The weird and wonderful world of nuts
Exploring the world of plant-based eating has been a non-stop eye opening and fun learning curve for me recently. There are so many pantry essentials that I’ve been cooking with for years that I’ve been able to revisit and explore in new ways for alternative uses suited to my flexitarian lifestyle. One of the biggest surprises? The weird and wonderful world of nuts.
Everyone’s favourite healthy lunch box snack has so many benefits, but there’s also an extensive list of uses if you’re looking to mix things up and try something new. Here are some fun uses for nuts.
Use nuts as a bread alternative for crumbed goods
A satisfying solution for those who can’t eat bread or just want to try something different, you can grind up any type of nut to bread your proteins like chicken or fish before baking and frying them. If you are frying your food, make sure you use raw nuts instead of roasted because roasted nuts may have too much oil which can cause a somewhat greasy taste.
Make a pie or tart crust
That’s right, you can use nuts as the base for a pie or tart crust. Simply grind the nuts with cold butter (I suggest coarser nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts) and then press them into a pan to set. This will create a sweet base better suited for dessert type dishes, but you can also try savoury dishes like quiche to give your new crust a different flavour profile.
Make milk substitutes
Whether it’s almond, hazelnut, cashew or macadamia (the list goes on), the odds are you’ve likely tasted a nut milk in recent years. One of the first plant-based alternatives to go mainstream, nut milk is a great substitute for cow’s milk. Instead of buying almond milk at the store, you can easily make your own at home. Simply soak a cup of almonds in hot water for a half hour, drain them, combine with three cups of cold water and blend. Once blended, strain through a cheesecloth lined mesh strainer and add honey, cinnamon, or whatever else you might like. Enjoy!
Use them as a flour
Nuts make a tasty high protein gluten-free flour that you can use in a long list of dishes. Almond flour in particular is a great alternative to wheat flour because it has a neutral taste. While any nut can be ground into flour, keep in mind that you can’t just swap the ground nuts for wheat flour in a recipe and expect the same results. Using nut flours takes patience and practice while you get it right. Nut flour is surprisingly easy to make, all you need is your nut of choice and a high speed blender or processor. The biggest thing you want to avoid is not over-processing the nuts. If you blend them for too long they will become creamy and turn into something resembling nut butter. You’re likely only going to need to blend for 10-15 seconds maximum.
Make nut butters
Peanut butter is not the only nut butter in town, though fun fact, peanuts are technically legumes and not nuts. Almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, and cashews are good choices for nut butter and sunflower seeds can also work as an alternative for allergies. If you’d like to try make your own nut butter at home, start by roasting your nuts of choice. Once roasted, put the nuts in a food processor and blend until the mixture is as smooth or chunky as you’d like it. Add some oil to dryer nuts like almonds and include seasoning like cinnamon, vanilla and salt for some extra flavour. A smoother product will be made from skinless nuts, so if you prefer a silky, velvety spread, remove the skins from your nut of choice. Once you’re happy with your mixture add a teaspoon of coconut oil and place your nut butter in a jar in the fridge for three weeks before tucking in. Fun fact, nut butters can work as a delicious substitute for eggs in some dishes if you’re embracing a plant-based diet.
Use it as a cheese substitute
Perfect for anyone switching to a plant-based diet, you can actually replace cheese using nuts. Nut cheese is often made from cashews thanks to their creamy properties, but you can also use almonds, pistachios, and macadamia nuts along with sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Start by soaking your nuts and/or seeds in water before blending them in a food processor or a strong blender. You can then add any flavouring like salt, herbs, and spices before freezing so the ‘cheese’ will harden. Tip: If the nut cheese isn’t hardening enough, you can add coconut oil.
Use it as a garnish
Nuts and seeds make a tasty garnish for a whole host of dishes that can benefit from a crunch. They also include healthy fats and proteins to keep you feeling full and satisfied between meals.