I scored over the holidays and ended up with two big bags of fresh organic walnuts, one shelled the other whole, both incredibly nutritious and delicious. These gifts prompted me not only to dig up our ancient nutcrackers which we’ve previously used mainly for crab but also to do a little research on walnuts. It turns out these gifts were pure gold, nutritionally speaking. They’re loaded with high density protein, have a higher level of anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants than any other nut. They contain hard-to-find omega 3 fatty acids, tons of vitamin E and to top it off, they’re great for your heart and your brain.
The shelled bag came from Charlie’s old friend and college buddy, Craig McNamara, who owns Sierra Orchards, a organic and sustainable farm in Winters, CA, but even more importantly, started and runs the Center for Land-Based Learning, “dedicated to creating the next generation of farmers and teaching California’s youth about the importance of agriculture and watershed conservation.” As if that weren’t enough, he also serves as the president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. To say that this man is passionate about sustainable farming would be a huge understatement.
The second bag, a gift from my peeps on Lopez Island came by way of the amazing animal-powered, Horse Drawn Farm. These whole nuts were actually grown in Oregon on a farm that isn’t a commercial walnut farm but is completely organic. The extra step of cracking each nut made me fully appreciate the work that goes into nut production. If you’ve ever wondered how it’s done commercially, here’s a short video. I especially enjoyed seeing the machine that shakes the nuts off the trees.
With my abundance of walnuts, I made two different sauces — a winter pesto with parsley (why wait for basil?) and walnuts and muhammara with roasted red peppers, walnuts and a special pantry ingredient, pomegranate molasses, which we’ve found useful in many different ways including cocktails.
Walnut Parsley Pesto Recipe
Ingredients: 1/2 cup lightly toasted walnuts (I toasted mine at 350 for about 5 minutes — keep a close eye on them, I learned the hard way)/ 1/2 cup packed Italian parsley leaves/ 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese/ 1 small garlic clove/ Juice of 1/2 lemon/ 3T olive oil/ Salt & pepper to taste.
Directions: Blend everything together in a food processor. You can add the olive oil last in a slow steady stream but I found this faster method to work just as well.
This pesto works as a perfect sauce on whole wheat spaghetti, which by the way, after some trial and several errors, I think I may have finally found my favorite brand — Bionaturae. Add some steamed broccoli and/or any other vegetables, grate some cheese on top and you’ve got a seriously satisfying meatless dinner. Muhammara, my second walnutty sauce, could just as easily be served on pasta but I used it in the more traditional way as a dip with pita chips.
Ingredients: 7 oz. jar of roasted red peppers, drained or 2 whole red bell peppers, roasted/ 2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs/ 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped/ 1 small clove garlic/ Juice of 1 small lemon/ 2 t pomegranate molasses/ 1/2 t ground cumin/ 1/2 t sweet paprika (optional but I like the smoky flavor)/ 1/4 t dried hot red pepper flakes (or more to taste)/ 1/2 t salt/ 1/3 cup olive oil.
Directions: In a food processor blend the peppers, bread crumbs, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes and salt/ Once the mixture is smooth, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream.
The inspiration for this recipe came to me by way of Epicurious but was originally in Bon Appetit.
If you’re tending toward eating less meat, toss in a couple of walnuts to add healthy protein and nutritious flavorful crunch to practically any dish.