Sweet. Spicy. Salty. Down-right addictive. Candied nuts are the perfect cocktail nibble or crunchy garnish and often appear in some form on my holiday menu. I generally use pecans and have a bowl out on the bar for people to munch while mixing a cocktail. (And usually add bourbon to the recipe, if we’re being honest.) Yet pistachios are smaller and, for this reason, the better complement to the dish I was preparing on the holiday challenge for The Taste, which was red wine poached pears with goat cheese cream.
In the meantime, whatever nut you choose, I hope this treat becomes your next holiday favorite.
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- 2 cups pistachios, shelled, toasted
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- Cayenne pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
Toast pistachios at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes, until deepened in color and fragrant. (Alternatively, begin with unsalted and toasted pistachio nutmeats.) Mix together all spices in a small bowl. Taste. It should have a pleasant flavor (as good as dried spices can taste, that is). Adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that the spices will become diluted once they’re cooked. But also note that I love spicy food, and it definitely comes through in this recipe. If you don’t like heat, use less white pepper or omit it completely—and certainly don’t add cayenne. Toss the pistachios with the spices; some will end up pooled at the bottom of the bowl, which is fine.
Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat, then whisk in honey. It will become bubbly and thick. Mix in spiced pistachios until fully coated and cook a few minutes. Grease a cookie pan lightly with cooking spray and spread the nut mixture into an even layer. Cook for about 5 minutes then remove from the oven. Some of the mixture will have melted off the nuts a bit; just retoss, it’s no big deal.) Let sit until fully cooled and set. Alternatively, if you’re in a rush (kind of like I was), then place the pan into the refrigerator for 10 minutes or the freezer, even, to allow the nuts to fully set. Use your fingers to break the pieces into individual nuts or small nut clusters; use a paper towel to blot them If they’re a bit greasy.
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Nuts still suffer from a bad reputation in some circles given they are what we nutrition people refer to as “energy dense.” In other words, they’re high in calories for the amount you’re eating. In about a 1/4 cup serving you’re going to get around 170 calories. That said, they’re very small, and if you take the time to shell them yourself you’ll feel more satiated since it gives your body a chance to say “Hey! I’m full!” (This is an important part of weight management, but I’ll not digress.) And pistachios are filled with heart-healthy unsaturated fats and minerals like copper, manganese, and phosphorous. They make a terrific afternoon snack, perfect with a piece of fruit.
Of course, there are even more delicious calories in candied nuts since they’ve got the added butter and sugar. Which is why I only make them for special occasions or cocktail parties and consume small portions—while enjoying, mindfully, every single last bite.
And I’m going to go ahead and say that you should, too.
PS. This is what these little babies look like atop red wine poached pears (click on the pic for the recipe).
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Dr. P. K. Newby is a nutrition scientist and educator with expertise in the prevention of obesity and chronic diseases through diet and the relations between agriculture, food production, and public health. She brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability through writing and videos to help people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Her first book Foods for Health is onsale at local bookstores and here.
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