Kitchen Focus

Nuts are an often overlooked powerhouse in the kitchen. How many other items are equally at home in sweet and savory applications? How many other items work well in snacks, main dishes, sides, desserts and more? Highly versatile and nutritious in proper amounts, nuts are a great addition to any pantry.

Although they can be addictive, nuts have a number of health benefits, and have been shown to help keep cholesterol in check. There's no problem with eating them regularly, if you limit your intake to one to two ounces per day and stick to the unsalted kind. As an alternative to eating them straight-up as a snack, nuts add flavor and texture to all kinds of other foods: salad, yogurt, cereal, stir-fries, rice or pasta. It’s a good idea to keep walnuts or pecans on hand for baking; they’re great in chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

In addition to a wide variety of nuts available, there are also great options when it comes to how they are used and prepared. Here are some of the different options and what they’re best suited for:

  • Whole natural: Great for snacking
  • Dry roasted: These are also meant for snacking, but their rich flavor works well in some recipes.
  • Blanched: These almonds are typically whole, but have the skins removed. They’re often used as garnish.
  • Slivered: These almonds have been sliced into thin slivers, but still have lots of crunch. They’re great to use as toppings on dishes like salads, pasta or cooked vegetables.
  • Sliced: These are also used as toppings in savory dishes, but are also often used to top cakes, muffins and pastries. They’re sliced thinly, so they don’t offer much crunch.
  • Ground: Ground almonds can be added to a breading mixture that goes on meat or fish, or added to a smoothie. You can make your own ground almonds by putting almonds in the blender or food processor.

Of course, no article on using nuts would be complete without at least a recipe or two. So, in that spirit, I'm offering three that use nuts in different ways. Enjoy!

Pecan Nut Crust

  • 2 1/2 c. ground pecans
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. white sugar
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Stir together the ground nuts, cinnamon, and sugar. Mix in the melted butter.

Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch, deep-dish style, pie pan. Chill the unbaked crust in the refrigerator for about 30 to 45 minutes.

Place the pie crust on a cookie sheet, and position on the middle rack of a preheated 350 degree F oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. WATCH it carefully, as nut crusts burn easily. Cool completely before filling with the custard-type filling of your choice.

  • Yields: 1 pie crust
  • Preparation Time: 60 minutes

Spicy Mixed Nuts

  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 envelope dry golden onion recipe soup mix
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 8 ounces unsalted dry roasted mixed nuts

Blend the dry soup mix with the sugar and cumin. In a large skillet, melt the butter and stir in the dry soup mixture. Add the nuts and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the nuts are coated with the mixture and have browned lightly. Spread them out on a baking sheet to cool slightly before serving. May be stored in an airtight container for 1 to 2 weeks.

  • Yields: 2 1/2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi

  • 2 ounces macadamia nuts
  • 4 ounces plain bread crumbs
  • 6 (6 ounce) mahi mahi fillets
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 2 ounces shallots, diced
  • 4 c. chicken stock
  • 4 ounces pineapple, rough chopped
  • 4 ounces papaya, rough chopped
  • 4 ounces mango, rough chopped
  • 1 T. shredded coconut
  • 2 habanero peppers, seeded
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • White sugar, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a food processor or blender, pulse together the macadamia nuts and breadcrumbs until finely ground. Pour the nut mixture onto a plate, and coat the fish fillets on both sides. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry the fillets on both sides until the nuts are golden brown. Remove to a baking pan.

Add the shallots to the skillet, and cook until translucent. Stir in the chicken stock. Mix in the pineapple, papaya, mango, coconut, and habanero peppers. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Simmer until the sauce is thick, about 30 minutes. Strain to remove the peppers, fruit, and shallots. Reserve the sauce in a pan over low heat.

Bake the mahi mahi in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F. Remove the fish, and lightly coat with the sauce.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 80 minutes