Wall-to-wall nuts

I have gone a little nutty in my kitchen and I can fully blame California Walnuts for putting me in this state.

Top left: This quick and easy recipe can be prepared in less than 15 minutes. They are a great way to spice up flavour to a stir-fry or as a snack — and a smart way to get your omega-3s.

Top left: This quick and easy recipe can be prepared in less than 15 minutes. They are a great way to spice up flavour to a stir-fry or as a snack — and a smart way to get your omega-3s.

I have gone a little nutty in my kitchen and I can fully blame California Walnuts for putting me in this state.

While trying out their new recipes, I come to the realization that beyond observing walnuts in muffins or enjoying them in a slice of honey-dripping baklava, I had not given much attention to this ubiquitous nut. I have discovered there are many delicious and nutritious ways to include this convoluted walnut in the menu.

Walnuts were thrown to Roman wedding guests by the groom to bring good health, to ward off disease, and increase fertility. Young boys eagerly scrambled for the tossed walnuts, as the groom’s gesture indicated his passage into manhood.

In Rome, the walnut was thought to enhance fertility, yet in Romania, a bride would place one roasted walnut in her bodice for every year she wished to remain childless.

In ancient times, walnut oil was prized as a drying oil for paint. According to California walnuts, Michelangelo himself used it to paint the Sistine chapel in Rome.

When it comes to their health benefits, walnuts definitely are not a hard nut to crack. From improving cardiovascular health to boosting your immune system and metabolism, walnut health benefits are cited by many diet gurus.

But the most beneficial property was probably recognized a very long time ago.

Ancient people believed that because of their wrinkly convoluted appearance and their uncanny resemblance, walnuts must be beneficial for the human brain in some way. And this wasn’t a nutty concept!

Current research has shown that notion to be remarkably accurate. Walnuts are recognized as the top-ten “super food” lists because their beneficial omega-3 fats, a special type of protective fat the body cannot manufacture. These fats support brain function, increase memory, and help manage hyperactivity, and depression.

To reap all the benefits of walnuts, all you need is a handful of walnuts a day, which is an equivalent of 8-10 large walnut halves. Like most nuts, walnuts are fat-rich but that is also why they taste so good. But don’t let this deter you from reaching for this crunchy goodness.

Keep in mind that we don’t generally eat an entire meal of walnuts but use them as a garnish or as flavor bursts.

Unfortunately, all that fabulous fat also makes them more susceptible to spoiling. The healthful oils found in walnuts can oxidize easily if not stored properly. California Walnuts recommends that shelled walnuts be stored in airtight container in the refrigerator to up to six months or in the freezer for as long as a year.

According to nut experts, toasting nuts brings about an incredible change in their flavour. No other nut benefits more by roasting than the walnut. The difference between an untoasted walnut and a toasted one is like the difference between an almost ripe mango and a perfectly ripe, so-juicy-you-have-to-eat-it-over-the-sink mango.

The untoasted walnut has a good basic flavor; a toasted one is irresistible.

You can bring the nutty rich flavour by lightly toasting walnuts over a skillet or in the oven. On a skillet, over medium heat, you cook the walnuts for 1 to 2 minutes stirring frequently until walnuts becomes shiny and lightly browned. In the oven, walnuts can be baked at 350°C for 5 to 7 minutes.

This toasting naturally occurs during the baking of cookies and nut breads so the raw nut is fine for those. For other recipes, though, the full flavour of the walnuts will only develop is if you toast them first.

After cracking into the versatility of this nut, I have started using walnuts in a variety of sweet and savory recipes that go beyond the muffins, cakes, cookies and breads.

Here’s how you can add more walnuts to your menu:

• add walnut to sandwich or wrap fillings ;

• combing ground walnuts to mild broths adds an earthy contrast to soups;

• combine ground walnuts with breadcrumbs to form a crumb crust for baked fish or meat;

• slip toasted walnuts to stir-fried or sautéed vegetable for added crunch, flavor and nutrients; instead of crouton substitute chopped, toasted walnuts to your favorite salad or pasta;

l use a ground walnuts instead of a graham cracker crumb crust when making cheesecakes or pies.

For some delicious recipe ideas visit www.walnutinfo.com. Here are some that I have tried.

Crunchy Walnut-Crusted Salmon Filets

3 cups California walnuts

6 tbsp dry bread crumbs

6 tbsp lemon rind, finely grated

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

Salt and pepper

3 lb salmon fillets, cut into 12 pieces

Dijon mustard

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Place walnuts in food processor; coarsely chop. Add bread crumbs, lemon rind, olive oil and dill; pulse until crumbly. Mixture should stick together. Season; set aside. Arrange salmon fillets skin side down on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Brush tops with mustard. Spoon 1/3 cup of walnut crumb mixture over each fillet; press into mustard. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Bake at 350° F 15 to 20 minutes, or until salmon flakes with a fork. Just before serving, sprinkle each with 1 tsp lemon juice.

Stuffed Mushrooms with Herbed Cream Cheese and Walnuts

4 bacon strips

1/2 cup California walnuts, chopped and toasted

4 oz herbed cream cheese 125 g

15 large mushroom caps (approx. 2 inch/5 cm diameter)

Cook strips of bacon until crisp. Drain well and chop. Add bacon and California walnuts to herbed cream cheese and stir to combine. Fill 15 large mushroom caps each with about 2 tsp (10 mL) cream cheese mixture. Bake in 375° F oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned and heated through.

Makes 15 mushrooms.

Indian Spiced Walnut

2 egg whites

1-1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1-1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

4 cups of California walnuts.

Coat a large, shallow, baking pan with non-stick vegetable spray. Mix egg whites with curry powder, cumin salt and sugar. Stir in walnuts and coat thoroughly. Spread in prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 15-18 minutes until dry and crisp. Mix often to cook evenly. Cool completely before serving.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.

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