Market Share — the most versatile food: walnuts

Need a snack? Entertaining some last-minute guests? Or maybe you just want some crunch to a salad. Either way, walnuts are the answer to everything.

A bowlful of little brains: walnuts are good and good for you
Photos by Stacey DeWolfe

When I was a kid, I hated walnuts. Sure, they were fun to smash with a hammer on the basement floor, but their taste was too bitter for me, and their texture — especially when they turned up in a bowl of otherwise tempting maple ice cream — was too mushy and larvae-like.

I can’t remember exactly when I changed my tune on walnuts, but now I cannot imagine living without them, and I’m not exaggerating. In fact, a few years ago, my dependence on walnuts was revealed when store shelves went bare due to an E. coli scare. For weeks, we tried to make due with pecans, but they were too expensive for everyday use and too particular in flavour to be used with our customary abandon.

If you’re not part of the fan club, you may be asking yourself what’s so great about walnuts. The answer: you can put them in pretty much anything.

We add them to spaghetti sauce and vegetarian chili, where they add a meaty texture and nutty taste, and give the sauce a rich, dark colour. For dessert, we grind them into powder and mix them with vanilla, eggs, sugar and lemon zest to make perfect little gluten-free cakes.

In the summer months, we toss them into spinach and arugula salads with parmesan and apple, or into the barbecue grill pan with chunks of onion, mushroom and red pepper (be careful, though, because they can burn quite easily). In the cold months, they find their way into winter salads with pomegranate and pear, or add their unique flavour and texture to mashed roots and vegetable soups. They also work beautifully with sautéed vegetables and pasta sauces.

Looking for a quick, impressive amuse-bouche? Smash up some walnuts, mint and goat cheese and stuff them into some medjool dates. Or for the simplest dessert ever, take a medjool, poke out the pit and shove a walnut into it. I kid you not, it will taste exactly like caramel.

And walnuts are extremely good for you — one of the true superfoods. In fact, with their high fibre and protein content, antioxidant properties and abundance of vitamins and minerals, these meaty little nubbins would be worth eating even if they weren’t so damn versatile and delicious. And if you shop in the right place, they are really quite affordable. Marché Akhavan in NDG is my top recommendation, but you can also get fresh walnuts and good deals at Marché Adonis.

Like most nuts and nut oils, walnuts go rancid when exposed to heat, so keep them in the fridge if you are going to use them often, or in the freezer if you want them to last even longer.

Because I continue to avoid wheat and so often find myself hankering for a gluten-free snack, I have lately embraced the spiced walnut. I did some Internet research a while back for spice ideas and found a recipe by Martha Stewart that became my template. Here is my version:

Unlike Martha, I prefer to roast the nuts in the oven rather than toast them in a frying pan. So to start, preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large mixing bowl, add one tablespoon of grapeseed or olive oil and one of maple syrup. Mix together.

Then, in a spice grinder, add two teaspoons of coriander seed, one teaspoon each of red chili and paprika and half a teaspoon each of fennel seed, cumin seed and black pepper. Grind into powder and add to the sweetened oil. Mix together.

Add two cups of whole walnuts to the bowl and mix well. Then sprinkle nuts with about a teaspoon of coarse salt.

If you have it, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper to avoid mess, and spread the walnuts on the sheet. Place in the middle of the oven and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring often. What I do to avoid having the walnuts burn is set my timer for 15 minutes, at which point I give the walnuts a stir and pop them back in. From that point forward, I check every five minutes. What you are looking for is a toasty smell and a rich colour.

Let cool before eating.

This is the amount I make for a dinner party. To have leftovers to munch on during the week, double the recipe. 

Read more about Stacey’s culinary and other adventures on her website, or follow her on Twitter @staceydewolfe

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