Nuts And Nut-based Recipes

Today we tend to use nuts either as a snack or as a flavouring and we forget just how important various nuts were to our ancestors. For European hunter-gatherer the autumnal nut harvest was critical in that it provided them with protein, fats and carbohydrates in the diet. Certain nuts, most notably hazelnuts, could be roasted and turned into a flour that would last throughout the winter.

Even during the Medieval period nuts were critical to the diet. In the period before refrigeration, and with the development of large cities milk was not commonly available and milk supplies could not be relied upon. As a result, a milk-like liquid (almond milk) was made from ground almonds and this was typically used in recipes where we would use fresh milk today.

We are very used to using nuts for sweet recipes, be that cakes, desserts and biscuits/cookies but what we tend to forget today is that nuts are extremely versatile. All over Africa peanut butter is used as a thickener for meat and vegetable stews. Almond milk is still used in soups in North Africa and we are all familiar with Oriental stir-fries containing cashew nuts.

Below, therefore, are two classic nut based recipes.

Beef and Peanut Butter Stew

1kg stewing beef, cubed
3 onions, chopped
3 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp salt
360ml coconut milk
4 tbsp margarine or butter
1 tbsp flour
80g smooth peanut butter
5 garlic cloves, minced or pounded to a paste
3 whole hot red chillies
250ml water
several whole okra, with tops removed

Add the margarine to a pan, heat and use this to brown the beef. Remove the beef to a bowl then use the remaining oil in the pan to fry the onions and garlic until they are golden brown. At this point add the flour, curry powder, salt and the peanut butter. Heat for a minute then slowly add the coconut milk (so it does not split) and then add 300ml. Continue cooking (stirring all the while) until the sauce thickens. Then add the meat and chillies and simmer, covered, until the beef is tender (about 90 minutes).

About 20 minutes before the dish is ready add the okra. Serve immediately on a bed of rice.

Almond Cookies

150g sugar
300g butter
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 egg
240ml almond paste (tinned)
80g ground almonds
210g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

Cream together the butter, sugar and almond extract until light and flufy. Add the egg and stir to thoroughly combine then stir-in the almond extract. Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl then add this to the wet ingredients and beat until thoroughly blended. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours then take heaped teaspoons of the dough and shape into balls with the palms of your hands.

Place these on an ungreased baking tray and flatten with a small glass dipped in icing sugar until about 12mm thick (separate the cookies by about 5cm). Place in an oven pre-heated to 170°C and bake for about 12 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Allow to cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

I hope this article has given you an indication of the versatility of nuts and that you are now keen to find out just what kind of dishes you can make with this versatile seed.

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About The Author, Gwydion
Dyfed Lloyd Evans runs the Celtenet Recipes site where you can find hundreds of nut-based dishes and recipes sourced from all over the world as well as over 1000 African recipes from every country in Africa.