Walnuts - what a nut !

As a child growing up in Pune (India), every summer we looked forward to two frail women, who would come in our neighborhood with gigantic cloth bags on their backs. They would sell fresh walnuts from the valley of Kashmir. An old bed sheet would hold all the walnuts and all four corners were pulled together to make a bag that was hauled on their backs. Cheerfully they would tell us about how good the harvest was that year and how they picked the best of walnuts for us. “You will never find such tasty walnuts anywhere in the world ”, they claimed. Those illiterate women had mastered the art of selling without attending any top management schools.

My mother would buy a year's supply of in-shell-walnuts and stored it carefully. My mother insisted that eating a couple of walnuts before an exam was very lucky. My siblings and I were given the ‘lucky walnuts’ during exam days. The luck factor about the walnuts was very convincing for us to gobble them down before rushing to exams. She knew that if she gave a lecture about how good the walnuts were for our health or the perfect brain food, it would be a wasted effort.

Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants such as Vitamin E. Nuts in general are also high in plant sterols and fat - but mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 fatty acids - the good fats) that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, have significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids as compared to other nuts. More than a decade of scientific evidence shows that incorporating walnuts in a healthy diet reduces the risk of heart disease by improving blood vessel elasticity and plaque accumulation. Walnuts have also been shown to aid in the lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and the C-Reactive Protein (CRP). CRP was recently recognized as an independent marker and predictor of heart disease.

Nuts in general are high in calories, so moderation is the key. The best approach is to reap the health benefits of eating walnuts but not add excessive calories to your daily intake. Therefore, instead of just adding walnuts to your current diet, eat them in replacement of foods that are high in saturated fats (such as cheese and meat) and limit your intake of these tasty treats to about 8-10 walnut halves.

Here are three of my favorite walnut recipes

Perfect Protein relish

This is a perfect high protein spread for vegetarian sandwiches. Frozen Edamame beans are available in the frozen section of any grocery store. Edamame beans are tender soy beans, which very high in protein too.

1 cup walnuts
1 cup Edamame beans, thawed
3-4 green chilies
½ cup cilantro
¼ cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar

In a blender add all the ingredients and make a smooth paste. It stays fresh for 3 days.

Hema’s Hints:

1. You may replace Edamame beans for Lima beans in this recipe.
2. Add this spread to a tortilla or lavash , with some fresh veggies to make a tasty veggie roll for quick lunch.

Massala Walnuts

2 cups walnut halves
1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground)
¼ teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon lime juice
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a big pan. Add chili powder, cumin powder, black pepper, sugar and salt and stir quickly. Add lime juice (Keep your face averted as oil will splatter). Add Walnut halves and toss it well. Pour the contents on a baking tray and bake for 7-8 minutes. Cool completely and store.

Hema Hints:

1. Instead of baking it in the oven, slow roast the walnuts on low heat in pan for 8-10 minutes
2. For variation add ½ teaspoon Chaat masala (available in Indian grocery stores) instead of black pepper.

Waldorf salad

My gourmet friend Karen Kim serves this elegant Waldorf salad in Belgian Endives for her annual Christmas party. I find it an interesting way to enjoy a salad.

2 granny smith apples, diced
½ cup walnuts chopped
2 celery sticks, diced
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
2-3 fresh basil leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon chili powder
3 Belgian endives heads

Make ¼ inch cubes of apples and celery. Place it in a bowl. Add chopped walnuts, mayonnaise, black pepper, basil leaves salt and pepper. Mix it well and keep aside

Wash Belgian endives and trim 1/8 inch off the stem end of the endive and separate the leaves. Discard any leaves that are brown and rinse the remaining leaves under cold water. Lay them on a paper towel to dry. In the hollow of each endive leaf, place a spoonful of apple-walnut salad Repeat with rest. Finally sprinkle Chili powder on the stuffed endives. Arrange in a fancy platter and serve as an appetizer.

Hema’s Hints:

You may replace mayonnaise with non-fat cream cheese in this recipe.