In the Mediterranean, we eat seasonally. The world now knows that eating seasonally is healthy, cost efficient, good for the local economy, and better for the environment. When I think of eating seasonally in the winter months, a key staple in our home is nuts. At the first chill in the air, you begin to see vendors in large cities selling nuts. My absolutely favorite “food on the go” are roasted chestnuts. I have eaten them in Athens, Istanbul, Paris, Frankfurt, Skopje, and Kiev; and I am certain they are being roasted and sold in most other countries where chestnut trees grow. Walking along crowded sidewalks, coat buttoned up, the smell of slightly cracked chestnuts being slowly roasted by a cold, tired vendor on nearly every corner. They are sold by the gram: generally 100 or 200 grams. You place your order and watch as he places chestnuts, browned and nearly splitting from its jacket shell, on a small scale. Then he fills a paper cone with the measured chestnuts. Eating these nuggets are dangerous: the chestnuts, directly off the burner, are as hot as tiny coals, burning your fingertips as you rip apart the shell. If the chestnuts are fresh and cooked properly, the shell falls off easily. The meat is so tender, moist, smoky flavored, warm, and a perfect snack on the cold fall/winter day.
Even though we don’t live in a big city, my family eats chestnuts at least a couple of times per week in the winter. If you find them in your market, look for large chestnuts that are hard to the touch. Squeeze to feel if there is air between the shell and the meat. Older chestnuts shrivel and get small, shrinking within the shell. They aren’t bad; but they won’t be as tasty. To cook them at home, I cut a large X across the raw chestnuts and line them in a toaster oven, cooking at 350 F (180 C) for 10 minutes. The other option is place the raw chestnuts and cook in an open fire. Mmmmm. . . my mouth is watering.
Roasted chestnuts are our family’s go-to after dinner (dessert?) during the winter months. Slightly sweet, mostly smoky and warms the belly.
In addition to chestnuts, in many goddess’s kitchen, you will find whole nuts in a big bowl during the winter months. The nutcracker is always nearby. We RARELY buy open, cracked nuts. We crack them ourselves.
Five reasons shelled nuts are superior to cracked nuts
- Shelled nuts taste fresher, crunchier to de-shelled nuts
- Shelled nuts are natural, with no added oils, sugar, salt. You may catch yourself in a moment of weakness to buy the smoky, nuts (which are covered in oil and salt!). Don’t even tempt yourself: stay away from this aisle!
- They are less expensive than the de-shelled, prepackaged kinds.
- Portion control! How many de-shelled almonds can you eat? Easily, without thinking, I can pop in 15 almonds. But if I have to crack them individually? I tire out after 5 or 6. Try it for yourself and see.
- It’s a workout. Okay, I’m kind of stretching here, but my arms and hands can get tired cracking the nuts (refer to point number 4 above). Opening a bag, on the other hand, is a breeze.
Nuts are my favorite late-night snack. While watching TV, I still fight the urge to snack. An easy solution is to pull out the bowl of nuts and begin cracking. They keep my hands busy, and I can only eat a handful. By then, my stomach gets full and signals for me to stop eating. Imagine how much healthier snacking on a handful of whole, natural nuts versus opening a bag of potato chips.
One more thing: don’t even think about peanuts as being a good substitute to almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, pecans and macadamias. They are not tree nuts! They don’t exist in the Mediterranean and they are an inferior nut in nutritional value. See for yourself which nuts are the healthiest.
So, what’s your favorite nut? Mine are hazelnuts. They are small, easy to crack, and pop in your mouth.
What are yours? Please share!
Find your Inner Aphrodite . . .
Goddess trick: Walnuts take a long time to crack and have several interior pockets. Fishing out the sections takes longer; which means you eat less in the same time it takes to crack other nuts.