Since its February, I wanted to talk about heart healthy foods …foods that are not only physiological beneficial for your heart but also hearty satisfaction and today it’s all about walnuts! Before we get into the recipes, let’s chat about why I think it’s important to add nuts to meals…
One of the biggest misunderstandings people have about their diets is that they have to cut out fat if working towards a goal. I find that a lot of times when we think fat, we think calories. But, fat adds to the satisfaction and pleasure of eating. If you’re not satisfied, you will be looking around for other things to eat to get that satisfaction and chances are you’ll keep eating until you do. So instead of opting for lower fat versions of foods, I encourage clients to choose full fat versions of foods and include fat in meals and snacks (like nuts) to nourish the body because…. Hunger is a feeling that we can honor with foods but satisfaction is a sensation from that food.
Aside from adding the pleasure point, walnuts have a strong nutrition profile too. They contain a significant source of plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Diets high in ALA and omega-3 fatty acids are shown to decrease heart attack and cardiovascular disease risk. Walnuts have also been studied to help support brain health by improving cognitive skills as we age with a slew of other benefits. This is because walnuts are a great source of several vitamins and minerals and even compounds that work synergistically. Folic acid protects the heart and unborn babies from birth defects. Phosphorus helps with several functions including bone support. Copper in walnuts supports heart health, nerve function, and a strong immune system. Most nuts have some Vitamin E, but walnuts have a higher amount than others. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that supports that healthy skin glow too.
Ok, so now that we know that nuts like walnuts have fats to keep our hearts, stomachs, and souls happy…let’s check out a few of my favorite easy ways to include them (aside from the obvious of just eating them!) 🙂
6-Ingredient Walnut Pesto
Pine nuts are the traditional nut in pestos but I find that walnuts are more accessible, affordable, and provide a comparable texture. It’s more of an everyday pesto, which is my jam. I also add either spinach or arugula for extra greens. Arugula gets it a bit peppier but complements the basil and lemon really well. Don’t be afraid to play around with this one. When you use fresh ingredients, they speak for themselves and need very little manipulation on your end. …Ok, so in food processor, stir in ¾ cup raw walnut pieces, a large handful of basil, a large handful of spinach or arugula, the juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon, about 2 -4 tablespoons high quality olive oil and 2-3 cloves of garlic depending on your garlic affinity (I usually go for the 3 but I LOVE garlic). If your food processor is electric or you’re using a blender, you only need a few good pulses to get it all blended. If your food processer is a hand pressed one, give it a good go for a minute or so until blended. Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste. Taste test. Add more basil for more of a basil pop, olive oil for creaminess, nuts for a slight texture, greens if it got too liquidy, etc. I love mixing this into warm noodles or zucchini noodles or mixed with garbanzo beans and used as a salad/sandwich topper.
Maple Walnut Dressing
Blended homemade dressings are far more economical and honestly, I find them to be way, way, way tastier than store bought dressings. However, I do find that some dressings require a lot of ingredients and maybe even ingredients you wouldn’t normally have on hand. This dressing is the antidote. I like to make this in a smaller ninja type blender because then it’s already in a ready to go cup that can be covered and stored easily and minimizes the amount of dishes or having to clean a large blender. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely made it in my vitamix and in other large blenders, but it’s just a bit more cumbersome. The great part is that whatever blender you choose, it’s pretty much like a throw everything in and blend for a hot minute until the dressing is rich and creamy. What you’re going to put in your blender: ¼ – ½ cup maple syrup (go for the real deal here, none of that Aunt Jemima business), a half spoonful of prepared mustard (half a tablespoon), sprinkle of dried garlic or garlic powder, dash of salt, black pepper, 4 spoonfuls olive oil (you can also use a canola or other vegetable oil if you prefer), ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup raw walnuts. Blend and enjoy! Taste test and adjust seasonings as need. If it’s too vinegary for you, add more oil or nuts. If you teetered on the lower end of the maple syrup, add more if it needs to be sweeter for your tastes. Or, add more salt, garlic, or even a dash of onion powder if you have it for more complexity. Any way you doctor it up, the dressing is divine over salads…particularly over salads that include apples, whole grains, greens and candied nuts (below!).
I first experienced the sweet + hint of spicy candied nuts in a smoothie. It was at Arden’s Garden, a local Atlanta smoothie shop. And while I don’t remember the name of the smoothie, I loved the candied nut element. There was a creamy decadence swirled into fruity freshness with an occasional pop of spiced zest. Truly a taste buds treat. This inspired me to recreate the nuts at home to stir into my own smoothies. Fast forward a few years and now I meal prep them regularly to keep on hand. I find candied nuts to be particularly delish in smoothies but also as a topper for pilafs, salads, oats, pancakes, and sweet potatoes. If you want a meal prepping secret, part of the magic is in the toppers, especially if you plan on eating a similar meal a few days in a row. Changing up topper elements can really transform a ho hum into hooray. Ok, so before I get carried away, here we go…preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium sized bowl, mix together a dash (about a teaspoon) of cinnamon, 2 spoonfuls (tablespoons) sugar of choice, sprinkle of cayenne pepper and nutmeg with ¼ teaspoon or less of salt. Stir in 1 spoonful (tablespoon) of maple syrup and 1 ½ spoonfuls of coconut or olive oil. Be sure the coconut oil is melted (if you’re using that). That is your seasoning base that you will coat the nuts with. You’ll want about 2 cups of raw nuts and I like to do about one cup walnuts, ½ cup pecans, and ½ cup cashews or almonds but you can play around here. The walnuts and pecans are probably my favorite and sometimes I’ll only use those for simplicity sake. Stir the 2 cups of nuts into the bowl until coated and bake for about 15 minutes until fragrant and golden brown. Stir around about half way through and drizzle and additional spoonful of maple syrup once removed from oven. You can sprinkle a dusting of more spices or salt here too if you’d like. Let the nuts dry and cool on the pan and store for a couple of weeks at room temperature (or freeze for long lasting goodness).
There ya have it – three really fantastic walnut recipes that are about as straightforward as they come. Throw simple fresh ingredients together and make magic in your kitchen. Literally, this week’s recipes are so easy they hardly require a recipe – hence, no recipe recipes! 😉 No recipe recipes are how a lot of us cook during the week and the series is meant to inspire new flavor and texture combinations to get nourishing foods on the table more often. It’s not about being limited or intimidated by a recipe or a food but rather starting to get train our intuition. Our bodies know how to nourish themselves, but sometimes it takes practice. So I always say, start with the easy stuff. Start with the easy stuff and then we can approach the big hairy stuff with some lightness and ease. Isn’t this true about life in general, not just cooking? 😉 I think so. Simplify for abundance.
Hugs and gratitude,