Creative Ways to Cook With Nuts
Smoked and Spiced Pecans
If you look up a recipe for DIY smokehouse nuts, you'll find that a good chunk of them involve dousing nuts with liquid smoke and baking them in the oven. Our method gives you real woodsmoke flavor instead. Settle in: It takes about 45 minutes for smoky flavor to infuse the firm, dense nuts—but patience gives a bacon(ish)-flavored reward. Your outdoor grill or smoker takes care of the heavy lifting; all you have to do is prepare the wood as specified for your smoker (try hickory or mesquite) and position the nuts over an area with indirect heat. You can give them a stir once or twice, but it's not necessary. For the best flavor and texture, let them cool completely before eating.
Maple-Sumac Roasted Walnuts
Here’s a perfectly simple and delicious snack. A little sumac adds a bright piney-citrusy note. Look for it at specialty spice stores. A tablespoon of lemon rind can sub for sumac, if you prefer.
Walnut-and Dijon-Crusted Halibut
When you transform nuts into crumbs, they can be used as a substitute for traditional wheat breadcrumbs in breading. Crumbled nuts add more earthy flavor than plain breadcrumbs and achieve superior crispness without getting soggy. Recipe developer Robin Bashinsky, our resident nut whisperer, crushes nuts in a zip-top plastic bag instead of chopping them, this yields larger pieces without creating much fine powder. Those larger pieces give the nuts a chance to cook gently along with the food they're encrusting until they're toasty, golden, and crunchy (superfine pieces could burn and become bitter). Crumbled nuts have staying power, too: You can mix up the crumbs with seasonings and store, refrigerated, for three days or freeze for up to one month. If freezing seasoned crumbs, stick to dry spices and herbs.
Homemade Nut Butter
There's no comparison between homemade nut butter and store-bought for Mark Overbay, founder of the handcrafted nut butter company Big Spoon Roasters, as long as you follow his rules of the road. "Freshness is paramount to great nut butter," he says, "so you have to start with raw nuts and roast them yourself." Add in a bit of coconut butter for ultimate creaminess, and use a delicate hand with seasoning to keep the flavor all about the nuts. As for sweetness, stick to mild picks like honey or sorghum syrup, and avoid stronger ones such as molasses. Overbay's most important advice? Have fun and play around with nut combinations. "Just remember, nuts each have different oil content, so use a mix of oily nuts with drier ones. Roast each kind of nut separately, but it's fine to grind them together." In general, a food processor works better for making nut butter than a blender. For the smoothest, creamiest results, you must be sure your processor's blade is sharp and that the whole attachment is in good working order (otherwise, the blade won't spin properly).
Pickled Pine Nuts
Applying the concept of pickling was the nut Recipe Developer Robin Bashinsky really wanted to crack. In the Middle Ages, methods for pickling green walnuts were developed, and the pickled immature nut remains an English delicacy. Bashinsky's twist—a briny take on boiled peanuts but without the salt—is a combination of the two concepts. Rather than working with green nuts in the shell (as with boiled peanuts and pickled walnuts), this recipe uses mature raw nuts and requires only one step. Pine nuts, peanuts, and cashews work best for this process, in which the nut is boiled in a spiced vinegar solution and left to cure for one to three days. These nuts will keep for about two weeks. Over time, they'll become too soft, so reserve this technique for small batches.
The easiest way to candy nuts is to toss them with an egg white-sugar mixture, then gently bake them until the sugar melts and the egg whites dry out, forming a crispy candy shell around each nut. The whites serve as an adhesive so the sugar and any flavorings can cling to the nuts. There are other, trickier methods, but this one gives you sure fire results. You can play with spices and sweeteners; try maple sugar or granulated honey. The choice of nut is up to you. A crunchy sugar coating goes hand in hand with any nut, but pecans and walnuts really rise to the occasion: Their craggy surfaces are perfect for catching the egg mixture. Candied nuts are pretty durable, so make a big batch, and store them in a cool, dry place for up to one week.
Homemade Nut Milk
One thing we discovered is that not all nuts deserve to be milked. The winners: almonds, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, and hazelnuts. Soaking overnight to hydrate and soften (and to neutralize phytic acid and other enzymes that can affect digestion) before blending with fresh water yielded rich, creamy milks. Macadamia and pistachio milks were revelations for their luscious character and prominent flavor. Start with raw nuts to preserve oils and nutrients. (Note: Almonds are the exception. By law, they are pasteurized for safety.) Use a blender or a cold-press juicer for grit-free results. Since most of the flavor and oils are stripped from leftover pulp, culinary uses are limited. You can use it to boost fiber in muffins, meat loaf, or smoothies.
When you immerse nuts in oil and cook them at a long, low simmer (essentially making a nut confit), you end up with a deeper flavor—as if the nuts had been roasted, but with an added layer of succulence from the oil. "When you roast nuts, you lose oils and moisture in exchange for that crispiness," says Recipe Developer Robin Bashinsky. "This is a great way to get that roasted flavor along with rich, tender texture." The technique requires just one job; keeping a watchful eye on the heat to maintain the oil at a very low simmer. Fragrant, nut-infused oil, a bonus by-product of the confit process, is delicious in salad dressing or as a finishing oil over chicken and fish. Use the nuts and the oil to make pesto, or serve them warm with a sprinkle of salt as a simple cocktail snack (think Marcona almonds).
Spicy Soy Bar Nuts
To achieve maximum nuttiness, you have to toast nuts. This coaxes out flavorful, aromatic oils for a deep, rich taste and pulls out some of the nut's moisture for satisfying crunch with each bite. Our go-to-method for toasting nuts is a slow oven roast at a relatively low temperature (300°F) in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally until lightly browned and crisp. That allows hot air to circulate around each nut to gently cook it. Don't blast them in a hot 400°F oven for a few minutes until they've darkened—not a good thing for a nut—because that high heat can bring out bitter flavors. Only using a handful? You can also roast nuts in a pan on the stovetop over medium-low heat or on a plate in the microwave for a minute or so at HIGH.
You might have to marry the miller if you want to grind a large batch of nuts into a pure powdery flour. Commercial producers have equipment designed to finely mill nuts without adding extra ingredients. In smaller quantities, though, you can make flours from less-oily nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios) with a small electric coffee grinder. Work in 1/4-cup increments, and add 1 teaspoon flour with each 1/4 cup of nuts to prevent clumping; pulse to prevent making nut butter. For oilier nuts like macadamias (used in the cake below), you can process whole nuts with purchased almond flour. Nut flours work well in cakes and cookies, as sauce thickeners, and as binders for meatballs or crab cakes. There's no difference between nut meals, nut flours, and nut powders. Some people say meal contains the skins of nuts or the grind is finer or coarser depending on the name. But the names are used interchangeably, and they all mean the same thing: pure milled or pulverized nuts.
The thinnest coating of dampened powdered sugar and a quick whirl in bubbling oil gives nuts a light crunchy texture. Blanch them first to remove some of the bitter tannins from the skins. Once drained but still damp, dust with powdered sugar and fry. The frying temperature is hot enough to quickly melt the sugar and lightly cook the nuts—in less than 5 minutes. Maintaining the correct oil temperature (325°F) is important: too high and the nuts will burn, too low and the nuts absorb too much oil. If the process is done right, only 2 tablespoons out of the 4 cups of oil will be absorbed. These nuts will keep for five days stored in an airtight container in a cool place.
Mini Hazelnut Tarts
There are many make-ahead opportunities for preparing this dessert, so you can have it on hand whenever you want. The hazelnut dough can be made and frozen for up to 3 months. Form it into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap for added protection against freezer burn, and slip the wrapped dough into a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Thaw the dough, still wrapped, in the refrigerator. You can also form and bake the tart shells a day ahead, and store them at room temperature; or you can cool them completely, wrap in aluminum foil, transfer to a zip-top plastic freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. The filling comes together in minutes, but you can mix it 2 days ahead and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the tarts. Bring the filling back to room temperature before spooning it into the tart shells.
Spinach Salad with Smoked Pecan Vinaigrette
You can substitute store-bought smoked almonds if you don't have time to smoke the nuts yourself. A 1-ounce serving of nuts amounts to less than a handful, but that small portion can provide significant amounts of important vitamins and minerals. Most nuts are good sources of fiber, potassium, protein, calcium, and magnesium; however, each has its own nutritional characteristics.
Spicy Broccoli Rabe with Fried Walnuts
This side dish gets a sprinkling of nutty flavor from walnuts that are lightly dusted with powdered sugar and fried. The sweetness of the nuts plays off the bitter personality of the broccoli rabe. If you prefer a less bitter taste, substitute Broccolini. This hybrid of broccoli and Chinese kale has big, almost fluffy florets and thinner stalks than broccoli. Whichever vegetable you use, blanching will soften the firm stalks to get them ready for a quick sauté to pick up flavor from pungent garlic and lemon zest. Make sure not to skip the instructions to rinse the broccoli rabe after it is blanched to stop the vegetable from overcooking.
Pickled Pine Nut Agrodolce
This relish is delightful on top of grilled fish or chicken. We use pine nuts here, but peanuts, blanched almonds, skinned hazelnuts, or cashews all lend themselves to this hybrid boiled/pickled process. The raisins add the sweet note that is expected with an agrodolce—which means sour (agro) and sweet (dolce); the pickled nuts and the bit of brine add the tang. You can substitute other dried fruit for the raisins—try chopped apricots, dried sweet cherries, or chopped dried plums.
Orange-Mango Gritty with Turmeric and Walnuts
Here's our take on Paula Wolfert’s daily “gritty”—the opposite of a smoothie thanks to all the nuts, seeds, and spices. The walnut-flaxseed combination adds 2,000mg omega-3s to this satisfying sip, along with a pleasantly nutty balance to the sweet mango and bright citrus. Yogurt lends tangy good-for-the-gut probiotics, and fresh turmeric adds a bright, peppery zing. Some researchers say the curcumin in fresh turmeric is more bioavailable than dried, as some essential oils and pungency are lost in the drying process. We love it for its brighter, livelier flavor. If you can’t find fresh root (a close relative to gingerroot), substitute 1⁄2 teaspoon dried turmeric.
Chestnuts aren't just for roasting on an open fire. Here, they unite with ginger, allspice, and brandy for a snuggly soup.
Coconut, Almond, and Goji Bars
With tasty tones of the tropics, this staff-favorite snack bar makes for the perfect grab-and-go snack.
This homemade hummus is a great appetizer for holiday parties and casual dinner get-togethers alike. Healthy dippers include baby carrots, bell peppers, pita chips, radishes, jicama, and sugar snap peas.
Salty-Sweet Pine Nut Bars
These bars are sweet, salty, and nutty—the perfect craving buster. Pine nuts can be expensive; pecans are a less pricey but equally delicious alternative.
Peanut-Almond Snack Bars
Featuring pretzels, marshmallows, peanut butter, almonds, and even a little hint of chocolate, is there any snack attack this bar can't beat?