Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spiced Mixed Nuts

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Cooks hosting the meal will already have their menus in place and their food preparation well under way (at least I hope so!). So instead of another Thanksgiving side dish or dessert I thought I would devote today's post to a simple recipe for Spiced Mixed Nuts....something that would make an excellent hostess gift to make and take if you (like me) have been fortunate enough to be invited to someone's home this year.

Although I eat (and cook with) nuts of all kinds year round, snacking on them this time of year reminds me of my grandfather. All through the fall and winter, he kept a bowl of unshelled nuts on the stand next to his favorite chair. It was a "bowl" made just for its purpose. Straight-sided and crafted to look like a hollowed out cross-section of a tree, it had special holes and grooves in a solid spindle set in the center to hold the necessary nut crackers and picks. It was a treat to join him, watching his favorite programs on TV, patiently cracking and peeling the shells away from the walnuts, pecans, almonds and filberts.

In this era of ready-made food, I can't imagine that people have the patience to work so hard for a few nuts. I think the act of peeling chestnuts put more than a few people off from a couple of the recipes in my side dishes class. But I can't help but think that we tend to eat less when there is an effort involved in obtaining our food. As far as the nuts are concerned, certainly there is more enjoyment to be had—not only in the consumption of a fresh cracked nut, but also from the shared activity of cracking and peeling and the excitement felt by a child on that elusive occasion when a nut is freed from its shell intact.

But don't worry, I won't suggest that you crack and peel all of the nuts for the Spiced Mixed Nuts in today's post. I'm just suggesting that rather than running to the store for a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates...or a bag of mixed spiced nuts...that you take the extra few moments to make something yourself. It will be better—in so many ways—than anything you could purchase.

Spiced Mixed Nuts

As with almost every recipe, this recipe should be seen as a template. Use it and adapt it to your tastes. The almonds, cashews, pecans and pistachios make up my favorite nut mixture. I love the varied colors and shapes of these nuts together, but you can choose your own mix or use all of one kind of nut. You will need 5 to 6 cups of nuts—make sure that they are raw and unsalted. I'm not crazy about walnuts when I use this particular method, they tend to become bitter and they also shed their skins into the mix which is a bit unattractive. I have never used them, but I imagine that skinned hazelnuts (filberts) would make a very nice addition. As with the nuts, the spices may be varied to please your palate. Remember that if you include a spice blend that includes salt (like curry powder) that you will need to reduce the salt in the recipe.

1 T. cumin
1 t. paprika
1 T. coriander
1/8 t. cayenne (or more if you like more heat)
2 1/2 t. Kosher salt (if using iodized, use 2 t.)
1 T. sugar
2 egg whites
1 1/2 c. almonds
1 1/2 c. cashews
1 1/2 c. pecans
1 1/2 c. pistachios

Place the spices, salt & sugar in a small bowl, whisk to combine and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites just until foamy—don't overdo it, you are just trying to break the whites down so they will be more fluid and will easily coat the nuts.

Whisk the spice mixture into the whites until homogenous. Stir in the nuts, continuing to fold until they are well coated in the spices.

Spread the nuts on an oiled or a Silpat-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 300° oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the nuts are dry, golden and fragrant.

Cool and serve. Store air tight at room temperature.


Katrina said...

I never met a nut I didn't like! ;) These are definitely a great homemade gift idea. Nice story about your grandpa. One of the boys just talked me in to buying some unshelled nuts, so they've been cracking away! Fun to watch the 7 year old who broke his arm even be determined to try and crack a few.
Thanks for everything, Paige. Love your blog, miss your classes! Have a great holiday!

Paige said...

It's an amazing thing about kids and cracking nuts...the nuts just seemed more special that way. I'm glad your kids think so too. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!