Stovetop Spicy Sweet Pepitas are a tasty snack or appetizer, specially made for Cinco de Mayo. (This year, the holiday falls on Sunday, May 5.) But in this age of being authentic and true to one’s own roots, why am I writing about Cinco de Mayo?
It’s true that I do not have Spanish ancestors and don’t speak Spanish. What I know about Mexican food, including my guacamole and chicken mole recipes, comes from friends closer to Mexican culture than I am. But the Progressive Eats theme for this month is the upcoming Cinco de Mayo holiday. And I’ve often used Progressive Eats as a chance to stretch. I research the theme and let my imagination take me where it may. The tea party theme led me to chai-infused madeleines. For the Valentine’s Day theme, I did a crepe cake. And for our Latin American theme, I learned to make Colombian patacones.
So I gamely went searching for a Mexican-inspired dish, if not an authentic one. But first, a detour about Cinco de Mayo.
When I think of Cinco de Mayo, Pati Jinich immediately comes to mind. If you don’t know Pati, you should. She is the star of the James Beard Award-winning Pati’s Mexican Table. On the Splendid Table, Lynne Rosetto Kasper called Pati “she who is expert in all things Mexican.” But I know her as a local (Washington, DC area) foodie. As a Jewish Mexican, she has a ringside seat for the wonders that come from crossing-cultures. Pati teaches with a light touch. She has an infectious laugh and a ready smile. Her cookbooks, social media, and personal appearances always make me smile. She would have made a great doctor. If she told you that you had a fatal disease, you would leave the encounter believing life was beautiful. Anyway, she’s a foodie rather than a physician.
Speaking of shocking news, Pati taught me that Cinco de Mayo isn’t widely celebrated in Mexico. Apparently, it is only a holiday in the state of Puebla, where the locals remember a short-lived military victory against a better-armed French military force. Still, outside of Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has become a big deal. And Pati is happy to oblige with many treats for the celebration.
Even if you don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo, there are always the NBA playoffs.
And so, I offer these delectable morsels as an appreciation, rather than an authentic Mexican dish.
While Pati did inspire these Stovetop Spicy Sweet Pepitas, it was not because she connects them to Cinco de Mayo. Instead, my thinking was a bit more roundabout.
Around here, Cinco de Mayo is a big drinking holiday. Although I have made the occasional cocktail or shrub, I am more about food than drink. And so, I focused on snacks that would go well with drinks. That led me to Pati’s Spiced Up Pumpkin Seeds. They looked fabulous and sounded easy. In the early days of this blog, I had done roasted pumpkin seeds for Halloween and knew that I would enjoy experimenting again with these tasty little morsels. After a bit more research, I found a Serious Eats version that features roasted and crushed cumin seeds. With that added flavor complexity, I hit the pepita jackpot.
Stovetop Spicy Sweet Pepitas
These pepitas are slightly sweet, with spices that linger just enough to cut the sugar at the end. While you can up the chili to add more of a kick, I like them at this level because you can eat more pepitas if the spicy taste does not clobber you over the head.
The recipe is super simple and quick. Besides the pepitas or pumpkin seeds, it has just six ingredients, five of which are spices.
I make the roasted cumin seeds in a larger quantity than this recipe calls for. (They take just a few minutes to roast.) Then I store them in a tight plastic container and crush just what I need for the recipe. Check out the difference between roasted and “raw” cumin seed. Can’t you almost smell the aroma of the smoked seeds?
Roasting the cumin seeds in a small, dry pan takes just a few minutes and the taste once roasted is fabulous, not to mention the aroma.
The heated oil makes a light film in the pan. Then you add the pepitas and toss or stir them frequently until most turn brown and many of them pop.
Off the heat, you add the sugar first, tossing it with the seeds until it melts on them. Then you simply add the spices and toss again.
I cool them for several minutes on parchment but you can use a plate or any clean surface. (Spreading them out speeds up the cooling.)
After that, just pour the drinks and relax.
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. This month’s theme is a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, and our host is Jane who blogs at The Heritage Cook
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats it is a virtual party. The host for the month chooses the theme. Then members share recipes on the theme, suitable for a delicious meal or party. You can hop from blog to blog to check them out. Come along and see all of the delicious fiesta-inspired dishes!
Cinco de Mayo Fiesta
- Spicy Crab Guacamole – The Red Head Baker
- Stovetop Spicy Sweet Pepitas – Mother Would Know (you’re here!)
- Orejas Mexican Pan Dulce – Creative Culinary
- Instant Pot Barbacoa Tacos – The Heritage Cook
- Pork Pozole Verde – Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Chicken Tostadas with Black Bean Guacamole and Salsa Fresca – From a Chef’s Kitchen
- Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo) – Beyond Mere Sustenance
Stovetop Spicy Sweet Pepitas
Try these spicy sweet pepitas with a cool drink for a lovely way to snack or start a meal. They're slightly addictive, so don't be surprised if you need to make more soon.
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds See note for substitution.
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (either light or dark brown)
Dry roast the cumin seeds in a small, heavy (preferably cast iron) pan for about 6 minutes on medium-high heat, tossing/stirring them frequently. As soon as they begin to smell fragrant and pop, remove the pan from the heat, put them in a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle to grind them
Mix all the spices together and set aside.
Heat the oil in a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan until it is hot but not smoking. See note on pan size. Make sure to spread the oil by tilting the pan. The small amount of oil will make a light film with a bit extra that rolls around the pan as you tilt it. Add the pepitas and cook them, tossing/stirring them frequently for about 7-10 minutes. Many will pop and turn brown. Although the process will not cook them to a perfectly uniform color, they should mostly be more brown than green.
Remove the pan from the heat, immediately add the brown sugar and toss the pepitas in the (melting) sugar to fully coat them. Quickly add the spices and toss the pepitas again.
Spread the now-coated (with sugar and spices) pepitas on parchment of a large plate. Cool them completely before serving. If you spread them out in a thin layer, they will cool in less than 15 minutes.
You can substitute an equal amount of ground cumin, but if it is not roasted, the cumin will not have the smoky goodness of the roasted and freshly crushed variety.
The best size pan is about 8" measured on the outside bottom, so the pepitas can spread out in a thin layer. If the pan is too small, they will take longer to cook and it will be more difficult to brown them evenly