Going Nutty

I cannot roast almonds without being reminded of my days as an apprentice in the bakery kitchen, when each morning students were expected to begin the day making praline (almonds cooked with sugar until toffee-coated, cooled and ground) ready for decorating the cakes later that day. As a kid, nuts came as peanuts or almonds, the choice being somewhat limited then, but nowadays there’s a considerable variety of nuts available to add texture, taste and nutrition to more than just baking. Here’s the low down and some great ways to nuts this summer.

Going Nutty
  • Brazil Nuts are actually seeds rather than nuts. They aren’t widely used in cooking, rather eaten as a snack on their own or in nut mixes. Sold either in the shell or unshelled, they spoil fairly quickly unshelled, so use them as soon as possible. They are delicious toasted and added to a stuffing for a roast chicken.

Jewel Cake

  • Cashew Nuts came originally from Central and South America before spreading to East Africa and India. Roasting brings out the full flavour and roasted, salted cashews are a popular snack…but not good for cholesterol and weight control! They are widely used in Chinese and Indian dishes, especially those curries from Southern India or Sri Lanka, where a cashew nut curry is a traditional dish.

Spicy Lamb and Cashew Kebabs on Rice Pilaf

  • Chestnuts are becoming more readily available fresh here and are processed into flour, crumbs, stuffing and paste. Shelling and peeling the fresh ones is a fiddly job, but they are also available dried, canned, frozen or vacuum-packed. Do not confuse edible chestnuts with the semi-poisonous chestnut from the common Horse Chestnut tree, or Chinese water chestnuts.

Fresh chestnuts have a high water content, which renders them perishable. They are principally complex carbohydrate in content, low in sodium and fat, and free of gluten, oil and cholesterol; their protein is very high quality and they also contain Vitamin C and potassium.

Chestnut flour is used in Italian dishes, particularly as a thickener, and can be used to make a gluten-free dough, biscuits etc...

Chestnut and Chocolate Mud Truffles

  • Hazelnuts make a delicious snack, natural or lightly toasted to bring out the flavour. The number of growers in this country is expanding so look for home grown hazelnuts. They have a wide range of sweet and savoury uses – in stuffing and dressings or sauces, cakes, biscuits and even soups. In their shells, hazelnuts have good keeping properties and will last for up to a year in a cool, dry place. Hazelnut flour is gluten-free and bakes beautifully and you can also purchase hazelnut stuffing and a crumb coating mix.

Hazelnut and Vanilla Baked Peaches or Nectarines

To remove hazelnut skins:

Hazelnuts need to be roasted to remove skins and not blanched as is the case for almonds. Roast them in a 160-180°C oven for 8-10 minutes or until they smell warm and toasty. Remove and when cool enough to handle rub a small handfuls between your hands over a sink and allow the skins to fall away below. Oven roasted hazelnuts are bitter so do not over roast.

  • Macadamias are an Australian native, increasingly grown here. They have a very hard shell, but are also sold shelled and in various products including spreads, salted, chocolate/honey-coated and in dukkah mixes. Macadamia meal is an alternative to ground almonds. They contain vitamins A1, B1, B2 and Niacin, as well as calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium.

Pineapple and Macadamia Paté

  • Peanuts, also called groundnuts, are a legume rather than a nut. No genuine Kiwi kid would want to live without peanut butter, its most popular product, although some people have a severe – even fatal – peanut allergy.

Prawn and Chicken Laksa with Peanut and Coriander Pesto

Much utilised as a snack, peanuts can be roasted, dry roasted, honey-roasted, salted, spiced and of course peanut sauce – satay sauce - is much-favoured in Indonesian cookery. Peanuts have proteins, minerals and vitamins, but be aware too many can also add more calories and fat.

  • Pecans came from North America and were widely used by the Native Americans. They are popular for making delicious pies, adding to baked goods, used in confectionery and for stuffings. Don’t confuse them with walnuts which they vaguely resemble, but which have a very different flavour.

Pecan Pralines

  • Pine Nuts are the seeds from mature cones of a number of pine trees and their rich, buttery-sweet flavour makes them hard to resist. They keep well and are especially used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes, in stuffings, pestos and stir fries. Toast or roast to bring out the flavour.

Currant, Pine Nut and Lemon Chicken

  • Pistachio Nuts, those gorgeous green nuts have a very high fat content and, once roasted and salted are incredible more-ish. They work well with both savoury and sweet dishes from pilaffs, stuffings and salads to baklavas, ice creams and baking .

Apricot and Pistachio stuffed Pork Steaks with Pinot Noir Jus

To remove the purply brown skins, cover the nuts with boiling water and stand for 1-2 minutes then drain - the skin should rub off easily. Dry in a cool oven before further use. This will enhance their green colour, though if making an ice cream, few drops of green food colouring won’t go astray.

  • Walnuts NZ grown walnuts are simply delicious. When buying shelled walnuts, look for lighter coloured halves, indicating freshness; darker coloured, chipped ones may be stale and lower quality. Walnuts are used widely in savoury and sweet cooking and are the ideal nut to keep on hand to jazz up a salad, stuffing, or for decrying a cake. Green walnuts (unripe) can be pickled – an acquired taste but a few chopped and added to a beef casserole add a piquant note.

Roasted Asparagus and Haloumi Salad with Walnut Oil and Tarragon Dressing

  • Almonds have a delicate flavour and although they are expensive, not many are needed for flavouring. Available whole (blanched and unblanched), flaked, sliced or ground (also called almond meal).Try untoasted flaked or sliced almonds in cream sauces or toasted and sprinkled on vegetables or sprinkled on ice cream or fruit before serving. Ground almonds are used in baking, custards and the like. Toasted almonds are lovely eaten as a snack, though if over salted and flavoured you cannot enjoy their delicate flavour.

To blanch and peel almonds:

Place unpeeled almonds into boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and refresh in cold water. The skins should slip off easily. Allow the almonds to dry in a low oven for a few minutes and cool before suing further.

To toast almonds (and other nuts):

Slice or flaked almonds can be toasted in a hot dry frying pan, while whole almonds (and other nuts) require oven baking to toast evenly. Stir sliced or flaked almonds in a dry frying pan or with a little oil until well browned and transfer to a plate to arrest further cooking.

To roast almonds (and other nuts) in the oven, bake in a 160-180°C oven for 7-10 minutes (depending on size) until well toasted.

Chicken with Almonds and Saffron


Always allow roasted nuts to cool thoroughly before chopping or processing. Lest they form a paste as opposed to a meal or finely ground.

Nuts can be “roasted” in the microwave on 70-100% power levels, but do watch as they can burn so quickly.


Nuts are a rich source of protein, fats, minerals and vitamins…pecan, macadamia, brazil and walnut range from 70%-55% fat content, and because they have little water content, are very concentrated.


Keep nuts in an air-tight container in a dark, cool place or better still in the refrigerator or freezer where they will not become rancid. To check if nuts have turned rancid, just take the lid off and sniff! Chestnuts should be kept in the fridge.

And given nuts are so plentiful today, it’s best to buy them as you require.

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