In a few short weeks, the great autumnal cool-off will signal a rapid change of flavors. Crisp apples. Tart cranberries. Cinnamony pumpkin spice. And the salty crunch of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds. You can use them to coat your chicken, bake them into granola bars, or stay traditional (plus a little bit of sweetness). But I am an impatient woman. The recent, sudden coolness of my neck of the Northeast gave me a longing for pepitas right out of the oven. But lacking a pumpkin on hand, I turned to an unexpected source, a cantaloupe.
Yes, the fillers of your fruit salad, those being left behind in our era of superfoods: The lowly, neglected cantaloupe and honeydew are here to satisfy your late summer yearnings for fresh pumpkin seeds. Unbeknownst to me, roasting melon seeds is nothing new. After using the fruit for a much-needed cooling down, watermelon seeds are roasted in a bit of olive oil and eaten as a popular snack throughout North Africa and the Middle East, especially as a part of ajeel, a trail mix–like snack from Iran. In China and Taiwan, you often find watermelon seeds that have been roasted in soy sauce and sesame oil. Meanwhile, the seeds from muskmelons, the species that includes cantaloupes and honeydews, are found in dishes around the Indian subcontinent and in Cote D’Ivoire (among other cuisines), either roasted or ground into a paste used to thicken curries (among other uses).
The seeds themselves are nutritional powerhouses. Muskmelon seeds are high in fiber, along with vitamins A and C, while watermelon seeds offer a good serving of protein, several amino acids, B vitamins, and magnesium. Both kinds of seeds do have a harder husk than pumpkin seeds, and if the ones from your watermelon are on the bigger side, you could crack them open like a sunflower seed to expose the inner white flesh. This summer, mine have been on the small side so, impatient rebel that I am, they were eaten husk and all.
I experimented giving both kinds of seeds a quick soak in either extremely salty water or soy sauce. The brine trick imparted a sublime, salty quality to the roasted watermelon seeds that reminded me of another great, kinda guilty food I love: the nutty and buttery barely-popped-kernels at the bottom of movie theater popcorn. When they soaked up the soy sauce though, it took the resulting seeds a bit too far on the salty scale. On the other hand, soy sauce worked well for the muskmelon seeds. Pre-soaking made the husk of these roasted seeds a bit too chewy, causing way more work than they’re worth. (I even did a fancy soak in rosé… and it ended up ranking last in my very non-scientific taste test.) You’ll just want to rinse and dry fresh muskmelon seeds for at least an hour before prepping, completely skipping a soak.
Both kinds of seeds completely satiate any longing for a salty, crunchy snack. The roasted watermelon seeds have a deep, caramelly nuttiness similar to pumpkin seeds, but with a distinct, popcorn-like component. Muskmelon seeds are a little bit brighter and lighter, and better suited for taking on the flavors of what they’re roasted in. (That’s why the soy sauce works here: It bakes into the seeds, coating them in umami goodness, while sesame seed oil rounds out the flavor.)
The recipes I came across specifically for roasting melon seeds all suggested placing them in a 325° oven, but that tended to make my seeds a little too burnt. Since I am in the possession of a brand new oven with specific temperatures, I found success roasting them at 320° for 22-23 minutes. Since these seeds are very sensitive, err on the side of roasting them lower. 30-40 minutes at 300° may work for those with older, analog ovens. In any case, be vigilant: Once the seeds start smelling toasty (and, in the case of muskmelon seeds, turn golden, too), take it out of the oven and taste (making sure it’s not too hot before you do). Put back in the oven, at a lower temperature, if needed.
And just like all seeds, there are oils working against you. Keep your roasted seeds in an airtight container for a month in the fridge or six months in the freezer.