A few friends have opened my freezer and inquired about the Mason jars of messiness that I have stacked on a shelf. When I tell them the concoction inside is my little helper, they peer at me strangely.
In truth, it is a lightly curried pumpkin seed mixture that makes the most delicious crust for almost any piece of fish, chicken or meat. Were you expecting something more exciting? This recipe has rescued me countless times when I don't know what to make for dinner.
For the swanky dinner party, it wows on a piece of tuna or swordfish. For a weeknight dinner, it transforms the traditional crusted chicken into something more notable. It flavors any salad and adds crunch and spice to plain lentils, rice or quinoa. My 2-year-old and I enjoy eating it with a spoon, although we do endeavor to restrain ourselves.
Not only does this little helper add just the right amount of special to dinner, it also ups the nutritional ante. Pumpkin seeds contain:
— Zinc, which aids the immune system.
— Protein, including the important amino acid tryptophan.
— Magnesium, which is good for the heart.
— Manganese, which supports the nervous system.
The curry powder also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Toss some together, pour into an airtight container and pop it in the freezer. It will be there for you when you need it.
Pumpkin Seed Crust
Makes about 1 3/4 cups
To use this pumpkin seed mixture on chicken, whisk 2 large egg whites until they are foamy. Pound 4 chicken breast halves to an even thickness, then dip them into the egg whites, coating both sides. Press both sides into the pumpkin seed crust mixture, making sure to coat them evenly; this will use about 1 3/4 cups. Saute in a nonstick skillet with a little bit of olive oil; the crust will brown nicely.
MAKE AHEAD: The crust mixture can be frozen for up to 3 months. Adapted from "San Francisco Flavors: Favorite Recipes From the Junior League of San Francisco" (Chronicle, 1999).
1 cup raw, unsalted, hulled pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the pumpkin seeds in a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a small, dry skillet; toast over low heat for several minutes, until fragrant, shaking the pan often to promote even doneness. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.
Stir in the bread crumbs, the oil, crushed red pepper flakes and the curry powder. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Use right away, or freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
NUTRITION Per tablespoon: 45 calories, 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a Washington-based nutrition education company.