Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nuts and Seeds: Powerhouses of Flavor and Nutrition

Fall is here again! My favorite time of year. I love the overcast mornings right now, heavy with dew that clings to spider webs and drips off trees. It feels like Fall, if only in the mornings and evenings right now. But that's close enough for me. 

This is also the time of year that puts me in the mood to do more cooking and baking and this is the right time to add nuts and seeds to a variety of dishes. They are perfect for many fall-themed dishes. Warming and nutritious, so we can pack on some fat before the winter season (ha ha!).

Actually, that's not true. Thank God low-fat diets are becoming a thing of the past. In our quest to rid ourselves of our dreaded fat, we mistakenly thought we needed to stop eating fat, like nuts, seeds and avocados. Come to find out, we need those fats. It's the bad fats we could do without. Even doctors are calling for an end to the low fat diet craze that's been so pervasive for so long. Dr. Andrew Weil (for some time now) and lately even Dr. Oz are telling us a healthy diet should contain some level of healthy fats. In many ways, it lubricates the body.

Nuts and seeds provide protein, fiber and many essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids but because of their fat and calories, eat them in moderation. For example, most nuts have anywhere from 150-200 calories and 16-20g of fat per ounce so a little goes a long way.

Storage of these foods is important. Nuts and seeds should be stored in air-tight containers away from light in a cool, dry place. Storing them in a fridge or freezer can help prevent them from becoming rancid. Buying them in bulk can be a great savings but that means storing them properly will be even more important.

I add seeds and nuts to my salads, grind them and substitute their "flour" for some of the wheat flour in recipes, and top my yogurt and fruit with them. 

Here's a salad I make a lot when we have Mexican food for dinner. It's my version of the pepita dressing they serve at El Torito Restaurants, although better. I know you can buy the bottled dressing at the supermarket but I much prefer my own, made fresh without preservatives and artificial ingredients found in the bottled variety. No specific quantities are listed because I pretty much "eyeball" it as I go, tossing everything in the food processor and then just hitting the switch. Add more garlic if you like, less cilantro, it's up to you.

Pepita Salad

a combination of plain yogurt and sour cream
1 clove garlic
a pinch of salt and pepper
small handful of washed and chopped cilantro, some stems included (doesn't even have to be dry)

1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, torn into pieces and placed in a large salad bowl
pepita (green pumpkin) seeds
queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled

Place all the dressing ingredients in the food processor and process till smooth. In a large bowl, pour dressing over lettuce, sprinkle with seeds and cheese. Toss and serve.

Now, one of the best things with nuts that I've made in a long time is this cake.

Apricot Almond Cake

5-6 fresh apricots, quartered
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
zest of one orange
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup finely ground almonds (preferably toasted)
2 tsp. baking powder
powdered sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix thoroughly between additions. Add the zest and almond extract.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, ground almonds, and baking powder, then stir the dry mixture into the egg mixture just until blended.
  4. Smooth the batter into the springform pan and distribute the apricot quarters evenly over the batter, pressing the pieces in lightly.
  5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean or with tiny crumbs clinging to it. Let cool, then invert onto a plate and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Soooo good!

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