Crave: Add health and flavor to your diet with these nut recipes

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Nuts, like these hazelnuts, provide a multitude of health benefits and just generally taste good.

Nuts are among the world’s primo health foods. Reach for any of the tree nuts–almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. They’ll reduce inflammation; fight cancer and heart disease; improve cognitive function; bolster digestive and immune systems; and manage weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. All this, plus they offer protein for energy and fats to help us feel full.

Specific nutritional benefits vary from one nut to another. In The Best Things You Can Eat, David Grotto details many of them: An ounce of Brazil nuts provides more than 700 percent of our daily requirement for selenium; hazelnuts are rich in folate and a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called proanthocyanidin that protects the heart; almonds have antimicrobial qualities; pecans increase metabolism; pistachios protect blood vessels; and walnuts have more antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut–which together help improve brain function, reduce inflammation, and help protect against cancer, heart disease and premature aging. Nuts are not low-calorie, but the bulk of their calories is locked in heart-healthy fats.

Nuts in the kitchen

The culinary capabilities of nuts are equally impressive. They are delicious raw, toasted, roasted, baked and fried, and they have sweet and savory notes that make them versatile in many easy recipes. Crushed or finely chopped, nuts make a crisp crust on fish filets and meat cutlets. They can also be transformed into flours, butters and milks–all easy to make using common kitchen equipment. Nut flours lend moistness to baked goods–try subbing nut flour for one-quarter of the wheat flour in baking recipes. You can use nut milks in place of dairy milk in many recipes, and transform these milks into yogurt, cheese and ice cream. Nut butters enhance sauces and soups by adding flavor and body, and, of course, nut butters are delicious on bread, with or without jelly. Nut oils are wonderful for many cooking applications; walnut oil is prized for its fine flavor.

Buying and storing nuts

Unlike the superfoods that hail from exotic locations around the globe, nutritious nuts grow on trees all over North America. Most nuts are harvested in late summer and fall, and they’re usually dried to help them store longer. Freshly picked raw nuts are a treat, so seek them out at your local farmers market. When you find a good deal on freshly harvested nuts, buy them in bulk to freeze and use the rest of the year. According to On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, the best way to store nuts is in opaque containers at cool temperatures. Because nuts contain little water, they freeze well and keep for a long time without damage from ice crystals. Nut oils are best stored in dark bottles in the refrigerator.


Simple Roasted Nuts

Roasting nuts crisps them and deepens flavors. This simple step will improve almost any recipe that calls for nuts, and may also boost antioxidant levels in some nuts.

Ingredients:

1 pound raw nuts or nut pieces

1 tablespoon peanut or grapeseed oil (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

1 teaspoon honey (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For sweet-and-salty nuts, toss nuts with oil, salt and honey. Otherwise, you can roast the nuts plain. Line a baking sheet with a single layer of nuts.

2. Roast for 5 to 15 minutes, paying close attention and shaking pan once or twice during cooking.

3. Remove nuts when they have darkened noticeably and are fragrant but not burnt. They will continue to cook for a few minutes outside oven. Allow them to cool before tasting–they’ll be chewy while warm, but crisp after they’ve cooled. Makes 1 pound.


Easy Nut Milk

When dry nuts are blended, their fats stick together. The result is nut butter. When nuts are soaked first, however, the fats stay behind in a watery suspension known as nut milk. Almond milk is the most common nut milk, but any nut–including Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts–can be made into nut milk. Try almond milk in rice puddings and cocoa, pecan milk over fruit desserts, and cashew milk in pilafs and curries. Nut milk can also be transformed into nut cheese, nut yogurt and even nut ice cream.

Ingredients:

1 cup raw or dry-roasted nut pieces (without oil)

Filtered water

1 teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

2 tablespoons cocoa powder (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1⁄2 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Directions:

1. In a lidded container, soak nuts in enough water to cover them by about an inch. Refrigerate container for a minimum of 8 hours, or up to a week. (Drain and rinse nuts then replace water daily if

soaking more than 8 hours.)

2. After soaking nuts, rinse them in clean water. Add nuts to a blender or food processor along with 3 to 4 cups of fresh water (use less water for creamier milk). Blend thoroughly. At this point, the milk is entirely usable, but will be thick and slightly chunky. For a finer consistency, strain mixture through cheesecloth, a jelly bag, a cloth sprouting bag or a nut milk bag. (Reserve leftover nut meal for use in baked goods or as a crust for baked fish filets or meat. For best results, first dry out nut meal in the oven on a low setting.)

3. Taste milk and stir in optional sweeteners and spices to your liking, or add flavorings at time of use.

4. Cover and refrigerate; store milk for up to 5 days, stirring before use. Nut milk and extra-soaked almonds also may be frozen for up to 3 months. Makes 3 cups.

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