Himmat’s Spiced Nuts and Reviving the East Meets West Project

Good morning everyone,

Why Are You Doing This to Yourself?  What the Heck is Vaishno?

That was the first and second question one of my friends asked when I told her about my vegetarian diet.  She was rather appalled at the idea of not eating meat any more, knowing how much I loves me some lamb, and fish, and turkey, and well…

Well, first let me explain this diet that I now have.  It’s simple really, I promise.  First, as an Amritdhari Sikh I cannot eat flesh or eggs (except certain special eggs which never could have produced life and which are not available here unless you own a farm).  A typical Punjabi vaishno diet consists of flatbreads called chapatti and naan and lots and lots of vegetables and legumes.  It also includes spice.  Lots and lots of beautiful, flavourful, amazing spice.  Yummy.  Second, Amritdhari Sikhs also do not use alcohol or other intoxicants.  So where these come up in recipes, we’ll be finding fun but suitable substitutes.

Third, I have lupus and now breast cancer and a healthy diet is important to maintain pain free days and to getting through surgery, radiation and chemo.  So I’m trying to cut out unhealthy fats, processed sugars and other unhealthy bits.  Don’t worry, I’m not chucking all the fun.  The key is moderation.  We’re still going to be having rich ladoos, gulab jamun and other treats from time to time.  This part of the blog just ain’t gonna live there if you all know what I mean.  There is not a ton of fruit in a typical Panjabi recipe (they have access to beautiful fresh fruit that is normally just eaten fresh as a snack) so we’re going to be adding lots of fruit to our East Meets West recipes.

Fourth, I have to do something with all the cookbooks that I’ve amassed over the years.  I love the recipes in them but many of the recipes need some adjusting – to make them healthier or to make them comply with a diet of no meat/no egg/no alcohol.  I thought instead of throwing out these recipes, we’d have some fun learning to adjust them.  We’ll start with the “New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins and see how it goes from there.  The recipe book is no longer available in print but you can obtain an electronic copy on Amazon.  It’s a good recipe book for beginning cooks and features some classic recipes and lots of good tips.

Fifth, I love cooking.  I make almost everything from scratch because it’s fun for me to do and it’s a skill that is being lost in the time crunch of modern life.  If you want recipes that are more convenient, feel free to substitute some ingredients.  Find what works for you and your family.

The why is fairly straightforward.  I want to be healthier.  I want to live a longer life.  I want to comply with the promises I made when I took Amrit.  I want to take back control of my body from lupus and cancer.  I no longer want to be a part, as a consumer, of industries that horribly abuse animals and/or add additional hormones and medications to our food,  I want to comply with the promises I made as part of the Khalsa Panth to remain intoxicant free.  All around, I want to live a life that is more in tune with Waheguru (the Sikh name for God), nature and more sustainable for the planet.  And I still want to enjoy cooking and eating good, tasty, wholesome food, with the occasional treat that isn’t at all healthy but is so much fun.

Disclaimer
I will aim to provide reasonable information and not rely on any of the food fad groups out there (i.e. the ever ridiculous Food Babe).  There is just SO MUCH misinformation about what a healthy diet is about, about GMOs, about some additives… I’m not aiming to get into the controversies or the debates.  I’m not a doctor, a biologist, a nutrition expert or (other than the fact that I have the condition) an expert in lupus or cancer.  You should not rely on the recipes and diet that I’ll be talking about as a cure for anything that you may be suffering or as a means of weight loss or even weight gain.  You should never change your diet drastically without first discussing things with your doctor.  And here’s the best and only advice I’ll give you – don’t rely on anything you read by so called “experts” on the freakin’ Internet.  Many of these people and companies are just out to make some money from you.  Yes, even some of those who pretend to be advocates.  Beware the bias in anything you read.  If you’re concerned about your health, talk to your doctor.  If you want to lose some weight to be healthier, talk to your doctor about the right diet for you and the right exercise.  If you have a condition or disease or are on some medications, talk to your doctor about how your diet and exercise may play a harmful or a beneficial role for you.  Talk to him or her about the foods you can eat and those you should avoid.  You’re unique and complicated and wonderful and intelligent (all my readers are) and you should have unique and intelligent solutions to your health and lifestyle.

I’m not being paid to promote any product or service.  If there ever comes a time that I am paid to or even asked to volunteer to promote a product or service (even if it’s not on this blog), I’ll be up front with you about it and I’ll be super-selective about what gets promoted.  Where I refer you to an outside link, it is for your information only and you will need to use your own judgement, values and beliefs to assess the information.

Deal?  Okay, then let’s get this party started.  Literally.  With an adapted version of the Spiced Party Nuts found in the Amusements section of The New Basics Cookbook.  Page 3.

HImmat’s Spiced Nuts
I made this adapted version for ChristmasKahWali in 2014.  ChristmasKahWali is the name that my friends and I came up with for a joint celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and Deepawali (Diwali).  The original recipe is good but we adapted it to the ingredients we had available and to our own “Thank God for Spice” tastes.  It went over really well and (because I made too much … I always make too much) the nuts kept well in plastic food savers for a couple of weeks.

Ingredients
1 tsp whole cumin, ground in a spice grinder
1 – 1 1/2 tsp dried chili, ground in a spice grinder
1/2 tsp curry powder or 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp garlic, roasted then ground with the spices
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp freshly peeled and finely crushed ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon or 1″ cinnamon stick
2 tbls olive oil (we use extra virgin olive oil)
2 cups of nuts (we used walnut, almond and cashew)
1 tbls of coarse salt (optional, you can use less or [please don’t do it to your heart] more)

Method
Preheat your oven to 325F.  Grind the spices (except the salt) together in a grinder or a mortar and pestle.  Mix them all together and then set them aside.  Heat the oil in a large pan over low heat.  Add the spices and stir them well until they are bloomed, well blended and mellowed, about 3 minutes or so.  Remove the pan from the heat right away to prevent much further cooking.  Put the nuts in a mixing bowl and carefully add the warm spice mixture.  Toss the nuts and spices together well.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper (optional – I do this to prevent staining my baking pans and to make clean up much easier).  Spread the spiced nuts out in an even layer on the baking pan.  Bake for 15 minutes or so, shaking the pan occasionally while cooking.

Remove from the oven and use a wooden spoon or spatula to give the nuts another toss with any spices or oils that have accumulated.  Let the nuts rest and cool in a cool place out of direct sunlight for at least 1 hour.  They are super hot when coming out of the oven so avoid the temptation to taste test until they are cooled.

Once cooled, these can be stored in an airtight container for at least a week.  They will last longer if you use dried garlic or garlic powder instead of freshly roasted garlic but in our experience, this recipe just never lasts THAT long.

Tips
I like to grind my spices fresh, if at all possible.  Grinding whole spices in a grinder or mortar and pestle provides a fresher, bolder, stronger flavour than pre-ground spices.  If you don’t have a grinder or mortar and pestle, or you want to save some time, go with the pre-ground spice if you want.

Curry powder.  That name makes me crazy.  Curry is not a thing and curry powder shouldn’t be mistaken for Kari (Curry) leaves that is often an ingredient in South Indian cuisine.  Curry, like masala, just means spice blend and it’s different for every region that uses it around the world.  A South Indian curry powder will contain a different blend of spices than a Panjabi curry powder or a Thai curry powder or a Vietnamese curry powder.  For this recipe, I used one with a high turmeric content, that was available in our local stores.  I’ve also made these nuts by skipping the curry powder all together and using 1/4 tsp of turmeric.

The original recipe calls for garlic salt, which we hate.  So instead I roasted a head of garlic in the oven and used two fat cloves of the roasted garlic in the grinder with the spices.  And O.M.G.!!  It is amazing.  I saved the remaining roasted garlic for other recipes because who doesn’t love some roasted garlic in just about anything?  To roast garlic, take a whole head of garlic and cut off the top just enough to expose the cloves.  I usually peel off some of the outside garlic paper as well so that the cloves can fall away from one another a little while roasting.  Put this in a pan on a small piece of parchment paper.  Turn the oven or toaster oven on to preheat to 400F.  While the oven is heating up, drizzle a little olive oil over the garlic and add a little salt, to your taste (but really, just use a little salt.  No one needs a crap load of sodium in their garlic.  Be nice to your heart).  Roast the garlic on the middle rack for 30 minutes or so, until the cloves are soft and your kitchen is filled with awesome roasted garlic smell.  You can cover the head of garlic with foil if it’s getting too brown.  Let it cool a little before you remove the now soft, buttery cloves.

The original recipe calls for cayenne pepper instead of smoked paprika.  We are already using freshly ground dried chili so we went with the smoky flavour of the paprika instead.

I prefer cooking with cinnamon sticks instead of ground cinnamon.  It’s just a preference though.  Either way the cinnamon in this recipe with add a wonderful smell and a nice bite to the nuts.

Olive oils are wonderful and varied.  If you like the taste of olives, feel free to choose a darker oil otherwise go with the light.  I use a medium extra virgin olive oil for most recipes but I use a dark oil when I want that beautiful olive flavour to stand out.  It’s full of calories too so watch how much you’re putting in that pan.  You can substitute other oils if you want though be careful.  Some oils have a much lower smoke point (i.e. how hot you can reasonably get them) than olive oil.  You want an oil that can stand up to the temperature of cooking.

Salts are also wonderful (in moderation) and varied.  In India, there is a greyish salt (called Kala Namak or black salt) with a strong musky flavour available that people use with fruit.  I don’t like the muskiness of it but others love it.  I don’t like iodized table salt myself, though I occasionally use it.  My preference is for coarse see salts and my favourite, light pink, beautiful Himalayan salt.  Different salts are going to taste different on these nuts (I use coarse sea salt for this recipe) so experiment with what you like.  And please, please be kind to your heart and keep that lovely, beautiful salt down to the minimum you need to enhance the flavours of the nuts.

The original recipe calls for almonds or pecan halves.  Feel free to use whatever nuts you like but choose unsalted, whole or half nuts.  We like pecans (higher in fat and more fragile to cook with), cashews, and almonds.  This recipe though is also wonderful with walnuts (less fragile than the pecans but also not as buttery flavoured) and peanuts.  You can also add whole seeds to the recipe at the end – like sunflower or pumpkin for some extra awesome.  Be sure to shell sunflower seeds.  We have tried pistachios in this recipe and though we are pistachio lovers, we did not like them for this dish.

Canada is on the metric system except when it comes to some things, like oven temperatures (almost always in Fahrenheit), our height (who says I’m 180 cm??), our weight (we talk in pounds) and some recipes.  We, especially those of my generation, are just as comfortable with the former Imperial system or the current metric system.  You’ll find I use tsp, tbls, cups, lbs and ounces and just as often I’ll us ml, g and kg.  There are great converters online if you need them.

We like our food hot, so we’re not real sticklers about the 1 – 1 1/2 tsp of chili.  We often go for more.  The recipe though will give the nuts a nice bite without being too uncomfortable for those who are not used to the heat of chili.

The original recipe is vaishno as well.  We only adapted it for our preferences around spices and nuts.  To access the original recipe, you’ll need to get the cookbook, since I don’t have permission to reprint it here.  For those that are not vaishno, I can tell you that it’s a good cookbook for beginning cooks to learn some great basic recipes.  You won’t find health or nutrition information in it though but you won’t really find that here either.

Don’t be intimidated by cooking.  I used to be.  I’m not now.  You’re an expert eater.  You know what you like.  Taste.  Experiment.  Taste again.  Do you love cumin like I do?  Bump that flavour up a little.  Don’t like the flavour of the curry powder available to you?  Skip it or find something else that you like.  Maybe a little black pepper?  Pretty soon, you’ll find your confidence and your own style and you’ll be making amazing recipes for yourself and your family and friends.  Easy peasy.

If you try this recipe, or better yet if you adapt it to your own tastes, tell us about it in the comments below!  What sort of awesome masala have you come up with for your roasted nut blend?  If you’ve tried other nuts or large seeds, also let us know how that worked for you.

Lupus
Just a word about the lupus because I have a ton of well-meaning, loving, incredible friends and family who are incredibly supportive of my “F-You Lupus” Campaign.  Some also, from time to time, offer advice or solutions for my condition.  I have already heard most of the homeopathic, western medicine, new age, or ayurvedic solutions out there.  If you know me, you’ll also know that I avoid taking any sort of medication unless I’m practically on death’s door, preferring to trust my own immune system and my own body to deal with itself most of the time.

What is working for me is a careful diet, lots of water during the day, reducing negative stresses, increasing positive stresses, lots of good rest, cool sleeping and activity.  I take medications when I need them for pain relief or for the more bizarre symptoms that sometimes happen but mostly I just take careful care of myself (a lesson I might have learned much earlier in life).

Cannabis oil or cannabis generally is an intoxicant and I won’t use it.  I am a very devoted Sikh.  I’ve heard it.  I respect your individual opinions on the usefulness of the drug but it is just not for me.  Thanks though for the information – I assure you that I read everything you all send me.

Detoxing plans.  Occasionally fasting (for reasonable, short periods) to reduce the proteins that sometimes show up in my urine or increasing fibre occasionally to deal with other GI issues that come up when my lupus has come out to play, is my detox plan.  I include good things like turmeric, garlic, ginger, onion and high fibre fruits and vegetables in my diet to help my GI system keep itself (and therefore the rest of my body clean).  I rarely do processed foods and I’ve decreased the amount of processed starches in my diet since my diagnosis (I miss plain bagels… I so miss my plain bagels).  I’ve added a wider variety of grains and grain substitutes and am currently loving on the oatmeal.  If my doctor recommends a cleanse or detoxing then at that time, I’ll look into it further.  From all I’ve read, detoxing is not a cure for lupus (which has no known cure yet) and it can be dangerous or even trigger some of the more distressing bouts of lupus.  Trust that I am very aware of my own body and how it’s doing on any one day.

All that to say that I know people want to help and share their knowledge and I’m always grateful for it.  Just don’t get upset if I choose another method over the advice you give.  It’s my journey in my body and I have to do it my way – right or wrong.  I’ll give you all the same latitude, as well.  😉

Until next time,
Peace & love,
Himmatpreet

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