Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds

By
Anna Bergenström, Fanny Bergenström
Contains
43 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702070
Photographer
Fanny Bergenström

Our graceful old walnut tree …

… Gives us so much joy. Its leaves usually don’t come until early summer, but once they do, they are large, lush green and beautifully jagged. Some years the huge tree is literally covered with thousands of walnuts, and others it barely yields a handful. In good years, we indulge in all kinds of delicacies and have walnuts drying in baskets all over the house. The nuts may be slightly smaller than the Mediterranean ones, but they are full of flavour and pleasant crunchiness. We use them in desserts and biscuits, of course, but also in salads, breads, pasta dishes and sauces, giving everything that rich, slightly coarse, walnut flavour.

Nuts and seeds are exceptionally wholesome. They are meant to give life to new plants and are loaded with energy. They contain the best kind of fat and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Eating nuts and seeds on a regular basis can help lower your cholesterol, and they are a great source of B vitamins and vitamin E. Make sure you use only perfectly fresh nuts and seeds, and enjoy them either as they are or gently toasted at home. Many store-bought nuts are heavily salted, and contain additives and hydrogenated fats. It’s easy to make healthier snacks and delicious seed mixes yourself, and the combinations are practically endless.

Cashews, pecans, pistachios and almonds …

Walnuts, Juglans regia, grow on tall, magnificent trees, with the brown-shelled nuts hidden inside bright green fruits. The walnut tree is thought to have grown wild in Asia Minor, and then spread to large parts of Europe and all the way to China. Wild walnuts have been gathered from time immemorial, but eventually walnuts began to be cultivated in Persia (present-day Iran), among other places. They soon became widely popular, and in Ancient Greece, walnuts and walnut oil were common goods. The nut became a fertility symbol to the Romans, whose tradition was to throw walnuts at newlyweds to wish them luck. Walnuts were also grown early on in China, where walnut farming continues to this day. The true European walnut enthusiasts were the French, who still cultivate many lovely varieties, and the French word for nut, noix, also became synonymous with the walnut. Walnuts yield a very tasty oil, which is fabulous in dressings. Fresh, undried walnuts are delicious preserved or pickled, which is a common sweet in the Middle East, or enjoyed as they are with a nice, creamy cheese. Walnuts are terrific in salads, bread, baked goods, sweets and desserts. However, they can quickly turn rancid at room temperature, and should preferably be stored in the fridge or even the freezer. Walnuts are regarded as one of the ‘superfoods’ because of their high levels of antioxidants and valuable fatty acids.

Pecans, Carya illinoinensis, are native to North America and are related to walnuts. Pecans have a shiny, reddish shell, and the nut itself resembles an oblong walnut. It is cultivated primarily in the United States and Mexico, but also grows wild. Pecans are sweet and mild, and are mainly used in desserts, sweets and ice cream.

Almonds, Prunus dulcis, are the seeds of a lovely flowering tree that is native to Afghanistan and Iran, and is closely related to the peach tree. Botanically, the almond is not a true nut, but is termed a ‘drupe’. The almond fruit resembles a fuzzy little bluish-green peach, inside which the nut itself is encased in a hard shell. Almonds have been cultivated for at least 7000 years. The tree spread from western Asia to the Mediterranean region, and these days both Spain and Italy are avid almond cultivators. Almonds are a rich source of many essential nutrients, including vitamin E and magnesium.

Hazelnuts, Corylus avellana, are native to Europe and Asia Minor, and although hazel trees grow wild in many areas, Turkey is one of the largest producers of cultivated hazelnuts. The nuts grow inside small fibrous husks on a large shrub, and the shells eventually become brown and hard. Hazelnuts are used in baked goods, confectionery, nougat and desserts, but are also great in salads and bread, and a little hazelnut oil can really boost a salad dressing.

Pistachios, Pistacia vera, are precious green nuts that have been cultivated for thousands of years in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. The pistachio grows inside a hard, almond-shaped shell that splits open at one end when the nut is ripe. Pistachios are often used in pilaf rice and desserts from the Middle East and India, but also in Italian mortadella sausage, cassata and pistachio ice cream. Large-scale pistachio production currently exists in Iran, Turkey and California, as well as in Italy and Australia.

Pine nuts, Pinus, are actually the seed kernels found in the cones from certain pine trees. These pines (conifers) are native to many regions around the world, which is why pine nuts are used in a variety of ways in different local cuisines. For instance, pine nuts are a given ingredient in Italian pesto, Turkish dolmas and Tunisian tea, and they are also marvellous in a pie filling, sprinkled over a salad or on a cake.

Peanuts, Arachis hypogaea, aren’t nuts at all, but leguminous plants with flowering stalks that bend down and force their way underground for the pods to mature. The peanut originally came from South America, and was brought to Europe by Columbus and other explorers, and then spread around the world. Today peanut farming is a massive industry in the United States, China and India. Peanuts and peanut oil are used in many cuisines worldwide.

Macadamia nuts are round, white, delicious nuts native to Australia. The nuts grow in clusters on evergreen trees, Macadamia integrifolia and M. tetraphylla. The Aborigines had known about these exquisite nuts for thousands of years, but they were otherwise unknown until a couple of botanists came across them in the mid 1800s. At the end of the 19th century, the nut was taken to Hawaii, which is now the largest macadamia nut producer in the world. Macadamia nuts are high in fat, which is why they can go rancid quickly. The nuts are often used in desserts, ice cream and biscuits, or eaten as a snack.

Cashew nuts, Anacardium occidentale, grow on medium-sized tropical trees. Believed to be native to Brazil, cashew nuts are now produced all over the tropics. The nuts hang under a large, edible fruit called a cashew apple, which in some countries is just as popular as the nut itself. Cashew nuts are appetising, kidney-shaped nuts that are wonderful toasted, and very popular in Southeast Asian and Indian cooking.

Brazil nuts, Bertholletia excelsa, obviously come from Brazil, primarily from the Para region. The nuts themselves are actually the seeds of one of the tallest trees in the Amazon rainforests, and are only harvested from wild trees. Brazil nuts grow inside large fruits the size of a football, with each fruit containing up to 25 nuts, and are eaten as snacks and used in baked goods.

And a few tasty seeds …

Sesame seeds, Sesamum indicum, originate from Africa, and have been cultivated for a very long time. The word ‘sesame’ allegedly goes all the way back to the Egyptian word sesemt. Sesame seeds were taken to India very early on, and are now grown in many parts of the world. Unpeeled sesame seeds can be white, black, brown, red or yellow, and grow in oval-shaped pods on a tall, annual plant. The seeds are used in cooking, bread and baked goods in many different cultures, and are also pressed into oil and ground into tahini, a sesame paste, which is a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Pumpkin seeds, Cucurbita pepo, when peeled are pale green seeds that are excellent in salads, breads or in muesli, while salted, unpeeled pumpkin seeds are a popular snack around the Mediterranean. Pumpkin seeds contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals.

Sunflower seeds, the tasty and nutty seeds from the sunflower, Helianthus annuus, are also very rich in vitamins and minerals. Toast and sprinkle the seeds on a salad, or enjoy them lightly salted as a snack. Sunflower seeds are also great in muesli, breads, cakes or biscuits.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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