Walnuts: A Versatile Ingredient

This article is part of a four part series based on my recent trip to the walnut orchards in California, facilitated by the California Walnuts Commission.

As a people, we don’t appear to consume much nuts in our daily diet. Most nuts and dried fruits seem to be extensively and nearly exclusively used in sweets, festive food and other dishes for special occasions. This could be due to the relatively expensive nature of the food, or perhaps cultural factors. At the end of the day, all said and done, we don’t really eat as many of the right kind of nuts as we should.

Walnuts, A Nutritive Powerhouse

shelled walnuts heap on a plate

The fact is however, that nuts, especially walnuts are a superb source of nutrition and we must consider including them in our regular meals. Did you know walnuts are thought to be a significant source of protein (15%), polyunsaturated fat (47%) and fibre (7%)? In fact some studies even point towards the likelihood of walnuts being beneficial for male reproductive health too! Here’s some more information on walnuts.

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Walnuts, as an Ingredient

Avocado salad

In any case, the purpose of this article isn’t to list the nutritive properties of walnuts, as much as to outline the versatility of the nut as an ingredient that we can use in our regular cooking. Walnuts can be used as paste, pounded or whole, depending on the application.

Walnut Paste

Walnut paste can be used to thicken soups, sauces and curries, toss pastas in, mixed with sweet or savoury influences to stuff into pastries and breads, spread over meats and grilled vegetables or just spread over bread instead of regular butter!

To make walnut paste, simply blend walnuts with flavours of your choice, such as garlic, olive oil and chillies among other possible ingredients, and refrigerate in a tightly sealed container. Remember to make this in small batches so the mixture doesn’t spoil.

Pounded Walnuts

Walnuts are a great source of texture in salads and other preparations like sandwich or pie stuffing among others. Apart from adding nutritional value, using walnuts ensures crunch in every bite and provides more body to the dish too. To make pounded walnuts, simply pound them by hand in a mortar and pestle or if the amount is more than can be managed so, in a blender, taking care to use short pulses, or you’ll end up with walnut paste! To use, simply add half a handful of pounded walnuts for each serving and you’re done!

Here’s a lovely recipe for Doon Chatin or Kashmiri Walnut Chutney, by Nisha Ambar, a Kashmiri who loves cooking and is a member of our online community. Nisha advises grinding together 1 washed, peeled and grated radish, 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, 4 to 5 green chillies and a handful of walnuts, then mixing the resultant mixture with 1/2 cup curd and salt to taste. Some recipes simply mix the whole lot together, without blending, resulting in a rough textured, but equally delicious chutney.

Whole Walnuts

Whole walnuts have their uses too. In their simplest form, three or four whole walnuts are a great way to start the day on a high note. Some swear that a handful of walnuts in the morning keeps them going until lunch! Apart from that, whole walnuts can be coated with sugar, making them sweet and crunchy, or with chocolate. Whole walnuts taste great as a snack when tossed in a little hot oil and served with a light sprinkling of salt. Well shaped specimens are brilliant for garnishes too.

To coat walnuts with chocolate, first melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Then, if you have a wire-frame rack, arrange the walnuts on the rack and pour over the chocolate, wait for it to harden, flip the nuts over and pour more chocolate over. If you don’t have a wire-frame rack, dunk the nuts into the chocolate, fish them out and place on butter paper to harden. When they’re all dry, you’re done!

As you can see, walnuts can be used for many other purposes, other than sweets and desserts. Doing so regularly, in measured quantities will undoubtedly help our and our family’s nutritional intakes and help us remain healthier in the long term. Don’t forget to check out some awesome recipes at the California Walnuts’ website!

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This feature was brought to you by California Walnuts.

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at [email protected]