Nuts are the reigning champions of healthy foods. The mighty utilitarians add an earthy flavor to our meals and nutritious rewards along the way. "People have rediscovered the benefits of nuts as a source of healthy protein," says Hunter Harlor, founder of FortyOne, which specializes in almond milks. A golf-ball sized portion of raw almonds also packs a punch of disease-fighting vitamins and minerals. Nuts also satisfy a range of diets from vegan and gluten-free to Paleo and carnivore. So whether you turn them into flours, butters and milks, their versatility can lead to an inspired dish, says Harlor. "Be creative, and mix it up."
Try this: Almonds are the building blocks for milk and butters or can be pulverized into flour. Pro tip: Buy raw, organic almonds directly from the farmer or through Hillson Nut Co. in Cleveland.
Try this: Toasted hazelnuts elevate the taste and texture of baked goods, ice cream, greens, ravioli and poultry. Pro tip: Toast hazelnuts in oven for 15 minutes, then rub the blistered skin in a kitchen towel to remove skins.
Try this: Combine peanut butter, coconut milk and curry paste for a rich Thai-inspired sauce. Pro tip: Make your own butter by blending peanuts and a drop of vegetable oil for a healthier alternative to store-bought ones.
Try this: Unshelling these snacks slows the pace of consumption, which is a plus for portion control. Pro tip: Seek out Turkish varieties, which have a darker shell and more flavor.
Try this: Bypass cream cheese and opt for creamy cashew butter as a spread for crackers or toast. Pro tip: To keep your nut butter fresh for several weeks, store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator.
Try this: Drizzle macadamias in melted dark or white chocolate for an indulgent treat. Pro tip: Because their yield is lower than other tree nuts, macadamias are typically the most expensive. It's best to buy them in bulk.
Try this: Grind pecans into nut flour as a base for a gluten-free pie crust. Pro tip: Look for high turnover in the grocery store's bulk bins. Unbroken halves have at least twice the shelf life as broken pieces.
Making your own nut milk is easy, says Garden of Flavor founder Lisa Reed. Start with 3 cups of raw nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews in a bowl. Add enough purified water to cover nuts by 2 inches and soak overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, drain and rinse the nuts before blending in three batches with 7 cups purified water on the highest speed for about 2 minutes. Then, slowly push the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to separate the milk from the pulp. Lastly, place the milk back in the blender and mix with a scraped vanilla bean, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt and 1/3 cup agave nectar. "This makes a delicious fall treat and a joy for the digestive system," Reed says.
Homemade nut: Butter is fast, easy and an inexpensive alternative to the grocery store. Good to Go Cafe's owner Anna Harouvis offers these tips for making your own wholesome spread.
Choose organic: Nuts are a powerful detoxifier, but those treated with chemicals reverse that purpose.
Take a soak: Place nuts in filtered water before blending. Soaking removes the protective shell and extracts the nut's nutrients. Times vary, from 2 hours for a sunflower seed to 12 hours for an almond.
Get salty: Add unrefined salt to your butter. "Pink Himalayan sea salt is a great choice," Harouvis says. "Your body actually needs the iodine in natural salt because it promotes thyroid function."
Chiseled with wavy lines that look like tree branches, Gina DeSantis' Faux Bois Natural Collection bowl ($36) has earned a permanent space on our coffee table. "It has a nice earthy, neutral palette and a wood grain-inspired texture that really showcases the nuts," she says. ginadesantisceramics.com
Pumpkin Spiced Walnuts
- 2 cups walnuts
- 1/2 cup sugar (a little extra for sprinkling)
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons pumpkin puree
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
In a small bowl, mix sugar and hot water until sugar is dissolved. Add ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, pumpkin and salt into sugar water. Toss nuts in sugar mixture. Lay nuts flat on tray. Sprinkle sugar over top of nuts. Bake nuts at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until browned.