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Authors: Susan Herrmann Loomis

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Nuts in the Kitchen

BOOK: Nuts in the Kitchen
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Nuts in the Kitchen

More Than 100 Recipes for Every Taste and Occasion

Susan Herrmann Loomis

T
O
J
OE AND
F
IONA, MY DARLING CHILDREN
You continue to amaze me with your graceful acceptance at having to,
for example, eat nut recipes seven nights a week!

Nuts. They’re salty, buttery, crunchy, toasty, and simply delicious. For many, they’re one of those fatty, guilty pleasures reserved for rare occasions. As an ingredient they aren’t taken the least bit seriously, or so I realized when I responded to the question of what project I was currently working on. All I had to say was “A book about nuts” and laughter and snickers followed. For all of you comedians out there, should you ever need material, look to nuts for the answer. The entire subject is a potential gold mine.

The nut joke is limited mostly to North America, where nuts show up at baseball games or in big bowls in front of the TV. Travel to countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe, whose cuisines naturally incorporate or even depend on the nut, and you’ll encounter an entirely different situation. No jokes, no guilt—just pure and unadulterated pleasure in the eating. And that is the reason for this book.

It’s time. We endlessly search for new flavor and texture experiences, and nuts satisfy. And just as important, current scientific and medical research is showing nutritional benefits that are hard to ignore. The role of nuts in the North American and European vegan diet is vital, for they offer a delectable source of protein, minerals, and other nutrients; they provide umami, or the savory sensation that also comes from meat; and they thicken in a similar way to flour and butter.

I’m all for laughing—after all, laughter is the best medicine. And snickers don’t bother me in the least. In fact, I occasionally feel as though I’ve had the last laugh. Why wouldn’t I? In the course of working on this book I traveled to and gained insight into fascinating and unfamiliar cultures. I spent time with great people, tasted amazing dishes and learned how to make most of them, and got to write about it all. And finally, but not finally at all, I  get to treat myself, my family, my friends, and you to scrumptiously flavorful dishes.

You will read some of the current
nutritional claims about nuts. They appear to be little medical miracles. While this is exciting, even more fulfilling is that they’re culinary miracles as well. When ground and added to a sauce or soup, they act as a thickener; they make a terrific flour replacement, particularly in cakes and coatings. And their range of toasty flavors enhances everything from seafood to meat.

If cultures that regularly incorporate nuts into their cuisines are used as models, nuts can be served at any point in the meal. In Syria, for example, a mixture of toasted nuts and seeds similar to Dukkah (Chapter Small Plates) is part of breakfast, along with olive oil, yogurt, bread, and vegetables.

In Europe, nuts are used with abandon in sweets and are also tossed into many a savory dish. The same is true in northern Africa and in Asia. Adding ground almonds to a soup to thicken it and turn it into a rich, subtle cream, for example, is a secret from the Spanish countryside. In Italy, local pine nuts blend into pesto, but in these pages the heady crispness of Brazil nuts teams with parsley and basil to give the fresh sauce its zest. Walnuts are normally highly esteemed for the buttery crunch they add to baked goods. Here they play that role with millet and herbs, saffron and cilantro, to make a haunting, richly flavored salad. Pistachios add luxury to a melting chocolate tart, along with their vivid color and sweet crunch.

Finding the recipes in this book has been a whirlwind of a lovely time. I knew I could write a wonderful book with exclusively French recipes, but I didn’t want this book to be so France-centric, so I traveled to learn, eat, and steal (recipes and techniques, that is!). Stories of my travels were met with nearly as much mirth (and incredulity) as the subject of this book. No one could believe I went all the way to Thailand to research nuts, but why wouldn’t I go to a country where peanuts figure in nearly every recipe and rural families almost all have a peanut plot to call their own? Traveling to Sweden had that goal as well (the Manu Chao concert was fun too), and Turkey was a must, for I had to get to the bottom of the fabled pistachio. And there, in the Fertile Crescent, I not only found what I was looking for, but the poet in me found its home. Who wouldn’t melt at the idea of pistachio music (Chapter Small Plates) and all the other poetry in that marvelous land?

Nuts in Italian and Spanish cuisines are familiar to most of us, but I checked back into both countries to reaffirm things. And then there is the use of nuts in Eastern Europe and beyond. Suffice it to say that most cultures value nuts for the pleasurable flavors and textures they offer to everything from soup to dessert—their nutritive value is simply a plus. And this book is oriented the same way. You can learn here about how healthful nuts are, and I hope you will read the carefully prepared section on nutrition and nuts. But mostly you can savor the delicious aspects of nuts, what makes them more than simply a snack food.

I wish you good times and good cooking with this book about nuts. Enjoy it all, use it well, and
bon appétit
!

Nuts and Seeds:
Why They’re So Good for Us

When it comes to nuts and seeds, the health claims don’t end. Nuts are touted as the solution to everything from cardiac and bone health to weight loss and joint flexibility. What becomes evident on closer inspection into all these claims is that all may be true, but much has yet to be established.

What is beyond a doubt, however, is that nuts are highly nutritious. Consider the following discoveries: The fats contained in them are “good” and are thought to do for the body what WD-40 does for a machine—ease the passage, loosen the joints. The studies suggest that nuts are anti-inflammatory. Should this prove an ironclad medical and scientific conclusion, the implications are stunning, for inflammation is most likely at the root of many of our “modern” afflictions. Thus regular, moderate consumption of nuts could reduce the occurrence and development of many ills.

But wait! There’s more! Nuts are cholesterol-free and proven to diminish the risk of heart disease. They contain a variety of minerals and a dense amount of protein, which makes them satisfying powerhouses of energy. And surprisingly enough, those who incorporate nuts regularly into their diet don’t gain weight.

This doesn’t mean that we should suddenly begin popping open cans of fried and salted nuts and wolfing them down. Instead, it means a handful of nuts each day may keep the doctor at bay.

Many dramatic health claims are made about the oils in nuts and seeds. They contain healthful, unsaturated fatty acids, primarily monounsaturated fats, the kind that stay liquid at room temperature and solidify when chilled (a useful image to show their liquid state in the body) and can help reduce bad cholesterol in the blood, which contributes to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

What is most vital about nuts and seeds is the rich flavor and texture they can add to everything from breakfast cereal to braised chicken. They are ideal for moments of extreme hunger and after vigorous exercise, for their high energy content makes you feel full for much longer than most foods, making a little go a long way.

I’ve compiled a list of the most popular nuts and seeds with some brief information about their major nutrient content and potential health benefits. Read this material over; it is interesting to know some of the nutritional specifics about nuts, and the advice contained here is good information. Then forget what you’ve read and retain the following: Nuts are healthful when eaten in moderation.

For the real information, turn to the recipes. Once you’ve recognized the general goodness of nuts, all you need to do is eat and enjoy them.

All of the nutritional information in this section has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joyce A. Nettleton, D.Sc., an internationally recognized nutritional expert.

What Is a Handful?

I mention eating a “handful” of nuts, but what is a handful? Well, a handful has been quantified by various nut boards, nutritionists, and nut commissions, and what it boils down to is the following: when it come to almonds, hazelnuts, and other small varieties, the accepted number hovers around twenty-five individual nuts. For walnuts, it is about eight whole nuts, and the same goes for macadamias; for Brazil nuts, a handful is absolutely no more than six (that fills a
big
hand), as more can be unhealthful.

What Is Raw?

What is a raw nut? Untoasted, unsalted, the way nature made it. Raw nuts are pure and intact, but fear not, for toasting a nut, which substantially increases its flavor, has little impact on its nutritional worth. As for salt, in most cases, a little never hurt.

Nuts

A fact to keep in mind in this section: fat in nuts is the healthy kind.

 

Almonds:
Within the slightly wrinkled brown skin of an almond is a storehouse of energy. Almonds are among the plant world’s richest sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant (any substance that reduces damage due to oxygen) that can contribute to heart and cell health. The skin of the almond contains something called a
flavonoid,
which teams up with its vitamin E to more than double the antioxidant properties of the almond and thus its ability to help the heart and other organs. Almonds supply manganese (which helps to maintain bones and normal blood sugar levels), copper (which among other things plays a role in the flexibility of blood vessels, bones, and joints and in iron utilization), and protein (vital for muscle mass and tissue repair, among other things).

Almonds are 21 percent protein and 49 percent fat. Of that, 30 percent is monounsaturated fat and 12 percent is polyunsaturated fat, both of which are “healthy fats.”

 

Brazil Nuts:
These provide the richest source of selenium in the food supply. Selenium may contribute to the prevention of prostate and other cancers, as well as heart disease, and it counteracts the potential toxicity of mercury. However, the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends not eating more than six Brazil nuts a day to avoid potential selenium toxicity.

Brazil nuts are 14 percent protein and 66 percent fat. Of that, 24 percent is monounsaturated fat and 21 percent is polyunsaturated fat.

 

Cashews:
Cashews are somewhat lower in fat than other nuts, which helps them stay fresh longer. About half their fat is unsaturated. Of this, about 70 percent is oleic acid, which is the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. Cashews also contain manganese (see almonds).

Cashews are 18 percent protein and 44 percent fat. Of that, 24 percent is monounsaturated and 8 percent polyunsaturated.

 

Hazelnuts:
Also called
filberts
or
cobnuts,
hazelnuts contain some folate (or vitamin B
9
), which helps the body make new protein and red blood cells, helps to produce DNA, and may help reduce cancer, depression, and the risk of neural tube birth defects. Hazelnuts also contain generous amounts of copper and manganese.

Hazelnuts are 15 percent protein and 61 percent fat. Of that, 46 percent is monounsaturated and 8 percent polyunsaturated.

 

Macadamias:
High in monounsaturated fat (they are nearly 60 percent monounsaturated fat), they provide a generous amount of manganese, which helps in the production of insulin, is necessary to activate vitamin C, helps to neutralize poisons in the blood, and helps keep cellular membranes healthy. They also offer a quarter of the daily requirement for thiamine (vitamin B
1
).

Macadamias are 8 percent protein and 76 percent fat. Of that, 59 percent is monounsaturated, while 1 percent is polyunsaturated.

 

Peanuts:
Peanuts are an honorary nut, because technically they are legumes growing underground rather than on a tree. They contain the most protein of any member of the nut family. Peanuts contain a plentiful amount of niacin. (Niacin, or vitamin B
3
, assists in the functioning of the digestive system, skin, and nerves and is important for the conversion of food to energy.) A 1-ounce portion of peanuts will provide about one-fifth of the daily requirement of niacin.

Peanuts contain folate (see hazelnuts) and resveratrol, a compound that is also found in several grape varieties, including those that go into the making of red wine, and that has been associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and reduced cancer risk.

Aflatoxin
is a term associated with peanuts that merits explanation. Aflatoxin is a highly carcinogenic toxin produced by mold that can form in certain foods, including peanuts. To prevent the formation of aflatoxin in peanuts, a biological pesticide is used to treat the soil around the crop. To further protect against aflatoxin, the USDA and the EU (European Union) require stringent testing of peanuts before they are put on the market.

Peanuts are 25 percent protein and 48 percent fat. Of that, 25 percent is monounsaturated fat and 15 percent is polyunsaturated fat.

 

Pecans:
Pecans are unique because they contain fluoride—just 1 ounce will provide 70 percent of the recommended daily amount. They have less protein than most other nuts and are high in monounsaturated fat, making them similar to macadamias. Pecans are high in manganese and copper (see almonds and hazelnuts). Pecans are 9 percent protein and 72 percent fat. Of that, 41 percent is monounsaturated and 22 percent is polyunsaturated.

 

Pine Nuts:
Like walnuts, pine nuts contain more polyunsaturated than monounsaturated fats.

They contain 14 percent protein and 68 percent fat. Of that, 19 percent is monounsaturated and 34 percent polyunsaturated.

 

Pistachios:
Pistachios contain carotenoids, which have been associated with a reduced risk of macular degeneration, an eye disease that may develop later in life. They are higher in fiber than most nuts. Pistachios are most commonly sold salted, and the salt may present problems for those with high blood pressure. Pistachios are 21 percent protein and 44 percent fat. Of that, 23 percent is monounsaturated and 13 percent polyunsaturated.

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