Nuts are getting a fair amount of media attention recently. Is it to drive seasonal sales in supermarkets? Have you noticed how the shelves are laden? Is it because we are no longer scared of the saturated fat they contain? Or crave the essential fatty acids, B vitamins, fibre, protein, carbohydrate and a host of minerals that they provide? Whatever the reason, there are always a few jarfuls in my kitchen.
Creamy cashews are at the top of my list
Cashews are a little store cupboard gem. I’ve grown up with them in Indian food where they are toasted with spices to eat with beer, tossed into tarkas with curry leaves and cumin seeds to give a crunch to a dhal or ground into breadcrumbs for puddings and desserts.
But the cashew wasn’t grown in India until the 16th century. It is actually native to South America – Brazil and Peru to be precise. Portuguese traders introduced the tree to India who is now one of the world’s largest exporters.
What I didn’t know until I started researching this nut wonder was that the cashew tree also produces an edible, pear-shaped fruit. This cashew apple is incredibly rich in vitamin C and very versatile. You can eat it raw or make jam and juice as with any other apple. Sadly it is not a fruit that lasts very long once picked and so not found outside Brazil.
A couple of ideas for using them in your day to day cooking
If you do buy your cashews from the supermarket they really are packaged up for snacking on. It’s not a bad thing but the price makes it prohibitive to use them for much else so seek out the larger 500g and 1kg bags from Asian or Turkish grocers.
Then you can use them as a basic paste for curries. Simply whizz up a handful of cashew nuts, a garlic clove, a 2 cm stick of ginger, a 2cm stick of fresh turmeric if you can get it, a few green chillies or tsps of red chilli flakes and the juice of 1 lemon.
Stir fry this in dry wok for a few minutes, add coconut milk and then your choice of vegetables, seafood or meat if you prefer.
If you have a sweeter tooth, try a cashew nut butter. It’s really simple to make and you need just two ingredients.
Simply blend about 200g of roasted cashew nuts for about 15 minutes. You will have a smooth paste. Then blend in 2-3 tbsp of rich cocoa powder. Easy but virtuous and nutritious in equal measure.