Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nuts, to You

Nuts and seeds are finding there way into more of our meals.  Peanut or almond butter on a whole wheat waffle or oat pancake with banana slices is a favorite breakfast (especially on mornings when there are extra homemade pancakes or waffles in the freezer).  A 1/2 ounce of whole almonds (10-11) has fueled me between meetings for years, especially when I was on the road and a healthy meal might be more than a few miles ahead.

More recently, toasted nuts and seeds have been finding a place in our dinner salads.  They add the crunch of croutons but with extra nutrients. 

We eat salad most nights.  Keeping salad really simple is what makes it easy to serve consistently.  Torn lettuce plus 1-2 other items topped with nuts or seeds takes less than 5 minutes to put together.  It has been years since we had bottled salad dressing in the house because we keep that simple too—balsamic vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper.  Small jar, replenish weekly.

We mix and match but get started with these combinations:
  • Sliced almonds- nice in roasted beet and goat cheese salads or with orange slices over greens
  • Walnuts or Pecans, chopped or whole- compliment salads with apples, pears or blue cheese
  • Pistachios- taste great in salads with dried fruits like figs, cherries or cranberries
  • Pumpkin seeds, hulled- happy in most salads and a fun addition to fall salads
  • Sunflower seeds, plain or roasted- try them in a salad with avocados
  • Pine nuts- sprinkle them onto a simple green salad with a basil infused oil or fresh basil leaves and shards of Parmesan cheese

One tablespoon of nuts per serving is quite generous in most salads.  Raw nuts are fine but if you have an extra 2 minutes, try toasting them to boost the flavor by warming their oils.  (I don’t toast pine nuts as they are very delicate and burn easily.)

Here are two methods. A batch can be made ahead:

Oven Roast Method
In a small roasting pan, use 1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil for every 1/4 cup nuts.  Toss nuts with oil.  Leave plain or sprinkle on a favorite spice or a touch of salt.  Place in a 400˚ F oven and don’t walk away.  Nuts can burn quickly depending on their fat content so use a timer and stay close.  You’ll have warm toasty nuts in about 2 minutes.  If they need more time, add it in 15-30 second increments.
(Pumpkin time note: If you’d like to toast pumpkin seeds from a carved jack o’lantern, rinse them well in a strainer getting as much of the pulp off as possible.  Pat them dry with a dishtowel then proceed as above. Fresh pumpkin seeds will take longer then hulled ones. Count on 10-15 minutes and turning them a few times.  Don’t stray too far while they are roasting.)

Stove Top Method
This works best in an dry, iron skillet over medium-high heat.  A “dry” skillet has nothing added—e.g. no additional oil for this method.  Heat the skillet and add nuts (1 cup maximum at a time).  Stir gently and occasionally until nuts brown lightly and begin to release their volatile oils. Done.

We have family members with peanut and tree nut allergies so we limit out enjoyment to occasions when the coast is clear.  If you have a nut allergy, can you eat seeds? Some experts say yes, but beware of seeds that are processed where nuts may also be processed and there is a likelihood of cross-contamination.  Here’s more information: http://foodallergies.about.com/od/nutallergies/f/treenutsseeds.htm

You may want to try roasted chick peas in salads as a nut substitute if you are not allergic to legumes other than peanuts.  Drain and rinse a can of chick peas.  Pour onto a dishtowel to dry off beans a bit.  Pour beans onto a rimmed cookie sheet and toss with a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil, some salt, paprika and/or cumin.  Roast at 400˚F for 15-20 minutes.  Check and stir a few times to prevent sticking.  Cool and keep in a airtight container: use within 3 days.