Browse through Mediterranean cookbooks or online sources and you’ll likely notice that walnuts are included in many of the recipes. It’s no wonder since they originated in the region and Central Asia thousands of years ago. Today, California and several other U.S. states join Mediterranean and Asian countries in supplying walnuts to the world, making them an easy ingredient to use to enhance all sorts of dishes you may be cooking.
Along with providing texture and a rich nutty flavor, these tree nuts are packed with nutrients that support good health and brain function. Moreso than other nuts and seeds, walnuts’ brown papery skins contain concentrated amounts of antioxidants, and the nut itself is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
WHY I LIKE COOKING WITH WALNUTS
- They are readily available in grocery stores and are usually a lesser-priced nut.
- They add a unique nuttiness and rich flavor to all sorts of dishes – from appetizers to desserts.
- Walnut oil adds depth of flavor to vinaigrettes and is wonderful drizzled over roasted vegetables and desserts.
HOW TO SELECT
The easiest way to purchase walnuts are shelled, and either whole, halved or chopped. They are most often found in the baking or bulk aisles of grocery stores year-round. Depending on where you live, they may be found at local farmers’ markets.
During the fall and winter months, grocers oftentimes provide in-shell walnuts. They may be placed in bulk bins or in bags near the produce section of the store. Look for shells that appear in good condition, without soft spots or obvious signs of decay. Use a hammer or mallet to crack the shells and a pick to release the nut from the interior when ready to use.
HOW TO STORE
For maximum freshness and shelf-life, store shelled or in-shell walnuts in a cool environment. If they will be used within one month, place them into an airtight container and into the refrigerator away from any strong-smelling foods. For longer-term storage, place the airtight container into the freezer.
Before using, check for freshness by tasting and smelling. Walnuts should taste and smell nutty and slightly sweet. If they present an off or sour odor or taste, they may very well have gone rancid, so do not use them.
Chop or grind walnuts just prior to use to provide the best flavor.
WAYS TO ENHANCE YOUR COOK WITH WALNUTS
One of the most common ways to enjoy walnuts is to have them as a snack. But did you know that they are a very versatile ingredient that can easily be added to so many dishes?
Think about pairing walnuts’ rich, nutty flavor profile with dark chocolate, vanilla, honey, caramel, coffee, sea salt, cayenne, herbs, dark fruit, bright or peppery greens, and creamy items.
Get creative – replace other nuts or seeds with walnuts for variety, chop them and sprinkle as a garnish, or mince or grind them to add to a recipe as a secret ingredient. For further inspiration, here are both specific and broad-based ideas that incorporate walnuts in some way.
APPETIZERS AND SNACKS
- stuffed dates
- guacamole, hummus, creamy dips
- stuffed endive leaves
- spiced, herbed, or sweet nuts
- potsticker filling
- Waldorf salad
- Spinach “Super” Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
- Chopped Salad with Apples, Walnuts, and Bitter Lettuces
- cooked vegetables
- whole grain dishes
- stuffed sweet potatoes
- lettuce wraps (use walnuts in place of pumpkin seeds)
- meatloaf, meatballs, burgers
- plant-based loaves, balls, burgers
- coated fish and seafood
- pancakes, waffles, crepes
- soup, stew
SAUCES AND CONDIMENT
- salsa verde
- nut butter
- honey-walnut butter
- brownies and other bars
- quick breads
- yeast breads
- pies and pie crusts
- ice cream
- unbaked bites or balls
- chocolate bark
- Use walnut oil along with extra-virgin olive oil in vinaigrettes and dressings
- Drizzles small amounts over appetizers, main dishes, soups and stews, side dishes, and desserts
When adding nuts to a dish, it’s generally most pleasing to our taste buds to use toasted nuts. Recipes for baked goods, appetizers, salads, side dishes, and main courses are enhanced by the toasted, better-defined nutty flavor. Use raw nuts in certain plant-based dips or sauces, and for making nut milk.
To learn about how to toast nuts without scorching or burning them, check out this article from Saveur, The Most Foolproof Ways to Toast Nuts to Your Liking.
Tell us one thing you currently make or would like to make that includes walnuts. We love hearing your ideas!
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