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Nuts & Seeds - Nut and Seed Essentials

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Nuts with their shells on last longer than shelled nuts, as they have a natural protective coat. You can keep nuts such as almonds in a fabric bag at room temperature. © Provided by DKBooks Nuts with their shells on last longer than shelled nuts, as they have a natural protective coat. You can keep nuts such as almonds in a fabric bag at room temperature.

Photo: Seeds such as pumpkin seeds are best kept in clean, dry, airtight plastic containers or jars in a cool, dark place to prevent them deteriorating and absorbing odors from other foods. © Provided by DKBooks Seeds such as pumpkin seeds are best kept in clean, dry, airtight plastic containers or jars in a cool, dark place to prevent them deteriorating and absorbing odors from other foods.

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

Nuts with their shells on last longer than shelled nuts, as they have a natural protective coat. You can keep nuts such as almonds in a fabric bag at room temperature.

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the nuts or seeds for a few minutes until they are light brown and smell fragrant.

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

Photo: Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the nuts or seeds for a few minutes until they are light brown and smell fragrant. © Provided by DKBooks Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the nuts or seeds for a few minutes until they are light brown and smell fragrant.

Seeds such as pumpkin seeds are best kept in clean, dry, airtight plastic containers or jars in a cool, dark place to prevent them deteriorating and absorbing odors from other foods.

Nut and Seed Essentials

Packed with protein, nuts and seeds are a valuable and nutritious ingredient. Although nuts and seeds are rarely served on their own (apart from as a snack), they are very versatile; used in both savory and sweet dishes. They frequently feature in confectionery, with nuts such as hazelnuts and almonds, in particular, having a special affinity with chocolate. In baking, nuts and seeds are used both for decorative purposes–placed or sprinkled on the surface of bread, cakes, cookies, and pastries—and as a flavoring within. Ground nuts and seeds are traditionally used as a thickening agent in many cuisines, from Mexican pumpkin seed sauces or Italian pesto (made from pine nuts) to African groundnut (peanut) soups and stews. Many nuts are also cultivated and used to make oils for cooking, such as groundnut, or for dressings, such as walnut oil. Sunflower seeds can be scattered over cereals to give a boost to the mineral content, pumpkin seeds over salads, and sesame seeds in dips.


Buy

Nuts can be bought either with their shells on or shelled; whole, flaked, or ground. In what form you buy them depends on how you intend to use them in cooking, and what the recipe dictates. Both nuts and seeds are sold fresh, but they are mostly available dried. Nuts and seeds are generally available year-round and are not a seasonal ingredient—with the exception of autumnal chestnuts and cobnuts. Buy fresh nuts in small quantities as they will go bad after a few weeks, and keep an eye on the use-by date.


Whole nuts or shelled?

There are advantages and disadvantages to buying nuts with shells or without, so ultimately it is down to personal preference. Fresh shelled nuts need less preparation before use, but they do deteriorate more quickly unless stored in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer, as the released oils can turn rancid at room temperature. Dried shelled nuts, however, will keep for several weeks at room temperature. Nuts with their shells on are often cheaper to buy because they need shelling before use. They will keep for longer at room temperature, up to six months, but their condition will still deteriorate after a period of time as they lose moisture.


Store

Due to their high oil content, most nuts and seeds turn rancid very quickly and should be stored in a cool, dry place and consumed as soon as possible. One way of extending the shelf life of many seeds and shelled nuts is to store them in plastic, airtight containers or glass jars in the refrigerator.


Prepare

Seeds generally need no preparation and can be eaten as they are, or can be toasted. However, nuts bought with their shells on need to have them removed in order to get to the ingredient beneath. Some nuts have thin shells that are easily cracked with a nutcracker, but larger nuts, such as coconuts, require a little more force to get to the flesh.


Peel a coconut

This large nut has a very thick, hard skin that needs to be broken to reveal the flesh beneath. When buying a coconut, choose one that feels heavy, and that is full of water (shake it gently to check)—the heavier the coconut, the more flesh it will contain. When preparing to break the nut, have a clean bowl handy to catch the liquid as it leaks out, which can then be used in Thai sauces.

Use a metal skewer to pierce the eyes of the coconut in order to allow the liquid inside to drain out before you open the nut.

Strike the coconut with force using a hammer or mallet to crack its shell, then break the nut open into two halves.

Pry the flesh away from the shell carefully using a blunt knife. Cutting the flesh into segments first will make this job easier.

Peel away and discard the brown inner skin using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, before roughly chopping the flesh.


Crack

Many nuts, such as pecans and walnuts, have thick, hard shells that require cracking, so it is worth investing in a decent nutcracker for this job. The inner skin of these nuts can be eaten—it is too difficult to peel off.


Chop

Using a large, sharp knife, chop the nuts into pieces of the required size—coarse or fine—guiding the knife with your knuckles. Larger, flatter nuts, such as almonds, can be chopped in this way.


Flake

Hold each nut flat on the cutting board, and, using a large, sharp knife, cut it into slices of the required thickness. Larger, smooth nuts such as almonds can be slivered—cut each slice lengthwise into fine sticks.


Grind

Grind shelled nuts to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. If using a food processor, take care not to overprocess. Nuts release their natural oils during grinding, and you could end up with a nut butter.


Cook

Nuts and seeds are delicious eaten raw, but cooking adds another dimension to them; heat brings out their flavor and oils, and also enhances their texture, making them crunchier. Roasted, blanched, and toasted nuts can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, and toasted seeds are delicious scattered over salads or used in homemade granola bars.


Roast

All around the world, nuts and seeds are most often eaten simply roasted and seasoned with salt. Although commercially roasted and salted seeds are widely available, roasting nuts or seeds yourself at home is both easy and satisfying. Furthermore, it has the advantage of allowing you to add as much or as little salt as you wish, and to season the nuts with your own choice of spices or flavorings.

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Toss the nuts in oil (use 1 teaspoon per 7oz/200g) and some seasoning and spread them evenly in a roasting tin. Roast for 20 minutes, turning halfway through the roasting time.

Remove the cooked nuts from the oven, then tip them into a clean cloth or dish towel, wrap them up, then open the package and rub off the skins using your fingers. Cool completely, then store in airtight containers.


Blanch

Some recipes require that nuts such as almonds are blanched; this is a simple job that involves removing their brown skins.

Place the nuts in a heatproof bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover them. Set aside for 3 minutes, then drain.

Once the nuts are cool enough to handle, simply rub off the skins between your fingers, leaving the blanched kernels.


Toast

This is a quick and excellent way of enhancing the flavor of most nuts and seeds before using them in a recipe. Do not leave them unattended during cooking, though, and stir them often, because they can burn very quickly.

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