Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

You Must Be Nuts . . .

You Must Be Nuts . . .

. . . to try these recipes.
Only joking! Nuts are a rich source of protein, minerals and the healthiest type of monounsaturated fats which help the body get rid of cholesterol and they also taste wonderful so I don’t know why we only get out the nutcrackers at this time of the year.

We happily stuff ourselves on salted, roasted and chocolate or yoghurt coated nuts for the other eleven months when fresh nuts are one of the great Superfoods that we should be eating all year round and that we shouldn’t desecrate by over-processing. Nuts are very different to the cereals as they’re not closely related to each other. Though most grow on trees the peanuts are legumes and the same family as beans and peas.

What makes nuts such brilliant Superfoods is the way they supply many different nutrients in such a convenient package. From the ape men of pre-history to the ancient Greeks, the Roman cookery of Apicius and the biblical lands of the Middle East; the food of medieval Europe, the rainforest tribes of South America, native Americans and the mountain dwelling Hunzas, nuts have been a staple food. What a tragic waste that we’ve consigned one of nature’s most abundant nutritional storehouses to the dustbin of high salt, high fat snack foods so for recipes, read on . . .

Fresh nuts are an amazing source of nutrients, hardly surprising considering that one walnut, one chestnut or one cashew nut has all the food necessary to start off a tree that forces its way through the soil, can live far longer than any human and grow to 100 feet or more. Protein, minerals, vitamins and oils are all there. But because everyone thinks the oils are fattening, nuts get a bad rap. In fact most nuts, especially walnuts, help control and even lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood, so protect you from heart disease. They’re rich in B vitamins, except B12, lots of vitamin E to protect your blood vessels and minerals that are cancer protective and essential for male fertility.

Because of their oil content nuts can soon go rancid so only buy them where they have a fast turnover, don’t leave them lying around the house for months before eating and never eat any that have mould on the outside or the inside or that smell or taste ‘off’. Chestnuts have virtually no fat, coconut is the only one with saturated fat but its other benefits far outweigh the fat content. A handful of nuts every day is a real Superfood contribution to healthy eating.

Serves two
If you’re handy with a cleaver do it yourself but it’s probably safer to ask your butcher. This is an old traditional English method for cooking any small bird. It’s split down the back and flattened to cook much more quickly in a frying pan, griddle or over hot charcoal. This gives intense flavour and prevents these little birds getting tough. The butcher will prepare them and fix them in place with a wooden skewer.

2 baby poussin, spatchcocked, washed and patted dry
2 tbspns wholegrain mustard
2 tbspns mixed chopped sage and thyme
2 tbspns extra virgin olive oil
1 tbspn butter
1 pack ready peeled whole chestnuts
1 generous glass dry white wine

Spread the mustard on the inside and outside of each flattened bird. Sprinkle with the sage and thyme and drizzle with a little of the oil. Heat a griddle pan (frying pan will do) and when hot put both birds in and cook till brown all over – approx 5 minutes each side. Put the birds in a warmed lightly oiled ovenproof dish, add the rest of the oil and butter to the pan with the chestnuts and stir gently to avoid breaking the nuts. After 5 minutes remove from heat, add wine and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

Pour all the sauce and chestnuts into casserole dish, cover with foil, and cook in a medium oven till poultry juices run clear, about 15-20 minutes. Serve one per person surrounded by chestnuts with sauce poured over top.

Cashew And Bean Salad

Serves two

Beans most certainly mean good health. Throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East, variations of bean salads are extremely popular and are one of the staples of ‘the Mediterranean diet’. The addition of cashew and pine nuts adds extra protein, fibre and minerals to this quick and easy recipe.

2 slices of wholemeal bread, crusts removed
3 tbspns unsalted cashew nuts
3 tbspns pine nuts
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely sliced
1 green pepper, seeds removed and diced
3 large spring onions, finely sliced
1 medium can black eye beans, approx 250g/9 oz drained weight, well rinsed
5 tbspns extra virgin olive oil
3 tbspns balsamic vinegar

Cut the bread into 1cm/0.5in cubes and put into a medium oven to toast – about five minutes. Dry fry the cashew and pine nuts, tossing occasionally, for about three minutes, until golden but not burned. Tip into a large salad bowl. Add the garlic, celery, green pepper, spring onions and black eye beans and mix thoroughly. Pour in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and mix well before serving.

Indian Rice And Carrot Pud With Pistachios

Serves four to six
Carrots don’t seem a likely contender for a king of puddings but they make great cakes, of course, and this Indian delicacy works wonderfully. The orange-blossom water gives it a beautiful exotic perfume which combines so well with the nuts. As well as the usual protein, pistachios provide significant quantities of vitamin E and potassium, both of which protect the heart and help lower cholesterol.

850ml/1.5 pints milk
2 tbspns basmati rice
450g/1 lb carrots, grated
Half a tspn ground cardamom
75ml/3 fl oz orange-blossom water
3 tbspns double cream
4 tbspns pistachio nuts, chopped

Boil the milk in a large saucepan. Add the rice and stir for two minutes. Turn down to a simmer and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Tip in the carrots and cook for another 15 minutes, until you have a sauce-like consistency – the carrots will absorb the milk.

Stir in the cardamom, orange-blossom water and cream. Put into individual ramekins and chill thoroughly. Serve sprinkled liberally with pistachios and be prepared for a surprising taste sensation.


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