Susan Jane Murray: Magic pumpkin
Wake up to pepitas, says Susan Jane Murray, these seeds are full of vitamins and the stuff of your dreams
More than half of us reportedly suffer from some sort of sleep disorder. Sleeping pills, Touche Eclat and espressos must be keeping our economy afloat. So when it comes to nodding off, what are the smart options?
If self-hypnosis, camomile tea or scalding hot baths with stinky stuff never worked for you, take a close look at your diet and see if you are getting enough B vitamins -- especially B6 -- zinc and the amino acid L-tryptophan. Foods rich in tryptophan can be an effective sleep aid, without having to subscribe to dodgy nocturnal narcotics. Tryptophan is the building block to an important snoozy hormone called melatonin. Without it, our eyes simply won't shut.
Here's the good news. You'll find tryptophan in pumpkin seeds. As a result, scientists have begun to put pumpkin-seed extract in multivitamin pills and sleeping aids. Bear in mind that it's easier and cheaper to keep a stash of pumpkin seeds in your fridge. But don't expect to fall straight to sleep if you eat them. Think of pumpkin seeds as couriers, delivering the cargo your body needs later that night.
With their stores of wound-healing zinc and cancer-fighting selenium, pumpkin seeds also feed our immunity. And contrary to popular belief, pumpkin seeds contain no calcium. However, we know the presence of vitamin K and magnesium is vital to calcium absorption, both found aplenty in these flat, green seeds. Munch alongside calcium-rich foods such as almonds, sesame seeds, broccoli or yogurt. You also need a daily dose of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, so make sure to eat them outside on your balcony or at the bus stop. Osteopenia won't stand a chance.
Kiss bye-bye to salty packets of peanuts. This recipe is intemperately tasty and can be transported in your glove compartment or jacket pocket to stave off Lenten cravings. Hot pepitas can also excite a side of brown rice, grated carrot or shy salad leaves.
The addition of nori is for extra flavour, iodine, calcium and culinary pizzazz, all of which are very important in a woman's diet. Clearspring is the brand I recommend when purchasing tamari, nori and mirin. Tamari is the Amy Huberman of soy sauce -- wholesome, classy and not easily imitated. It contains no artificial preservatives like other soy sauces. Find all three in any Asian supermarket, specialist deli, or the world cuisine aisle in Tesco, Dunnes and Superquinn.
You will need:
Roughly 1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons tamari sauce (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 tablespoon dried nori flakes (optional calcium boost)
Heat a heavy-based wok or pan on medium, not high, and add the pumpkin seeds. Wait until their smell fills your nostrils two minutes later. Now it's time to add the tamari or soy sauce, whichever you are using, the mirin and the dried chilli flakes. Coat the seeds well.
Quickly turn up heat. When the seeds swell or when the liquid has evaporated, whichever comes first, it's time to take off the heat and allow the contents of the wok or pan to cool. Too much heat will destroy the seeds' vitamin-E content, so keep the cooking time as brief as possible. Sprinkle on the nori flakes, if you are using them, as the mixture cools, briskly stir through the stickiness, and wait until they lose their heat. Once cooled, they become crunchy again.
Refrigerate in a screw-top jar and sprinkle over salads and soups all week.