September 28, 2017

Cooking with Nuts – Creating Heart Healthy Meals

Post by Tomas

Not that many people cook with nuts, and those who do only do so on occasion. If you want to create meals that are good for the palate as well as for the heart, you should consider adding nuts to your recipes. Incorporating nuts into your daily meals, in one form or another, will boost not only the heart healthy benefits of the recipe, but also give it an extra layer of flavor and texture.

How do you incorporate nuts into your recipes? There are many ways to do this. Here are some tips and tricks on how to successfully add nuts to your meals:

Start simple – adding nuts to your recipe can be as simple as tossing in a handful of almonds or cashews into a salad. That alone can adds omega 3-fatty acids to your already healthy dish. You can also do the same for your stir-fried vegetables. Simply add half a cup of walnuts, cashews, or almonds to your quick and easy meals, and you have a healthier version of your recipes.

Add it to the crust – if you like crusted or coated food, you can incorporate chopped or ground up nuts to these. Add flavor, crunch, and a new dimension to your cooking by crusting fried or baked proteins with a variety of nuts. It is actually a very simple process of grinding up nuts with your food processor and adding these to your breadcrumb mixture. You then go the usual breading route of flour-egg-breadcrumbs on the outside of your protein before frying or baking. This can be used on fish, chicken, and pork.

Dip it good – you can also add nuts to your line-up of dips and sauces. One good dip you can create is a peanut butter dip for your meats and even for fruits and vegetables like carrots, bananas, and celery sticks. Instead of just doing plain peanut butter for your celery or banana, you can mix up a sate-style savory dip with peanut butter, soy sauce, some hot sauce, vinegar, and a little sugar. This sweet, tangy, and spicy dip will also go well with meats and even chips.

Great as a garnish – if you are aiming at improving your cooking skills, you should know that presentation is also an important part of what you do. You can take your tasty mushroom soup one step further by garnishing the top with a few walnut halves. You can also make your saucy lemon chicken look extra special by sprinkling the top with almond slivers. Using nuts as a garnish will make your food look good as well as make it healthier.

It’s in the crust – if you are into baking, then you should know the usual list of ingredients of your standard pie crust doesn’t include nuts. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t tweak the usual recipe to become somewhat healthier with the addition of nuts to it. You can pulse your nuts in a food processor and mix it into your pie crust. This will give an extra nutty flavor to it as well as a surprising crunch. You can use a lot of different kinds of nuts for this, with the choice generally depending on the flavor you want. You can use pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans, and even peanuts for this. Nuts can be added to your standard doughy pie crust or to your graham cracker crust.

So saucy – creating nutty sauces is also just as easy as creating nutty dips. All you need to use is the butter version of your favorite nut (peanut butter and almond butter are the most commonly available ones), and add this to your stews and sauces. You can also create your own nut butter by simply grinding your favorite nuts in a food processor and drizzling in a little olive oil (if the nut you are using is not particularly oily) to get it to the proper consistency.

Go regional – every country has one or two recipes that use nuts in them, with a few continents and countries having more than just one of these on their repertoire of good eats. You can then cook a region inspired lunch or dinner that has one nutty element in it.

How to Properly Handle Nuts

Not all nuts are created equal. Some have more omega-3 fatty acids than others, some are oilier than others, and a few more are easier to handle than their counterparts. You should know how to handle these different kinds of nuts before adding them to your recipes, and here are some tips that can help:

Freeze nuts for longer shelf life – if you are buying nuts in bulk, or you are buying a lot of different kinds of nuts at one time, you should freeze these to help extend their shelf life. Always make sure that you buy whole nuts when you are planning on storing these for long periods of time since crushed, ground, or halved nuts do not freeze very well. When frozen, your nuts can stay fresh for as long as a year. Just make sure to thaw these out before using them.

Roast nuts before cooking – while it may seem like a waste of time to roast nuts before you cook them in your recipes, there is a good reason why roasting is encouraged before cooking. Roasting brings out the flavor of the nut. It also ensures that the outside is crunchy so that when these are used in pies and stews, the nuts do not become soggy versions of their former crunchy selves.

When you chop nuts, use immediately – as mentioned earlier, chopped and ground-up nuts do not keep too well. This is why you should only process nuts when you are about to use them. Nuts that have been cut, ground, chopped, and processed tend to lose their flavor quickly. They also tend to absorb odors and flavors that are around them when cut, so keep these away from strong tasting and smelling ingredients until incorporated into the recipe.

How to Handle Different Kinds of Nuts

Different kinds of nuts call for different cooking, storing, and handling methods. Here are some tips and tricks on how to properly handle a wide variety of nuts:

Almonds – when buying almonds, do not go for the smoked, flavored, or seasoned ones. Always go for the plain, whole, raw ones and roast these yourself with the seasoning you will be using for your recipe. This will give you versatile nuts that can be flavored in many different ways. Also, if you are making almond butter out of these, cool the nuts down completely after roasting but before pureeing to get the right consistency.

Cashews – just like with almonds, buy these whole, raw, and unflavored. Freeze these if you are not using these right away since these can go rancid when left out in the open. Do not roast an entire batch if you are not using all of it. Roast these nuts a little at a time, as you are using them, to get the best flavor.

Hazelnuts – when you buy these raw, you usually get this with the skin on. You can easily remove the skin after roasting. Simply place the roasted nuts in a clean towel and gently rub to remove the skin.

Pistachios – this nut is another one that easily goes rancid when not handled properly. It is also advisable that you buy these in their shells and shell them yourself, rather than buying these pre-shelled. Shelled pistachios tend to be more expensive than those with shells, so you can save on expenses by removing the shells manually. Also, most shelled pistachios come already salted, making it difficult for you to balance out the seasoning of the dish you are adding these in.

Peanuts – while technically a legume, this is still seen as an honorary member of the nut family. Peanuts are generally easy to handle and are often better purchased shelled. As with other nuts, buy these raw instead of roasted or seasoned. Roast these when you are about to use them. You can also make your own peanut butter (without the unhealthy added sugar) with these by roasting and grinding them yourself.

Macadamia – one of the most expensive and most flavorful nuts around. If you are going to use macadamia nuts in your recipes, cut costs by combining this with hazelnuts. They have the same general shape and crunch, and people can hardly tell the difference since they will have a little of both in every bite.

Walnut – this is the healthiest nut of the bunch and is considered brain food due to its high omega-3 fatty acid content. What they also have is an inherent bitterness, which can be easily counteracted with roasting and by adding some sweetening agents like honey, sugar, and even maple syrup.