled with a pumpkin seed-cilantro pesto.

What’s really cool is the use of pepitas has crossed over cultures to appear in dishes that aren’t remotely Mexican like the marinated Gulf snapper at the newly opened Toups South located in Central City on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. In a dish that tastes of Thailand, this crudo consists of fresh Gulf snapper tossed with green pepitas which is served in a butternut squash and coconut milk sauce plus a spicy chili oil.

Although it shouldn’t surprise anyone, chefs Michael Stoltzfus and Kristen Essig at the incredibly popular neighborhood restaurant Coquette have featured pumpkin seeds on their menu from time to time. For example, just recently on their Friday lunch, a three-course prix fixe for $30, the second course offers a crawfish agnolotti with kohlrabi, pumpkin seeds and English peas. Though $30 is just a tad out of our $20 limit, why not have a friend join you and split it? With dishes like coffee-cured cobia, beef brisket sausage and a key lime tart, I’m sure there will be plenty of food for two!

Vegans use pepitas (like many other nuts and seeds) in a lot of their preparations, so it’s no surprise to find them at Seed, probably the only all-vegan restaurant in New Orleans. At this Lower Garden District anomaly, you’ll find pumpkin seeds in their roasted carrot and avocado salad and the Creole zucchini wraps with cashew cheese and spinach.

Finally, owner Lauren Morlock at Sólo Espresso is caffeinating the denizens of Bywater with craft coffee drinks made with Miami-based Panther Coffee. But, the café also makes it a point to offer lots of goodies from Port City Pantry. Plus, Morlock herself makes her own gluten-free granola chock-full of pumpkin seeds and crunchy oat clusters that makes a perfect breakfast along with Crescent City Creamery’s decadent Greek yogurt.

*Article originally published in the November 2016 issue of Where Y’at Magazine

**Mizado and Toups’ South are closed

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