Seeds of Change

By Elizabeth Winslow
Photography by Kate LeSueur and Carrot Salad by Thomas Winslow

Perhaps the most metaphorical of all the foods we eat, seeds are alive with possibility and flavorful potential. They’ve long been a part of our culinary repertoire—think poppy, sesame, sunflower, celery, coriander and more—but lately, a few new players have made an appearance.

These days, hemp, chia, pumpkin and flax seeds can be found on restaurant menus and in home kitchens, and opportunities for experimentation abound. And because seeds hold all the nutrients needed to grow a plant, an added bonus is that they’re nutritional powerhouses filled with fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

SEEDS ON THE MENU

At Lenoir, Chef Todd Duplechan uses housemade hemp-seed milk to make vegan risotto. He also garnishes a cured butternut squash salad with raw hemp seeds and sprinkles homemade naan with onion seeds.

The kitchen team at The Bonneville tops a pan-seared red snapper with a green-pumpkin-seed mole, stirs mustard seeds into a pear mostarda and flavors their veal meatballs with fennel seeds.

At Barley Swine, Pastry Chef Kyle McKinney offers up a play on the “pot brownie” with hemp seeds in a rich chocolate bar. And this summer, he incorporated sesame seeds into a peach semifreddo with sesame-seed meringue.

For a crunchy contrast, El Alma’s Chef Alma Alcocer sprinkles toasted hemp seeds on nopalito salad and uses hemp seeds in their raw form on veggie verde enchiladas because she likes the way they complement the smokiness of the sauce with their mild, nutty flavor. 

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NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF SEEDS

Hemp: Hemp seeds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids and contain all nine essential amino acids—making them a complete protein source. They can ease digestion, promote healthy sleep and are both vegan and gluten-free. Hemp seeds are mild and soft with a flavor similar to pine nuts; they’re delicious mixed into smoothies and cereals, tossed into salads or folded into any recipe where a buttery, nutty flavor is welcome.

Chia: Cultivated by the Aztecs and native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala, chia seeds are full of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. They have a mild, nutty flavor and a slight crunch, and can be incorporated into smoothies and cereals, sprinkled onto salads or baked into granola bars. They can even be used with cornmeal and hemp seeds as a crust for fish or chicken. When mixed with water, chia seeds take on a jellied consistency, and can be enjoyed as a pudding. 

Flax: Flax seeds boast off-the-chart levels of omega-3s, are high in fiber and have a nutty, toasty flavor. Since they can go rancid quickly, buy in small quantities and use as soon as possible. Try them on yogurt, on cereal, in oatmeal or baked into a favorite bread or muffin recipe. To make a vegan egg substitute for baking, grind flax seeds to a fine powder and combine one tablespoon of flaxseed powder with three tablespoons of water to replace each egg in the recipe.

Pumpkin: Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are a great source of minerals (especially magnesium, iron and zinc) and fiber. Roast them with a little olive oil, salt and chili powder for an easy-eating snack, stir them into granola, muffins or cookies, or toast and sprinkle onto your favorite salad.