One of my favorite activities is to decide on a type of meal to make and then find recipes in six or seven cookbooks. I go from recipe to recipe, reading the different techniques, gathering the various ingredients, and then I close all the books and start cooking. I never know exactly how it will turn out; I follow my instincts for ingredient combinations and seasonings, and create something new. Occasionally I have failures, but more often something wonderful comes out of my imagination.
One of my favorite snacks are seasoned nuts. They can be savory, spicy or sweet and I happily eat them by the handful. The fact that they are full of great fiber, vitamins and minerals and pound for pound one of the healthiest snacks available is just a bonus.
You can spend a fortune on spiced mixed nuts, but it is much more fun to make your own. You can combine any blend of spices and herbs, make them as hot as you like, or keep them relatively simple. It’s all up to you!
A lot of spiced nut recipes call for a single type of nut, usually pecans. While I love spiced pecans, I think that a blend of several different types of nuts make a much more interesting treat. Each nut has a different flavor and texture. My favorites are almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts, but add whichever make you happy.
You can use these nuts as simple snacks – my favorite way to enjoy them – or in any number of recipes. They are a natural in tossed green salads, especially if you have sliced apples, pears or berries added. A little more unusual would be to use them when making chocolate covered toffee or chopping them and rolling caramel apples in them. Think outside the norm and you might be thrilled with what you come up with!
Most of the time when I am served homemade spiced nuts they are soggy and not very appetizing. People seem to think that if they add enough cayenne powder no one will notice the texture. For years I thought there was no way to make the kind of nuts I get in restaurant salads. Sweet, a little hot, and really crunchy. And then I found a recipe in Emeril Lagasse’s cookbook, Emeril’s Creole Christmas.
The secret to crisp nuts is first boiling them in a simple syrup (water and sugar), then frying them in hot oil and finally tossing them with a spice mixture gives them the sweet/spicy kick that I love. Don’t worry about them being greasy. If your oil is hot enough, the nuts cook quickly and absorb very little. Now I can make spiced nuts that are just as good if not better than those I get in restaurants. Hallelujah!
The beauty of these is that they make a fabulous gift for family and friends. Order clear cellophane bags and tie them with bright ribbons. I like to use two or three different colors and make them sparkle! People love to receive homemade food gifts and with the holidays coming up sooner than we realize, save this recipe!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Oils tend to turn rancid fairly easily, so store them in a cool place or in the refrigerator if you are not using them up quickly. This is especially important with oils from nuts such as walnuts, almonds, macadamias, and hazelnuts. Never use specialty oils for cooking – it is a waste of your money. Save them for salads and other preparations where they are showcased.
Kitchen Skill: How to Clean Hazelnuts
Hazelnuts (or Filberts if you are from Oregon) have a thin, papery covering that gets bitter when they are toasted. The easiest way to remove it is to place the hot nuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub them briskly back and forth between your palms. Work with small batches of nuts at a time and shake out the towel occasionally to remove the excess skins. The more you rub, the more skins will be removed. Using a coarse towel also helps.
If this is too much work (and at times it definitely is, LOL) you can find husked hazelnuts at many gourmet stores including Trader Joes. I like to use these in baking for their unique sweet flavor.
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground cayenne
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground mace
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Sugar Syrup
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp ground cayenne, or to taste
- 3 cups pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, or a mixture
- 4 cups organic canola oil
- In a small bowl, combine 1 tsp sugar, cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with sides with parchment paper; set aside.
- Combine the water, sugar, coriander, and cayenne in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the nuts and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Drain nuts in a colander, shake well to get rid of any excess moisture, and set aside.
- In a deep pot or Dutch oven, bring oil to 360ºF. Very carefully add drained nuts and fry until deep golden brown, about 4 minutes, stirring often.
- Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar/spice mixture, tossing to coat nuts evenly. Let cool, stirring occasionally so that they don’t stick together. Nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.
- Yield: about 3 cups