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You don't need to look hard to find good reasons to include walnuts in menus. They are delicious as a garnish for green salads, in vegetable pÃ¢tÃ©s and in chocolate chip cookies, not to mention toasted as a snack on their own.
Their special flavor, which is more assertive than that of most other nuts, makes them an ideal match for other strong-flavored ingredients. When it comes to desserts, walnuts stand up well to the bittersweet taste of chocolate, which is why they are such a favorite in brownies.
Yet walnuts also contribute flavor to delicate dishes. Their advantage is that a few of the tasty nuts go a long way to perk up bland foods. Toast a few walnuts as a wonderful accent for steamed rice or buttered noodles or a lively garnish for potato salad. Americans love walnuts in bread stuffings for turkey and if you're baking meringues, a small amount of chopped walnuts makes a tasty foil for their sweetness.
In recent years nutritionists have given us another excuse for enjoying walnuts. They are a good source of the plant form of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Most of the time we hear that we should eat fish often to get enough of this important nutrient, but walnuts provide another source, which is often more convenient to include in meals. Like all nuts, walnuts are high in fat and should be used in moderation, but most of this fat is the healthful unsaturated kind. Indeed, walnuts have so many beneficial components that they became the first nut allowed by the American Food and Drug Administration to be sold with a label stating that eating a small amount of walnuts every day might reduce the risk of heart disease.
Walnut oil is delicious in salads and, because of its assertive flavor, can be used in small amounts to flavor plenty of greens. Indeed, many chefs combine it with an equal amount of neutral-flavored vegetable oil when making vinaigrette dressing.
When using both walnuts and walnut oil, cooks should always be mindful of one important caution. Both become rancid very easily, especially when the weather is hot. Walnut oil, once opened, should be kept in the refrigerator.
In the fall, walnuts are available in the shell and make a pleasing, fresh-tasting snack. Before you buy them, inspect them to be sure the shell has no traces of mold. Nuts in the shell look so durable, but even they are sensitive to heat and should be stored in a cool place. Buy shelled walnuts at a store that has good turnover. Taste walnuts before using them in a recipe. If you are grinding walnuts, do so shortly before using them, as ground walnuts lose their freshness rapidly.
HALLA AND VEGETABLE STUFFING WITH TOASTED WALNUTS
Toasted walnuts lend a delectable richness to bread stuffing. This recipe also features plenty of vegetables for good flavor and to keep the stuffing moist.
Baking the stuffing separately makes it easier to serve and gives it a light crust. Of course, if you bake the mixture in a chicken, it has the advantage of absorbing some of the tasty roasting juices. Sometimes we double the stuffing to enjoy it both ways.
1â„3 to 1â„2 cup walnuts
110 gr. to 140 gr. (6 to 8 slices) stale halla or other
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1â„3 cup chopped celery
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1â„2 tsp. paprika
1â„2 tsp. dried thyme
3â„4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed, or canned
2 medium zucchini, coarsely grated
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
3 Tbsp. minced parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg
1â„4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (optional)
Preheat oven to 175Âº. Toast walnuts on a baking sheet in oven for 5 minutes or until light golden. Transfer to a plate.
Remove any dark crusts from halla if you like. Soak halla slices in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes or until softened. Squeeze halla pieces to remove excess water. Transfer halla to a bowl and mash it with a fork.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet. Add onion and celery and saute over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes or until onion begins to turn brown. Add garlic, paprika and thyme. Saute for 10 seconds. Remove from heat.
Add sauteed vegetable mixture and corn kernels to halla and mix well. Let mixture cool for 5 minutes.
Add zucchini, carrots, parsley and walnuts to stuffing mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add egg and mix well. Stuffing should be lightly moistened. If it seems dry, stir in enough stock, by tablespoons, to moisten it.
If you will use mixture to stuff a chicken, refrigerate or cool it completely before spooning into the bird. To bake stuffing in a dish, preheat oven to 175Âº and grease a 23-cm. square baking dish.
Spoon stuffing into dish. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes or until firm.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
BUTTERY WALNUT WAFERS
For these delicate French cookies, the light batter flavored with ground walnuts is piped in sticks, then spreads in the oven to crisp finger shapes. These are a delightful accompaniment to any ice cream or sorbet.
You can keep the cookies in an airtight container for about two weeks; or you can freeze them.
1â„4 cup walnuts
2â„3 cup all-purpose flour
100 gr. (7 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
3â„4 cup powdered sugar
2 large egg whites
Preheat oven to 220Âº. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets.
Grind walnuts in food processor or nut grinder until a fine powder but not until pasty; if using a food processor, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar while grinding them to keep them dry. Sift flour and mix it with the nuts.
Beat butter until very soft and smooth. Sift in remaining powdered sugar, mix briefly, and beat until mixture is very smooth.
Beat egg whites lightly with a fork. Gradually add them to butter mixture, beating thoroughly at high speed after each addition. (If mixture begins to separate, add 1 teaspoon of flour mixture, mix well, then continue adding whites.) Lightly stir in flour-nut mixture, using wooden spoon.
Using pastry bag and small plain tip (or using spoons, following the Note below), pipe thin "pencils" of batter about 6 cm. long on baking sheet, spacing them about 5 cm. apart. Tap baking sheet vigorously several times on work surface to flatten cookies.
Bake 6 to 7 minutes or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Note: If you don't have a pastry bag, shape the batter in rounds by taking 1â„2 teaspoon of batter on a spoon and pushing it onto the baking sheet with another spoon. Space the cookies 7.5 cm. apart.
Makes 40 to 50 cookies.
Faye Levy is the author of the Fresh from France cookbook series and of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.