Nuts are seeds or fruits enclosed in a hard shell. Nourishing in their own right, nuts and seed can add spark to any dish. Consider nuts and seeds as concentrated flavor; each kind has a characteristic taste that complements or highlights many recipes.
BASIC FACTS ABOUT NUTS AND SEEDS
The most popular nuts and seeds you would find in any pantry today are almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, chestnuts, coconuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts. Filberts are a kind of hazelnut. Nuts and seeds are protein rich. Almonds or peanuts have a protein content, relative to their weight, comparable to beef or chicken meat, sunflower seeds even much higher.
Nuts and seeds are high in potassium, calcium, iron and other minerals, like the selenium rich Brazil nuts. They have a high oil content, high in calories too, though their fat is of the healthy kind.
Nuts have been deemed a luxury before, only to be used in desserts or as decoration, vegetarians have always known better and considered them an essential food.
In the places where they are grown, coconuts and peanuts are staple food -Imagine life without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In parts of Italy and Corsica they make bread, cakes, pies or polenta out of chestnut flour.
Nuts and seeds are one of the oldest sources of nourishment know to humans. There are many references to them in stories written thousands of years ago. Greek and Romans knew walnuts and pistachios very well; Plinii wrote already enthusiastically about pistachios.
Peanuts have been found often in Inca tombs, supposedly to support the deceased in the afterlife. Almonds were one of the presents Jacob sons took to Egypt and there are numerous references to them in the Bible.
HOW TO PREPARE NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts must be shelled before using them. If you bought nuts in their shell, the best tool to crack the hard shell is, of course, a nutcracker, for all but peanuts and pistachios, as both have a soft shell, and coconuts, as they are too big and their shell is so hard that it requires special tools.
You can find screw like nutcrackers or R shaped nutcrackers, where the nut is held in a special groove, both allow you to apply a gradual pressure, but the most popular kind are the hinged ones, with three oval openings of varying sizes and a ridge of narrow grooves, to hold nuts firmly in place so they won’t slip or crack unevenly. Apart from the nutcracker, it is useful to have a small knife at hand to get difficult nuts out of their shell.
After the hard shell, many nuts have a paper like skin that may be or may be not eaten. The best way to get rid of this skin is, for almonds, pistachios or walnuts, to pour first boiling water over the nuts, and to pour cold water afterwards, or let them stand in the cold water for a few minutes. After that, the nut will slip out of the skin just by pressing. Pecans and Brazil nuts are easier to handle after pouring boiling water and standing for 20 minutes.
Shelled nuts can be browned in a pan with a little oil, or they can be toasted in the oven, microwave oven or in a pan. The best instrument to chop a small amount of nuts is a knife; use a coffee grinder for a larger one. The tools to prepare ground nuts are a coffee grinder or a blender.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE NUTS AND SEEDS
If buying unshelled nuts, look for a bright and bright shell, not dusty, and it should feel dry to the touch. Nuts not properly dried don’t last long. The nuts should feel heavy in the hand; otherwise it indicates that the seed has dried. Nuts are perishable. Buy small amounts and keep them in a cool, airy dry place, out of direct sunlight.
Shelled nuts are easier to check for quality. Again, they don not keep long. Walnuts and hazelnuts get easily a bitter rancid taste. It is best to choose a shop with a quick turnover. The nuts should be crunchy but soft and juicy because of their oil content, except pine nuts which are always soft.
Keep nuts and seeds in a container proportional to the amount contained -the less air the better; air will turn them rancid-with a well adjusted lid. As with all dry products, never put recent nuts on top of the old ones. Finish the old first, then clean and dry the container before storing the new batch.
HOW TO USE NUTS AND SEEDS
There are plenty of occasions to have nuts and seeds. They are delicious raw or toasted, hot or cold, as a main course or as a side dish, from breakfast until supper.
- Perfect companion to fruit.
- Try cheese and nuts for a great dessert. Healthy and quick.
- Wonderful in desserts, salads or vegetable dishes.
- Go well with fish.
- Good in stuffing for meat or poultry.
- Main ingredient in many cookies, pastries, cakes or ice creams.
- Great snacks, alone or mixed with dried fruits.
- Add to drinks and smoothies.
- Make excellent creams and butters, or vegetarian meals.
CONTRAST OF TEXTURES. Sprinkle chopped toasted crunchy nuts over ice cream or any cream dessert.
JUICIER AND LIGHTER. Because of their oil content, adding chopped or ground nuts to pies and cakes makes them juicier and lighter.
CREATE AN ENTRÉE OR STRETCH A PLATE. Because of their protein and mineral content, add them to salads, rice, pasta or vegetables to create a wholesome entrée or to stretch out a plate when you find out there are more guests than planned.
SNACK VARIETY IN LITTLE BITES. Nuts and seeds are very satisfying because of their high protein and oil content; nuts and seeds are healthy because of the minerals they provide. They are ideal to as a snack when you are not able to take a whole meal. Consider how easy it is to prepare your own trail mix.
GETTING NUTS IN YOUR DIET
Try to incorporate nuts to your diet slowly. Ingesting three pounds of nuts a day is not going to make for years of nut neglect, and we have already mentioned nuts are high in calories, so portion control is in order. A serving of nuts is a handful, about 25 almonds or 10 Brazil nuts, or 1-2 level tablespoon of nut butter.
Nuts are Nature’s gift to man, flavorful, healthy, and able to give a recipe the contrast in textures that only professional chefs provide, so don’t limit their use to sprinkling a few chopped nuts on ice cream or to the holyday season; it is worth to add them to sweet and savory dishes during the whole year.
- Mix toasted hazelnuts with double cream cheese, minced garlic and paprika. Spread over crackers.
- For a fragrant oriental dessert add toasted pine kernels to a fruit salad.
- Festive chestnut stuffing – Mix 1 cup chestnut puree, ½ cup bread, no crust, crumbled, 1 egg, 1 minced onion, and the juice and rind of 1 orange. Season and use it to stuff a turkey, duck or a chicken.
- Fried chicken with a nutty twist dip chicken pieces in seasoned egg, beaten, and cover with a mixture of 1 Tbs flour and 1 cup ground pecans. Cook until golden.
- Garnish grilled fish with chopped peanuts fried in butter until golden and lemon wedges.
- Use green pistachio nuts to garnish lemon curd, lemon cheesecake or lemon soufflé.
- Get crunchier burgers by rolling them on lightly salted chopped peanuts; and get also added protein. Recommended proportion ¼ lb peanuts per ½ lb ground meat.
- For a crunchier fruit pie, sprinkle ground nuts on top of the pastry before adding the fruit. The nuts will absorb any liquid from the fruit adding flavor on top.
A FEW WORDS TO THE WISE
Nuts are an important source of protein in a vegetarian diet, but they are deficient in the amino acid lysine, so in a vegetarian diet, nuts should be combined with other lysine rich sources of protein, like beans and pulses.
Nut allergy can be very dangerous. Be extremely careful and avoid completely using nuts around people suffering this type of allergy.
Very young children could easily choke on whole nuts and because of the risk of nut allergies, follow the pediatrician’s advice on how and when to incorporate nuts to their diet. It follows you should not offer nuts to a child without the parent’s permission.