Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health

Archive for January, 2009

A Spoonful of Almond Paradise

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 28, 2009

Just thinking about baked apples brings to mind the image of an “old fashioned comfort food.” In trying times like today’s struggling economy, isn’t nurturing and comfort just what we need?

Here’s my suggestion: Set your woes aside just long enough to nurture the need. Be a smart shopper and you’ll find apples at affordable prices. I tend to seek out ethnic markets, farmers’ markets, and small mom and pop markets that often have lower prices on fresh produce.

Then, haul out the apple corer and bake up a dish of comfort for yourself and your family. You might even have these delights baking while you’re eating dinner. About halfway through the baking time, the apples begin infusing the air with sensational aromas that bring pleasure and happy anticipation to everyone present.

Deliciously homespun, this enhanced version of baked apples from my cookbook, The Nut Gourmet, is super easy to prepare and creates its own rich fruity sauce. Some of the filling that’s mounded on top of the apples cascades down into the sauce and thickens it to perfection. Included in the filling is rose water for its delightful infusion of flavor; however, if you don’t have any on hand, it can easily be omitted without harming the outcome of the recipe.

In a future blog I’ll share some really impressive nutritional info about almonds and their awesome ability to lower cholesterol with just a handful a day. For now, just enjoy some old fashioned comfort.

Yield: 4 servings

4 large firm apples (Braeburn, Rome Beauty, Fuji, Gala, Pink Lady)

2/3 cup whole raw almonds
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons organic sugar
1 teaspoon rose water (optional)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup black raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins

1 1/2 cups unsweetened pineapple or apple juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup organic sugar to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and have ready an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Wash and core the apples, arrange them in the baking dish, and set them aside.
2. TO MAKE THE FILLING, grind the almonds to a fine meal in the food processor. Add the water, sugar, rose water, and almond extract and process into a creamy paste. Spoon the almond paste into a small bowl and add the raisins.
3. Using a pointed spoon, fill the apple cavities with the almond filling, packing it firmly all the way down into the bottom of the cavity. Mound the remaining filling over the top of the apples.
4. TO MAKE THE SAUCE, combine the pineapple juice and sugar in a small bowl, mixing to desired sweetness. Pour the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish around the apples and cover the dish with aluminum foil, shiny side down.
5. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on the apple variety. Fork-test the apples after 50 minutes. To serve, place the apples into dessert bowls and spoon some of the sauce into each bowl. Serve with spoons, though some people may prefer a knife and fork as well.

Note: The baking time for this recipe has a wide range. Some apple varieties, like Rome Beauty, are softer and bake in 50 to 6i0 minutes, while very firm apples like Fuji take longer.

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The Magic of Brazil Nuts

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 26, 2009

I’ve been experimenting with plant-based nut recipes for several years now and have used a variety of nuts to create really unique salad dressings. But I had never made a dressing with Brazil nuts—until now. This dressing surprises people. They just don’t expect such awesome flavor in just a couple of tablespoons. And would you believe, there’s not a drop of vegetable oil in this dressing!

Thick and ultra creamy, this dressing is perfect for those who crave salad toppings that feel naughty to the core. But would you believe this thick and indulgent dressing is one heart-healthy salad enhancer. Keep in mind though, that with nut-based foods, a little bit goes a long way, yet still offers plenty of satisfying flavors.

You might be wondering why I’ve ditched the oil that’s usually found in classic salad dressings. Truth is that vegetable oil is just added fat calories and who needs that? Every tablespoon of vegetable oil, no matter what kind—even the much-revered olive oil, is 100% fat that plants 120 calories on your body. You’ll notice that the source of fat in this dressing does not come from minimally nutritious vegetable oils found in most salad dressings.

Instead, healthful mono- and polyunsaturated fats from Brazil nuts give this dressing its richness and natural thickening. Brazil nuts have other charming characteristics, too. They’re revered for their outstanding source of selenium, a mineral known for its powerful antioxidant capabilities.
Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study published in the July 17, 2003 issue of the journal Cancer Research suggesting that the high levels of selenium in Brazil nuts may play a role in preventing breast and other cancers. Selenium aids in inhibiting the production of free radicals that can damage our DNA and deserves special recognition because compromised DNA paves the way for cancer cells to grow.

Brazil nuts are so well endowed with selenium that all it takes is one nut a day to provide the RDA for that mineral. Each nut contains 120 mcg of selenium, while adults require only 55 mcg a day. Pregnant women require slightly more, 60 mcg, of the mineral while lactating mothers need 70 mcg per day. A study published in the February 2008 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that eating two Brazil nuts a day could avoid the need to take any selenium supplements.

This important antioxidant mineral also helps to prevent inflammatory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases. Turn to Brazil nuts for a good source of protein, fiber, and impressive levels of potassium and magnesium. And if that weren’t enough, the nuts contain plenty of iron, zinc, and even the important trace mineral copper that plays an important role in collagen formation needed for bone formation.

Enjoy this Brazil nut treasure on any bowl of greens, and you might be craving salads more often.


Yield: 2 1/2 cups

1/2 cup whole Brazil nuts

1 (13.75 ounce) can water-packed artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup unsweetened soymilk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Grind the Brazil nuts into nut butter in a small electric grinder/chopper or coffee grinder and transfer to a blender.
2. Add the remaining ingredients, and blend until creamy and smooth.
3. Transfer the dressing to a serving bowl and serve with a ladle or use a funnel to pour it into a narrow-neck bottle for easy pouring. Covered and refrigerated, the Artichoke Brazil Nut Dressing will keep for 1 week.

Posted in Antioxidants in Nuts, Brazil nuts, Minerals in Nuts, Nut Nutrition, Nut Recipes, Nuts and Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Welcome to Inaugural Ball #44

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 21, 2009

Yesterday was a celebratory day from sun-up through well into the evening! It was January 20th, the inauguration day of our 44th president—President Barack Obama. And it was a day packed with great fun, fabulous food, and the camaraderie of good friends!
No, I didn’t travel to DC and brave the chilling temps to watch our new Pres become sworn in, recite the flubbed oath of office, make one of his inspiring speeches, and stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue—though that might have been pretty darned exciting.

Truth is, I didn’t even venture out of my San Fernando Valley house except for the few moments it took to line the walkway to my house with a dozen plastic American flags I had collected over the years from realtors’ 4th of July promotions. Seems my husband caught the Obama fever, too. He posted a sign on the door he calligraphed in red, white, and blue that read “Welcome to Inaugural Ball #44.”
Yes, we were having an unofficial inaugural event of our own by sharing the day with a dozen active and politically savvy friends. We invited them for a potluck lunch and an afternoon glued to the TV to take in the Washington excitement and festivities surrounding the inauguration. The table was set with napkins in the appropriate colors, too, along with a giant stars and stripes candle in the shape of “Uncle Sam’s patriotic hat.”

We honored our new president with a proper toast and dined on comfort foods. We passed the day laughing, shouting, commenting, listening, and were totally transfixed by this historic day that stirred so much hope throughout the nation. The friends who had the endurance to stay for dinner enjoyed a bowl of vegan chili that was cooking in the crockpot all afternoon. The entire event was heartwarming and memorable down to the evening’s ball hopping parties.
It was such a joy watching Barack and Michelle steal a few hugs during their dances at the balls and watch them exchange loving smiles and an occasional peck on the cheek. We even loved her stunning white ball gown and daytime yellow outfit.

I along with my husband and friends are feeling a long-awaited sense of relief that our country will, at last, be in responsible hands. Things are definitely looking up.

Our best to you Barack and Michelle Obama!

Below is my delicious PINE NUT infused potluck contribution to our Inaugural Ball. You don’t have to wait for an inaugural event to enjoy this sumptuous dish. It’s delicious any time. If the quantity is too large, simply cut the recipe in half and bake it in an 8-inch square-baking dish.



An elegant ragout that brings sweet potatoes into the limelight, this dish scents the entire kitchen with seductive aromas while roasting. Although our typical grocery stores make the distinction between yams, which are orange, and sweet potatoes, which are yellow, technically, they are all sweet potatoes. For this dish, I prefer the orange sweet potatoes for their appealing vivid color, though I have sometimes used some of each. Enjoy the bold flavors this entrée brings to the festive season along with its inviting colors and irresistible seasonings and textures. This is an easy, make-ahead dish that tastes even better the next day.

To store in the refrigerator, remove the aluminum foil and cover with plastic wrap. To reheat, replace the aluminum foil and place the baking dish in a cold oven at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. Alternatively, remove the ragout from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature. Then warm in a preheated 350-degree oven. Serve along with a salad and a vegetable side dish like steamed or sautéed Brussels sprouts or broccoli.

Yield: about 6 to 8 servings

    3 to 3 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
    4 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
    1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

    1 large onion, sliced, slices quartered
    2 ribs celery, chopped
    1/4 cup water
    1 tablespoon canola oil

    1 large carrot, coarsely shredded

    4 strips Fakin’ Bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1/3 cup raisins
    1/3 cup raw pine nuts
    2 tablespoons brown sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1 pound Lightlife GimmeLean, sausage flavor

    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and have ready a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
    2. In a large bowl combine the sweet potato chunks, maple syrup, lemon juice, soy sauce, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger and set aside.
    3. In a large, deep skillet combine the onion, celery, water, and canola oil. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften. Add more water if needed to prevent burning the onions. Add the carrots and cook another 2 to 3 minutes.
    4. Transfer the cooked onions and carrots to the bowl with the sweet potatoes, along with the Fakin’ Bacon, raisins, pine nuts, brown sugar, and salt. Stir well to distribute the ingredients evenly.
    5. Break the Gimme Lean sausage into bite-size chunks and add to the bowl, stirring gently.
    6. Transfer the ragout to the baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and bake for about 30 minutes.
    7. Remove from the oven, carefully lift the foil, and stir the ragout. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Recover with the aluminum foil and bake another 20 minutes. Spoon the ragout into serving bowls along with some of the sauce.

Posted in Celebrations, Nut Recipes, pine nuts | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 21, 2009

Here’s a nutty toast in honor of the inauguration of our 44th U.S. president:

Our nations problems may seem like tough nuts to crack, but may those nutty challenges crack easily under your inspired leadership and nourish our hearts and our spirits.

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Walnuts and Omega 3 Fats—Married For Life!

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 19, 2009

FATS—should we embrace them or turn our backs on them? Are they good for us or do they challenge us with chronic health problems?

In spite of all the bad things we’ve heard about fats in the diet, there are some fats that are absolutely vital and indispensable to our existence. These “good” fats are protective of our health.

I want to focus on those good fats—Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Most people get plenty of Omega 6 fatty acids from meat, dairy products, and vegetable oils. The critical fat that’s often in short supply is Omega 3.

How often have you heard about those almost magic Omega 3’s and that we should all be eating salmon two or three times a week to get those essential fatty acids? I’ve even gotten an earful of those messages from doctors on the radio or in TV interviews. You probably have, too.
What you might not hear are other great sources of those important fatty acids. Have you ever encountered doctors on TV, radio, or in newspapers mentioning that WALNUTS are a terrific source of Omega 3 fatty acids? Probably not. It’s almost as if salmon had an exclusive contract!

Because of my strong interest in nuts for their many health benefits, I’ve learned a few things about walnuts and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Here are some tidbits you may not be familiar with. Walnuts are among the few foods that contain Omega 3 fatty acids. The other Omega 3 food sources include fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, flaxseed meal, soybeans, butternuts, and the oils made from these foods. Hempseed, canola oil, broccoli, and dark leafy greens are also really good sources.

So, what on earth are Omega 3 fatty acids anyway and what makes them so darned important? Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat that our bodies need to function healthfully. Here are some of the important tasks this fatty acid performs:

• Critical for optimal brain development and function
• Important for nervous system performance
• Vital to form healthy cell membranes
• Needed to hold the cells together and keep them flexible
• Prevention of neurological disorders
• Helpful in hormone production for many metabolic functions

Aside from their great flavor, crunchy texture, and high levels of fiber, protein, B vitamins, folate, minerals and antioxidants, walnuts are the proud possessors of Omega 3 long-chain fatty acids

Whenever I feel a craving for nuts, I can almost always predict it’s walnuts I’m yearning for. The truth is that craving doesn’t occur often because hardly a day passes at our house without some kind of nuts appearing at one meal or another to combine with Omega 3-containing foods. That’s how much of a dedicated nut case I am. But maybe the walnut craving is my body communicating that I’m a little low in those all-important Omega 3 fatty acids.

What to do? I simply keep a good supply of shelled walnuts in a jar in the fridge so I can quickly respond to my body’s call. It’s as easy as that!

But the secret to maintaining a healthy body that doesn’t constantly send out cravings is to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods daily with an emphasis on plenty of fruits and vegetables and a handful or two nuts, and seeds.

As the main overseer of my family’s health, I’ve developed a storehouse of delicious easy-to-prepare nut recipes. I’d like to share a family-favorite walnut recipe from my cookbook The Nut Gourmet.

This recipe is a hearty Mediterranean dish with Greek ancestry and is pure heaven to walnut and eggplant lovers. Its exceptional flavor comes from the combination of cinnamon, tomato paste, and capers. Because the stuffed eggplant is so special, I keep the rest of the meal simple with stir-fried or steamed vegetables, bulgur wheat in place of a rice dish, and a tossed salad.


Yield: 4 hearty servings.

2 (1-pound) eggplants
Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound tomatoes, chopped
1/4 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chopped onions
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper

2/3 cup raw walnuts
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
3 heaping tablespoons capers, well drained

2 to 3 small ripe tomatoes, sliced

1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, slicing through the stem end. Using a curved, serrated grapefruit knife, scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/4-inch shell, and coarsely chop the flesh. Put the chopped eggplant into a large, deep skillet or flat-bottom wok.
2. Rub the inside of the eggplant shells with a small amount of olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Place the eggplant shells under the broiler, and broil them 3 inches from the heat source for 5 to 10 minutes, until fork-tender. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Remove the eggplant shells from the broiler and set them aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add the chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, cinnamon, and pepper to the skillet with the chopped eggplant, and cook and stir for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
4. Coarsely grind the walnuts in a hand-crank nut mill and add them to the skillet along with the tomato paste and capers. Mix well.
5. Fill the eggplant shells with the vegetable mixture and top with the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake uncovered for 25 to 35 minutes.

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American Chestnuts Return

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 16, 2009

People are frequently asking me which nut is my favorite. That’s a really tough question to answer. Because each of the nuts has its own unique qualities, all have a special place in my heart.

Today, I’d like to share some history about the American chestnut. It’s a story of hope and perseverance. At one time the region along the U.S. Eastern Appalachians was a lush, dense forest of stunning American chestnut trees that grew as tall as 100 feet. Each year in the early autumn ripe chestnuts would drop onto the forest floor and provide food for the forest animals and sustenance for those living in and around the forests.
The trees grew branchless for about 50 feet and also provided strong hardwood to the lumber industry. Chestnut wood was used for household furniture, paneling, fencing, and musical instruments.

Hardy though the mighty chestnut tree was, it fell prey to a deadly fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, from trees imported from Japan during the 1800s, though it took several years and much research to discover the origin of the disease.

In 1904 the first infected chestnut trees, about 1,400 of them, were found in New York City along the avenues of the Bronx Zoological Park. At first, the park’s forester, W. H. Merkel, noticed only a few yellowed leaves. A year later he found chestnut trees sickened with dead branches barren of leaves that signaled serious problems. By 1950, the blight destroyed almost all the American chestnut trees and was considered one of the greatest ecological disasters the country had ever experienced.

But thanks to some very dedicated people, we may someday be able to reintroduce Americans to their delicious native chestnut. Today, the American Chestnut Foundation is working with plant pathologists and researchers to restore the chestnut trees to their once magnificent and prolific forests. For more detailed information see http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch.html

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Peanuts Pack Antioxidants

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 14, 2009

Peanuts and peanut butter deliver great flavor delight, but there’s much more behind those crunchy legumes we’ve come to think of as nuts. Peanuts are loaded with resveratrol, a super antioxidant that, ounce for ounce, has 30 times the power of grapes. Resveratrol is found in ample amounts in grape skins and red wine, but one ounce of peanuts packs as much resveratrol as two ounces of red wine.

Richly flavored with peanuts, also known as groundnuts, and lightly spiced with a seasoning combination that hints of far away places, this hearty soup just might entice you to make an entire meal of it. This is one of my very favorite easy, no-fail recipes.peanutsoup


Yield: 6 servings

2 pounds Roma or regular tomatoes, chopped
2 onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 cups water
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, minced (divided)
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups finely chopped Swiss chard or spinach
3/4 cup unsalted chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts

1.    Combine the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil in a large stockpot and cook and stir over high heat for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened and the onions are transparent. Turn the heat down to a simmer.
2.    Add the water, tomato sauce, 3 tablespoons of the mint leaves, chili powder, cumin, salt, and red pepper flakes and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.
3.    Add the Swiss chard and peanut butter and cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly to distribute the peanut butter. The soup will thicken slightly.
4.    To serve, spoon the soup into bowls and garnish with a pinch or two of the remaining mint leaves and the crushed peanuts.

Posted in Antioxidants in Nuts, groundnuts, Nut Recipes, peanuts | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hooray for Pistachios!

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on January 13, 2009

pistachioHere’s the scoop on PISTACHIOS, one of my favorite nuts. A recent study conducted at Pennsylvania State University found pistachios a benefit in more ways than just their ability to lower cholesterol. The study, a randomized, controlled feeding experiment focused on just 1.5 to 3 ounces of pistachios a day, or one to two handfuls. Both quantities were successful, but the 3-ounce quantity reduced total cholesterol by 8.4 percent and the LDL (bad) cholesterol by 11.6 percent.

This is awesome–researchers also found that pistachios contain higher levels of lutein, an antioxidant normally found in leafy green vegetables. Imagine—pistachios have levels of antioxidants that veggies like kale and collards are known for. The pistachios also contain greater amounts of beta-carotene and gama tocopherol than other nuts—more antioxidants. These antioxidants were shown to improve cardiovascular health by reducing serum oxidized LDL.


Here’s a tasty pistachio recipe from my cookbook, The Nut Gourmet

I’ve served this super-easy appetizer to friends of all ages and all dietary preferences and can honestly say it’s a winner. I’ve even had this recipe on the menu for the cooking classes I teach with my husband, and our students have fallen in love with it, too. It’s the pleasing combination of peas, spices, and pistachios that creates the base of this Indian-inspired starter, while its uniqueness comes from the finishing splash of pomegranate syrup.

If you can’t find pomegranate syrup, don’t worry about it. Just leave it out and you will still have a very delicious appetizer. Serve the dip with toasted whole grain pita wedges or whole grain crackers.

Here’s another scrumptious way you can enjoy this super-easy recipe. Spread a generous layer of this dip over bread slices, top them with slices of tomato, place some cheese slices over the top, and broil until the cheese melts. Cut each slice into quarters or simply dig in with a knife and fork. Makes a great brunch or lunch dish!peakarachi

Yield:  5 to 6 servings


1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup raw pistachios
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup or pomegranate molasses

1.    Combine the peas, pistachios, water, lemon juice, salt, curry powder, and cayenne in the food processor and process until creamy.
2.    Transfer to a 1-quart saucepan and gently heat, stirring frequently, until thoroughly warmed but not boiling.
3.    Spoon into an attractive serving bowl and lightly drizzle the top with the pomegranate syrup.

Posted in Antioxidants in Nuts, Nut Nutrition, Nut Recipes, Nut Studies, Nuts and Health, pistachios | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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