The Perfect Nut

As a child growing up in Pune, I looked forward every summer to the two women who would come to our neighborhood with gigantic cloth bags on their backs. They would sell fresh walnuts from the valley of Kashmir.

Cheerfully, they would tell us how good the harvest had been that year and that they had picked the best walnuts for us: “You will never find such tasty walnuts anywhere in the world.”

My mother would buy a year’s supply of in-shell walnuts and store them carefully. She insisted that eating walnuts before a test was very lucky, and my siblings and I were given the “lucky nuts” during exam days. Luck was a convincing incentive for us to gobble the walnuts. My mother knew if she lectured us about how good they were for our health, it would be a wasted effort.

Walnuts are one of the oldest known tree foods, dating back to 7000 B.C. The first English walnuts were brought to California by Mission Fathers around 1770. Joseph Sexton planted the first commercial walnut orchard in California in 1867, near Goleta in Santa Barbara County. The mild California climate, along with deep, fertile soil, created the ideal conditions for growing walnuts.

After an orchard is planted, it takes approximately four years until it produces its first major crop.

Once a walnut tree stabilizes, it will continue to bear fine quality fruit for as long as a century.

Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants such as vitamin E.

Nuts in general are also high in plant sterols and fat—but mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 fatty acids, the good fats) that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, have significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids than other nuts. More than a decade of scientific evidence has shown that incorporating walnuts into a healthy diet reduces the risk of heart disease by improving blood vessel elasticity and plaque accumulation. Walnuts have also been shown to aid in lowering the C-Reactive Protein (CRP), which was recently recognized as an independent marker and predictor of heart disease.

Walnuts add a flavorful crunch to dishes. Add chopped walnuts to salads or raita for crunch and an energy boost. Make a fine powder of walnuts and add it to dals or vegetables. When a recipe calls for peanuts, replace half the peanuts with walnuts. Make small snack bags with roasted and spiced nuts and keep in your purse or car. When hunger pangs attack, you have a healthy snack on hand.

Nuts are high in calories, so moderation is the key. The best approach is to reap the health benefits of eating walnuts but not add excessive calories to your daily intake. Therefore, instead of just adding walnuts to your current diet, eat them in replacement of foods that are high in saturated fats (such as cheese and meat), and limit your intake of these tasty treats to about 8-10 walnut halves.

California walnuts are harvested August through November and then stored in cold storage to maintain freshness, so it is best to buy walnuts during the fall months. Store them away from foods with strong odors (e.g. fish, cabbage, onions). Walnuts can absorb the flavors of other foods.

Walnuts go bad when exposed to warm temperatures for long periods of time. Heat causes the fat to change structure, which creates odors. Fresh walnuts smell mildly nutty and taste sweet. If your walnuts smell like paint thinner, you know they’re rancid.

California walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial U.S. supply and two-thirds of the world’s supply, in over 40 countries. For the past 70 years, there has been an annual walnut festival celebrated in Walnut Creek, Calif. This year, it will be celebrated from September 18-21. For more information, visit www.thewalnutfestival.org

Perfect Protein Chutney

This is a perfect high-protein spread for vegetarian sandwiches. Frozen Edamame beans are available in the frozen section of any grocery store. Edamame beans are tender soy beans, which are very high in protein, too.

1 cup walnuts
1 cup Edamame beans, thawed
3-4 green chilies
½ cup cilantro
¼ cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar

Add all the ingredients together in a blender and make a smooth paste. This chutney will stay fresh for three days.

Hema’s Hints:

1. You may replace Edamame beans with Lima beans.
2. Add this spread to a chapati with some fresh veggies to make a tasty chapati roll for a quick lunch.

Masala Walnuts

2 cups walnut halves
1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground)
¼ teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon lime juice
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a big pan. Add chili powder, cumin powder, black pepper, sugar, and salt, and stir quickly. Add lime juice (keep your face averted as oil will splatter). Add walnut halves and toss well. Pour the contents onto a baking tray and bake for seven or eight minutes. Cool completely and store.

Hema Hints:

1. Instead of baking in the oven, slow roast the walnuts on low heat in a pan for eight to ten minutes
2. For variation, add ½ teaspoon chaat masala instead of black pepper.

Waldorf Salad

My gourmet friend Karen Kim serves this elegant Waldorf salad in Belgian endives for her annual Christmas party. I find it an interesting way to enjoy a salad.

2 granny smith apples, diced
½ cup walnuts, chopped
2 celery sticks, diced
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
2-3 fresh basil leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon chili powder
3 Belgian endives heads
Make ¼-inch cubes of apple and celery. Place them in a bowl.

Add chopped walnuts, mayonnaise, black pepper, basil leaves, salt, and pepper. Mix well and keep aside.

Wash the Belgian endives and trim 1/8 inch off the stem of the endive; then separate the leaves. Discard any leaves that are brown and rinse the remaining leaves under cold water. Lay them on a paper towel to dry. In the hollow of each endive leaf, place a spoonful of apple-walnut salad. Repeat with rest. Finally, sprinkle chili powder on the stuffed endives. Arrange in a fancy platter and serve as an appetizer

Hema’s Hints: You may replace mayonnaise with non-fat cream cheese in this recipe.

 




Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of the television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet (DVDs now available at the Sunnyvale and Cupertino libraries in Northern California). Visit her website at www.massala.com

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