When the USDA created the food groups, I believe they made an egregious mistake in neglecting to give nuts their own personal category. Far from being a ‘replacement’ for meat as a protein, nuts are full of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and have the ability to revolutionize modern cuisine.
Why? Nuts and their butters, with all their unique varieties and methods of preparation, have an uncanny ability to act as “stand-ins” in many traditional recipes. By mimicking the taste, textures, and aesthetic pleasure that meat and dairy bring (without the animal exploit), they are carving a whole new category of delicacies and traditions for themselves.
Nuts and their butters can be used in, or entirely consist of: flour, loafs, patties, pies, tarts, cakes, cookies, milk, cereals, smoothies, ice cream. There’s more; must I go on? The humble nut has been overlooked far too long—we must pay homage!
But wait! Don’t think that just any nut you pick up will do– don’t mistreat yourself to the stale, eon-ago roasted (and sometimes salted) common packages at gas stations. Pre-chopped or slivered won’t do either. No, you’re best off buying the whole nut—unroasted, unsalted, plain, no spicing, nada. These are ready for whatever form you desire the nut to take on! Though you can buy the ones on the shelf, packaged in plastic bags, I recommend bulk bins (note: despite the fact that bulk nuts come from bigger plastic bags, it still cuts down on waste).
There’s a whole laundry list of nut varieties, with only a drop in the bucket available at natural food stores (which tend to have a wider selection that your average supermarket—also much more of a chance for organic and bulk). These offerings are commonly comprised of, but not limited to, almonds, brazilnuts, cashew nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, peanuts (technically a legume), pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts. Seeds also deserve a mention here, as they lend a big helping hand, including sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, mustard, and cumin.
I could not hope to cover all the uses for nuts in this one post (that could make a whole blog! *cue light bulb above head*), so I will confine myself to a few of my latest nutty endeavors. Most of them, I warn you, wax on about the delights of nut butter .
Homemade nut butter has been my latest DIY (do it yourself) project. I can honestly say that the flavor and freshness outstrips any store bought nut butter I have ever tried—and I grew up on the organic “good” stuff!
Though it may seem daunting, grinding your own nut butter is quite simple—the only difficult part would have to be the cleaning of the food processor! The cut in your grocery bill and packaging waste can’t be beat either. Especially if you go through the volume of nut butter that my family consumes. The roasted variety is easiest to make, especially if you lack a super-blender, since you can begin grinding the nuts the moment they come out of the oven or toasting pan. The heat of the freshly toasted nuts helps release the oils, allowing it to submit more readily to becoming smooth and creamy. Speaking of smooth, crunchy isn’t the only texture option when using an average Joe food processor. Processing just a few minutes more than you think needed will result in a runny, dreamy, and creamy spread that will drip over your oatmeal like syrup. Your nut butter is now ready for use in any recipe in which it is called for, and is great as a simple spread, dip, or topping to whatever your heart desires.
Homemade nut milks are good for use in baking, a topping on hot or cold cereal, pouring in a glass , or any other recipe in which a milk is called for. This is another product whose homemade version shines with its freshness and flavor in comparison to its store-bought counterpart. I’ve experimented with many types of homemade milks, including cashew, sunflower seed, and raw peanut, but I always come back to almond milk—and my family agrees. I’ll sign off today with my personal recipe for delicious almond milk, perfect for everything from cereal topper, to hot chocolate, to drinking straight up:
VEGirl’s Almond Milk
- ½ cup raw almonds, rinsed
- 2 ½ cups water (filtered results in a superior taste)
- pinch of stevia (or to taste—to round out flavor)
- pinch salt (optional—to round out flavor)
- small pinch of guar gum (optional— to create a thicker consistency)
Rinse the almonds, to remove any dirt. Grind in a blender, for about two minutes, with the water, leaving no almond lumps. Strain the milk through a milk or cheesecloth into a bowl (a suitable bag can easily be sewed yourself with a cloth, such as muslin, that allows water to strain though). Using a bowl with a spout is helpful! If you don’t mind your milk a bit thinned, re-process the grits with another ½ cup of water, and re-strain. Rinse out the blender and re process the strained milk, with a pinch of salt and guar gum, and a light pinch of stevia, or to taste. You can whisk in these ingredients in the bowl, but that would mean forgoing the blender produced almond foam that floats to the top of the liquid (much like cream that floats to the top of milk jars). Yum! Pour milk into an airtight jar, and refrigerate if not drinking immediately.
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I’ve only cracked one of the countless nuts in this post (hehe, punny); what kind of nutty topics and recipes would you like?