I had an opportunity to speak with representatives of the California Walnut Board at a recent seminar. They were full of great ideas for including nuts in vegetarian foods. I loved the quote from Albert Einstein they use in their newsletter, as follows: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life as much as the evolution of the vegetarian diet.” I also like some of the facts they have gathered:
All nuts can be an ingredient in vegetarian planning. Nuts add fiber, provide protein, and, depending on the nut, add various vitamins and minerals as well. Nuts are concentrated sources of fat and calories. The fat in nuts is the “good” kind, the mono- and polyunsaturated type. Since most diets require some fat, ranging from 15% to 30% of total daily calories, good menu planning can include various forms of nuts every day.
If you’re looking for the nutrition angle of adding nuts to menus, nuts fit into the “meat” category on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. Rather than meat or eggs, use beans, nuts, and seeds for the protein portion of the meal.
So, what can you do with nuts?
Add nuts to salad dressings, such as basil walnut vinaigrette, creamy (puréed tofu) salad dressings with almonds, mustard and dill with chopped pine nuts, etc.
Add nuts to sandwiches. Chopped walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and pecans add a toasty flavor and extra texture to grilled vegetable sandwiches, falafel, and hummus. Add chopped nuts to smooth peanut, almond, or soy butters to make a crunchy sandwich.
Use nuts as a garnish to increase protein, flavor, and texture. Add nuts to bean and rice casseroles, baked potato bars, hot and cold cereal, baking batters, puddings (made with soy or rice milk), or sorbet sundaes.
Add nuts to pasta. For example, top tomato-sauced pasta with chopped almonds or pine nuts, creamy-sauced pastas with walnuts or pecans, or toss pasta with olive oil, sautéed garlic, and chopped almonds.
Add nuts to sauces. Stir peanut or soy butter into mushroom sauces for a Thai effect; add ground almonds or pine nuts to creamy sauces or pecans or pistachios to fruit sauces.
Add nuts to breakfast dishes including baked apples, oatmeal, hot cereals, cold cereals, and muffins.
Add nuts to baked goods; for example, mix chopped nuts or nut butters into cookies, muffins, cakes, and pie crusts.
Nutrition Note: Roughly 1-1/2 ounces of most nuts or 2 Tablespoons of nut butters have approx-imately 4 grams of protein or about 8% of the Daily Reference Value for protein. The USDA school lunch program currently allows nuts to account for 50% of the required meat or meat alternate group.
One food service family that decided to go “nuts” is Marilyn and Harry Wedig of Woodstock, Vermont. Their company, Yesterday’s Kitchen, specializes in homemade flavored oils, herbal vinegars, fruit sauces, marmalades, and relishes. Marilyn was formerly a member of the corporate world of IBM and Harry had trained as a professional chef and worked in large food service accounts. They decided they could serve the world and themselves better by doing what they like - cooking home-style foods with the highest quality ingredients. They prepare all their products with fresh ingredients and try to use healthy recipes. Many of their products are vegetarian and are sold at farmers’ markets and specialty food stores. Their top seller is basil pesto walnut oil.
We believe it necessary to say a word about nut allergies. Since some people are extremely allergic to nuts, consideration for them must be made when serving food where a menu will not be read, such as on a buffet or in a college or school dining area. Always be sure to identify dishes with nuts, especially in dishes that are not obviously nut-containers. For example, some commercial veggie burgers use nuts as part of the fat content. Finely chopped nuts as a garnish for a freshly baked blueberry muffin might not be noticeable, either.
We’ve had questions as to whether soy “nuts” are truly nuts. From our understanding, soy nuts are simply roasted soybeans. They do have a nutty flavor and can be substituted where true nuts, such as peanuts or walnuts, are usually used. We cautiously say that those without a soy allergy should be okay with soy nuts. Of course, you’d have to check what type of oil was used to roast the soybeans!
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Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.
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