Gone Nuts (and Seeds): Everyone loves a nut - and with good reason. These tasty nuggets can add protein and rich flavor

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Gone Nuts (and Seeds): Everyone loves a nut - and with good reason. These tasty nuggets can add protein and rich flavor to almost any meal

Gone Nuts (and Seeds): Everyone loves a nut -- and with good reason. These tasty nuggets can add protein and rich flavor to almost any meal.

As a kid, I ate peanuts straight out of the bag, by the handful, adeptly cracking the shells to get to the meat of the matter. Pistachio ice cream sundaes were a special treat, topped with hot fudge and an extra dose of nuts for good measure. Sometimes my father and I would satisfy a sweet tooth by squishing together almonds and dates to make exotic Middle Eastern dessertwiches.

Since I've grown up (a bit), I've learned to savor the riches hidden in each nut and seed. I now use them as a seasoning, a hidden ingredient that gives kick to a pot of soup, or as a snack. Crunchy, rich, and versatile, nuts and seeds are powerhouses of protein energy. (They can also be rich in fat, so enjoy them in moderation.) Added to soups and salad dressings, or as a last-minute flourish in a stir-fry, nuts and seeds lend flavor and a nutritious boost to nearly any dish.

Before experimenting with the recipes below, it pays to know a bit about storing and roasting nuts and seeds. Since nuts have their own natural oils, they have a tendency to turn rancid unless properly stored. Packed in airtight containers placed in a cool, dry place, they'll last one month in the pantry, four to five months in the fridge, and up to a year in the freezer. I freeze mine in sealed plastic bags -- which keeps them from getting freezer burn -- and thaw for several hours in the refrigerator before using them.

Nuts and seeds often need to be roasted to bring out their heady aroma and flavor before they are added to a dish.

Start by warming a frying pan over medium heat, then reduce to low and add seeds or nuts. Stir constantly; they take only moments to burn, which makes them taste bitter. Whether you shake the pan or stir the contents, keep the nuts and seeds moving around the hot surface. Roasting times will vary, from sesame seeds, which cook quickly, to larger nuts that take a bit longer to get done. Remove the nuts or seeds from the heat when they smell toasty. Alternatively, you can bake large nuts in a preheated oven (or toaster oven) at 325 degrees, turning often.

Hummus (Chickpea Dip)

Makes 2 cups

Thick and creamy with a bit of a bite, this dip features protein-rich chickpeas. The small amounts of sesame butter (tahini) and sesame oil impart a smooth, rich consistency without a lot of fat. Scoop it up with warmed pita bread or serve with crisply steamed vegetables.

1. 4 tsp. cumin seeds
2. 4 tsp. coriander seeds
3. cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and cooking liquid reserved
4. cloves garlic, minced
5. Tbsp. roasted sesame butter
6. Tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
7. 2 tsp. salt
8. 2 tsp. umeboshi vinegar
9. 2 tsp. Hungarian paprika
10. tsp. sesame oil
11. 2 cup (scant) bean liquid

In a small skillet, roast cumin and coriander seeds about 2 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Grind in a mortar and pestle.

In a blender, combine ground seeds, chickpeas, garlic, sesame butter, lemon juice, salt, vinegar, paprika, and oil. Add enough bean liquid to puree to a smooth consistency. Scoop into a serving dish and sprinkle with paprika.

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Makes 2 cups

These peppery green seeds make a wonderful snack to munch while you're waiting for dinner, or a tempting topping for a simple meal. To roast pumpkin seeds fresh from your jack-o'-lantern, scoop the seeds and strings from the gourd and swish them in a bowl of warm water to dean; discard the strings and drain the seeds on a towel. Or simply buy raw pumpkin seeds at the store.

* 2 cups pumpkin seeds
* 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
* 1/2 tsp. curry powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread seeds on a baking tray and heat 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every S minutes, or until they start to pop. In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce and curry powder. Add the heated seeds to the soy/curry mixture and stir to coat. Return the coated seeds to the oven, bake a few minutes until dry, and then remove and cool. Store in an airtight jar.

Creamy Chickpea Soup with Cashew Milk

Serves 6

With its rich, golden hue, this soup is beautiful to look at. The small amount of nuts heightens the flavor without beefing up the fat. The cardamom seeds give the soup a Middle Eastern taste and aroma.

1. 4 cup raw cashews
2. cups water
3. tsp. sesame oil
4. cloves garlic, minced
5. medium onions, diced
6. tsp. sea salt
7. cup carrots, coarsely chopped
8. 4 tsp. cardamom seeds, crushed
9. cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed if canned
10. tsp. salt, or to taste

Cilantro sprigs for garnish

In a blender, combine cashews and water, pureeing until smooth; set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, and sea salt; sauté 2 to 3 minutes. Add carrots and cardamom seeds; cook 3 minutes to seal in the flavor. Add reserved cashew milk; bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

In a blender, combine the chickpeas with the heated soup stock; puree until smooth. Return to the pot, add salt to taste, and heat through over low heat, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, ladle into bowls, and garnish each with a sprig of cilantro.

Carrot-Cashew Dip Makes about 1 1/4 cups

With just the right proportion of sweet tastes to nuts and salt, this creamy dip makes a festive addition to a platter of hors d'oeuvres. Serve with crackers, and then reuse any leftovers by adding water or stock and reheating for an unusual sauce for rice or noodles.

* 2 cups carrots (about 4 medium carrots), coarsely cut
* 1/2 cup (scant) water
* 1/4 tsp. sea salt
* 1 Tbsp. roasted cashew butter
* 1 tsp. tamari soy sauce

Combine ingredients in a blender. Puree until smooth, stirring with a chopstick occasionally to loosen the larger pieces on the bottom from the blade of the blender.

Wilted Spinach Raspberry Salad with Roasted Walnuts

Serves 4 to 6

The earthy taste of spinach and mushrooms sets off the fresh burst of raspberry and the crunch of nuts in this simple salad.

1. 2 cup walnuts
2. Tbsp. raspberry vinegar
3. clove garlic

Salt and pepper

* 3 to 4 bunches spinach, stems discarded, washed, and spun dry
* 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
* 3 small shallots, thinly sliced
* 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Whole radicchio leaves, washed and spun dry

In a toaster oven, roast walnuts at 325 degrees until lightly brown; set aside. In a large bowl, combine vinegar, garlic, and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Toss greens, mushrooms, and shallots in the dressing.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat until very hot; pour over salad and toss to coat until wilted. Garnish with roasted nuts and serve on a bed of radicchio leaves.

Double Corn Polenta with Almond Basil Pesto

Serves 6

Polenta is an easy dish to prepare. All it takes is a little time, a few ingredients, and a craving for corn. Pesto makes this dish especially elegant, and you can experiment with other herbs and nuts to create unusual pesto flavors. (Try rosemary and parsley with pine nuts, or cilantro, peanuts, and hot red peppers.)

Combining the polenta with cold water before you add it to the pot prevents it from clumping.

Polenta

* 6 cups water
* 1 tsp. olive oil
* 2 tsp. sea salt
* 2 cups polenta
* 1 cup cooked corn kernels (2 to 3 ears)

Pesto

* 3 cloves garlic
* 2 cups basil leaves, plus a few leaves for garnish
* 1/4 cup almonds
* 1/2 tsp. salt Pinch of pepper
* 1/2 cup olive oil

In a large pot or deep skillet, combine 4 cups water with the oil and salt; bring to a boil. In a bowl, stir polenta into remaining 2 cups water to coat. Pour polenta-water mixture into boiling water, whisking to prevent lumps. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in corn kernels and simmer 5 to 10 minutes or until thick. Scoop polenta into a large pie plate, spreading to 1/2 inch thick; flatten the top with a wet wooden spoon and let set for 30 minutes until firm.

In a blender, combine garlic, basil, nuts, salt, pepper, and oil; puree slowly to desired thickness. Spread over polenta, garnish with a few basil leaves, and serve immediately. Keeps refrigerated for several days in a covered container.

Gomasio (Sesame Sprinkle)

Makes about 1 cup

My father-in-law calls this "magic dust"; he swears it makes everything on his plate taste better. With its heady aroma of ground roasted seeds, Gomasio makes a fantastic, low-sodium alternative to table salt. This recipe calls for roasting the salt, which will eliminate some of its moisture and make it easier to crush. Use this sprinkle to spice up a simple serving of rice or steamed vegetables.

1. Tbsp. sea salt
2. 4 cup sesame seeds

In a hot, dry skillet, roast salt for 2 minutes, stirring constantly; set aside in a small bowl. In the same skillet, roast seeds for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown and nutty-smelling. Stir constantly to prevent burning. In a mortar or grinder, grind salt and seeds into a coarse powder. Store in an airtight container.

Carrot Greens with Savory Sesame Sauce

Serves 4

Carrot tops are typically very bitter, but parboiling and soaking eliminates their mouth-puckering qualities. The dressing highlights them with just a touch of several flavors. These greens are especially high in nutrition, and the seeds add a bit of extra protein. Keep servings small, since a little bit goes a long way toward dressing up the meal. Make the Sesame Sprinkle first, and then proceed with the recipe.

* 4 cups water
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1 bunch carrot greens, washed and long stems discarded
* 1 Tbsp. Sesame Sprinkle (recipe above)
* 1 Tbsp. sake
* 1 tsp. soy sauce

Raw or blanched carrot flowers for garnish

In a saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch carrot greens 2 minutes and drain in a sieve. Rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking and drain well. Cover with additional cold water and let stand 8 hours, draining off water and replacing it 2 to 3 times. Just before serving, gently squeeze moisture from greens and chop into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a small bowl, combine Sesame Sprinkle, sake, and soy sauce. Toss greens in the dressing and garnish with carrot flowers.

Yoga Journal L.L.C.

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By Lauren Mukamal Camp

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