Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health

Archive for October, 2009


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on October 24, 2009

What a pair, those sweet-tart cranberries and crunchy, earthy almonds! They almost sing together in close harmony—they go together like strawberries and cream or mashed potatoes and gravy. You might even say they go nuts together—in a totally happy way. And for those who are not chocolate fans or who suffer from chocolate allergies, they will find these little balls of delight absolutely delicious and totally chocolate-free.

So in a wild and crazy kitchen experiment to create a fruity and nutty confection that holds together well and that also holds up well for several days in the fridge, I invited these divine little morsels to move in together. Now, they’re here to stay. I’ve even discovered they actually keep well in the fridge for two to three weeks—a terrific advantage when you want to keep something sweet to nibble on hand for unexpected visitors, or when you need something to give as a gift. Heck, these little sweeties can even cheer up a friend who’s got the flu.

Thinking ahead to the holidays, I love to make little sweet nibbles and bring them to a holiday potluck. They make a perfect hostess gift when I’m invited to a friend’s house for dinner, or to give as a thoughtful homemade holiday gift. And who doesn’t love to pop a mini morsel into the mouth and feel the near symphonic pleasure when those divine tart-sweet flavors bursts over the taste buds.

Imagine being on the receiving end of a gift-wrapped box or decorated jar of delectably sweet cranberry and almond treats. That is the joy you’ll be bringing to others with a little love spent in the kitchen preparing these tangy sweet treats that put the spotlight on cranberries and almonds.


Yield: about 25 morsels

1 cup whole almonds

2 cups dried cranberries
18 pitted dates, snipped in half
1/4 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped orange or lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup almond meal or finely grated dried unsweetened coconut
1 sprig of fresh mint

1. Place the almonds into the food processor and process until coarsely or finely ground, depending on how much texture you desire.
2. Add the remaining ingredients, except the almond meal and mint, and pulse and process until all the ingredients are well incorporated but still retain a little of the texture. You may have to stop the machine several times to redistribute the ingredients.
3. Using about a teaspoon of the fruit mixture, roll into 1-inch balls. Place the almond meal into a small bowl and roll the balls into the powdery meal to coat them.
4. Store the Nutty Cranberry Confections in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use. To serve, place the confections on a doily-lined serving dish and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Posted in almonds, Nut Desserts, Nut Recipes, Vegan Desserts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


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

Gotta hand it to California pistachio grower Paramount Farms for the savvy way they chose to show off the pistachio by comparing 100 calories of pistachios to other snack foods. Those 100 calories deliver 1.1 ounces of pistachio in the shell, a very satisfying snack that can also rave about its good fats, high fiber, and high protein in addition to its vitamin A, its host of minerals, and its healthy measure of phytosterols.

Not so satisfying is 100 calories of chocolate chip cookie–that adds up to all of 1/2 of a cookie.

Also not too impressive is 100 calories of vanilla ice cream, which amounts to a mere 3 tablespoons. Both would still leave most people craving more.

You could also get 5 Saltine crackers for 100 calories (Oh, goody!) or 1/3 of a candy bar, but you wouldn’t be benefiting from anything good for you with those choices.

That 100 calories will buy you 14 gummy bears, but all you’ll get from those are 22 carbs (and not healthy complex carbohydrates at that) and 14.5 grams of sugar—neither will these rate high on the nutrition scale.

But that quiet little 100-calorie pile of 30 pistachios in the shell has so much more to give. While the other snacks contain less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, pistachios will give you 2 grams.

One ounce of pistachios out of the shell has even more fiber—2.9 grams and 5.75 grams of protein. Imagine, only 1 ounce can supply 5.75 grams of protein. That’s a pretty powerful little pile of nuts.

Packed with Minerals
The mineral content is where nuts really shine and pistachios are very generous. Here’s what 1 ounce will give you:

    30 mg of calcium
    34 mg of magnesium
    139 mg of phosphorus
    291 mg of potassium

Trace Minerals
Even the trace minerals are abundant in pistachios:

    1.11 mg of iron
    0.62 mg of zinc
    0.369 mg of copper
    0.340 mg of manganese
    1 mcg of fluoride
    2 mcg of selenium

Pistachios even want to share some of their antioxidants with you—good guys that they are (I just love them!).

    Beta carotene 71 mcg
    Lutein + zeaxanthin 398 mcg
    Gamma tocopherol 6.41 mg
    Phytosterols 61 mg
    Campesterol 3 mg
    Beta-sitosterol 56 mg

From past experience and from observing how people behave at a party when they encounter the traditional bowl of nuts on the coffee table, I can predict pretty accurately that whoever is sitting in front of that little nut bowl is going to find those nuts very compelling. So compelling, in fact, that one little handful, about 1 1/2 ounces, will not be enough to satisfy. Within a short time, the nut bowl will be empty. That’s the typical snack addiction that catches people off guard.

So what’s the ideal quantity of nuts one ought to consider in the daily diet? Examining a number of nut studies, I noticed researchers recommend 1 to 3 ounces daily during the research trials.

I confess, that I am also a victim of the nut bowl snack addiction, but I’ve found a great
way to enjoy nuts, pistachios in particular, without getting caught up in their over-consumption.

MY SECRET IS TO PUT NUTS ON THE DAILY MENU BY INCORPORATING THEM INTO TASTY DISHES, RATHER THAN EATING THEM AS A SNACK. Nuts are so much more than a snack, They are wholesome, nutrient-dense food sources that can boost the healthfulness of any dish. If I include between 1/2 cup and 1 cup of nuts in a salad, soup, main dish, side dish, or even dessert, that dish will likely serve 4 to 6 people. That means that even if only 4 people feast on that dish, no one will be consuming more than 2 ounces of nuts at most.

Here’s a tasty way to enjoy pistachios, those wholesome little green wonders that bring us such pleasure:

This flavor-infused, layered vegetable casserole blanketed in a killer, thick, creamy, nut-based sauce is ideal when you need a dish to serve a large group. Like many recipes that include a blend of cooked ingredients, this one tastes even better when prepared a day ahead and reheated. If you take this delicious dish directly from the refrigerator, place it in a cold oven at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until warmed through.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 large eggplants, unpeeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 large onions, thinly sliced, slices cut in half
4 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced, stems discarded
1 to 2 teaspoons canola oil

1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
2/3 cup pistachios
2 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons vanilla flavored soymilk
1/4 cup soy sauce

4 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly oil 3 large jellyroll pans. Lightly oil a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside

2. TO PREPARE THE VEGETABLES, arrange the eggplants and onions on two of the baking sheets. It’s perfectly all right if some of the onions overlap, but keep the eggplant slices in a single layer. Place both baking sheets in the oven and roast for 25 to 30 minutes.

3. Arrange the tomatoes on one half of the remaining pan. Toss the mushrooms with the canola oil in a medium bowl and pile them onto the baking sheet with the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes and mushrooms under the broiler, about 3-inches from the heat source. Broil them for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are softened.

4. When the eggplants, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms are done, set them aside and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees while preparing the sauce.

5. TO MAKE THE SAUCE, place the pumpkin seeds and pistachios into the food processor and process until finely ground. Transfer them to a 2-quart saucepan and add the soymilk and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring well. Adjust the heat as needed to avoid a messy boil-over.

6. Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl or cup and stir to form a smooth runny paste. Add the paste to the gently bubbling sauce, a little at a time, stirring well with a wire whip until the sauce is quite thick, about the consistency of oatmeal.

7. TO ASSEMBLE THE DISH, layer half the eggplant slices on the bottom of the prepared baking dish, followed by half the mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes.

8. Pour half the sauce over the tomatoes. Layer with the remaining eggplant slices, mushrooms, and onions and spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Top the sauce with the remaining tomatoes and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top.

9. Bake the Pistachio Eggplant Nirvana for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

For more data on the health benefits and nutritional information of pistachios, visit the Pistachio Health website.

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


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

Well, chestnut season is here at last and I couldn’t be happier—I love them passionately and hope to pass on a few gems that might help you fall in love with chestnuts, too. I must confess, though, that cooking and peeling them could be considered a labor of love.

Because they’re somewhat labor intensive, they tend to discourage frequent use. All it takes is a little fortitude and a spirit of adventure to plunge right in and decide you’ll give these awesome delicacies a try. With the boiling method, cooking takes about 25 to 35 minutes. Peeling might take about the same time, too.

If you’ve never eaten a chestnut, you’re in for a treat. While they’re considered nuts, they are totally different in texture, flavor, and nutritional quality from other nuts like almonds and walnuts. Chestnuts can be eaten raw, but they taste much better cooked. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are starchy and have a texture closer to a potato than to a nut. They also have a natural delicate sweetness that could be compared to the sweetness of a Japanese yellow sweet potato.

Buy a couple of pounds of chestnuts next time you’re at the grocery store or order them from Allen Creek Farms, Empire Chestnut Company, or Girolami Farms all listed in the Blogroll. And check out the instructions for Cooking and Peeling Chestnuts on a previous posting of this blog.

Ever taste a dish that had such a pleasing blend of flavors you just wanted to keep on eating and eating? This irresistible risotto is worth waiting a whole year for fresh chestnuts to appear in the markets. The ultra seasonal creation is blessed with the creamy sweetness of chestnuts and paired with the earthy flavors of a trio of herbs that make the shiitake and cremini mushrooms melt in the mouth. Rather than using the familiar Arborio rice, I prefer the healthier brown rice. Just make sure to buy the SHORT GRAIN brown rice, sometimes labeled “sweet brown rice.”



Yield: 6 servings

3 large tomatoes, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup diced carrots
1 stalk celery, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced, stems discarded
(or use cremini mushrooms, sliced)
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 to 1 1/4 cups short grain brown rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 cups water

1 1/2 cups cooked, peeled chestnuts, quartered
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley or chives

1. Combine the tomatoes and minced garlic in a large saucepan or skillet. Cook and stir over high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes until the tomatoes have begun to break down. Set them aside to add at the end.
2. Combine the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, water, and olive oil in a large, deep skillet or 8 to 10-quart stockpot. Cook and stir over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.
3. Add the mushrooms, thyme, sage, and rosemary and cook about 2 minutes more, adding as much as a cup of water if needed.
4. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the brown rice, salt, and 1 cup of the water. Keep the pan simmering and add the water, 1/2 cup at a time, as the liquid is absorbed. The process of cooking down and adding water may take 30 to 40 minutes. Taste the rice for tenderness after 30 minutes. You may not need to use all of the water.
5. When the rice is tender, add the cooked tomatoes and the chestnuts and cook 3 to 5 minutes longer to create a pleasing flavor union. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To finish, spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and sprinkle with a pinch or two of herbs.

Note: For a delicious Wild Rice, Chestnut and Wild Mushroom Risotto, substitute 1 cup of wild rice for the brown rice, but plan on at least 20 minutes longer cooking to soften the wild rice.

Posted in chestnuts, Cooking and Peeling Chestnuts, Nut Recipes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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