Pistachios

Pistachios

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

We are all familiar with the pistachio nut, lightly roasted and salted, as a stylish preprandial nibble. Greg’s family – and indeed most Lebanese families – always seem to have a huge dish of pistachios on offer for guests, which everyone from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent eagerly scoops up by the handful. And then begins the fun of prising open the polished shells – some stubborn ones need to be carefully cracked between teeth – to get at the tasty morsel within.

The pistachio tree is thought to be a native of Persia, and its name derives from the Persian word ‘pesteh’. In their homeland, pistachio nuts grow into plump beauties with a delicious sweet flavour – worlds away from the older shrivelled up little nuts we are more familiar with here. In autumn, however, freshly harvested pistachios are available here – although you will have to hunt them out. These boast a vivid reddy-pink skin (which fades to a duller brown with age) around a bright-green juicy nut.

Sweetened and ground to a paste pistachios impart a delicate pastel hue to ice-creams. Studded into galantines, pâtés and terrines, they add a delightful visual surprise and pleasing textural counterpoint. Finely chopped and sprinkled over Middle Eastern pastries they add a gaudy, almost vulgar final touch.

Selecting and storing pistachios

Roasted, salted pistachio nuts should be reserved for nibbles and snacks. For cooking always buy unsalted pistachios, which can be bought ready shelled, but will usually still be shrouded in their rough reddy-brown skin. The older they are, the darker the skin will be – fresh pistachios have a vibrant blushing-red skin. Regardless of age, the nuts need to be soaked for 5–10 minutes in boiling water – or longer for older nuts – and the skin should then slip off easily. Always ensure that they are well dried before use or storage. The simplest way is to scatter them on a baking tray and dry them in a cool oven for 10 minutes or so.

Using pistachios

Cut into slivers, or finely chopped, pistachio nuts are used around the Middle East as a garnish for both savoury and sweet dishes. They are a key addition to many Persian pilafs, and other Middle Eastern rice dishes, and are also delicious in meat dishes. Mixed with rice and herbs, for example, they can be stuffed into a whole boned chicken, which is then roasted and sliced to reveal the bright-green nuts within.

Naturally, their delicate sweetness makes them ideal for desserts and pastries. Coarsely ground pistachio nuts are a popular festive stuffing for special-occasion sweet pastries such as baklava, or the Easter biscuit, ma’amoul. Chopped pistachios are also used to garnish numerous different types of creamy desserts and rice puddings, usually with a drizzle of flowery sugar syrup. Even a humble fresh fruit salad will benefit from a sprinkling of pistachio dust, made by crushing the nuts finely in a food processor and mixing them with icing sugar, and perhaps a splash of lemon or lime sugar syrup.

Recipes in this Chapter

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