“How do you learn to cook without recipes?” I get asked this a lot because most of the cooking we do at The Hen is scratch-made. My best answer is to have a seriously stocked pantry. You need to have a lot of trusty ingredients on hand to have fun on the fly in the kitchen. And your pantry would ideally include a whole shelf dedicated to nuts and seeds. (In our case, a big freezer drawer.
In the house we have a French door fridge that has a pull-out freezer with two compartments. The top compartment is for nuts. Only nuts. Wrongly placing other unglorified food items in the Nutty Nut Drawer is cause for capital punishment: offenders are sent to bed without salted caramel gelato. It’s bad. Really bad.
HERE ARE THE NUTS & SEEDS I ALWAYS HAVE ON HAND (YES ALWAYS)
In at least 3 forms: whole, slivered, sliced. But then there’s specialty ones which I almost always have too, like smoked and lemon-salted. Almonds are used around the world in so many contexts—Mediterranean, Japanese, Persian, French… from savory dishes to desserts.
Walnuts and Pecans
Whole and halves. I chop them smaller myself because they stay fresher whole, and they’re so soft it’s easy to chop them up when needed. I often puree them in my food processor to make walnut paste (walnut butter). I candy them with maple syrup and spices. I toast them and toss them on salads. I mix them into rice dishes and stuffings.
If you love Mexican, Spanish or New Mexican cuisine, you’ve gotta have these on hand. They’re expensive but worth it. A little goes a long way. I always lightly dry toast them before using because it brings out their distinctive flavor. I use pine nuts in basil pesto and other unctuous sauces and aolis.
White and black. We make our own tahini (sesame paste) in the food processor. So much fresher than store-bought. I put sesame seeds into dressings and marinades. The black ones make an excellent garnish because they add a sharp contrast in color lighter foods, like fish, chicken or white sauces.
I buy a couple bags in the autumn, use them up, and then don’t buy them again until the next autumn. They’re such a fall/winter nostalgic comfort food! Bring them out as a seasonal specialty in desserts, and in stuffings for winter squash and poultry.
Hemp Seeds & Sunflower Seeds
I sell hemp CBD so I’m all about hemp. This plant is one big fat miracle food! I’ve made hemp seed hummus. And I love both hemp and sunflower seeds in smoothies and on salads. I’ve made delicious blender dressings with both because they’re so soft and easy to puree.
Flaked and shredded. I toast these up and sprinkle on desserts or use it in a crusty batter for chicken or fish. Coconut makes a super tasty addition in dessert crusts too. I roll raw nut balls in shredded toasted coconut for a yummy healthy treat.
Whole and in their shells. Of course you can just always put them out on the table for guests to nibble on, but I often sprinkle them on whole finished foods, especially on Persian and Mediterranean dishes.
Flax Seeds & Chia Seeds
These are staples for raw morning porridge because they’re gelatinous and help liquids, like nut milk, form up and hold shape. They’re also good in healthy bars, snacks and crusts.
A WORD ON PEANUTS AND CASHEWS
Yes I have these too. But honestly I don’t use them very often. Both give me bloat and gas. Neither are known to be “clean and green” (most cashew producers use chemicals or roast them at very high temps to remove the caustic skins; peanuts are known to harbor mold.) Both are heavily sprayed if you don’t buy organic.
HOW TO STORE NUTS AND SEEDS
I’ve stored my nuts and seeds in the freezer since I started my chef training in 2003. Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of good, essential fatty acids. Fats go rancid if they are not stored in cool temps. You want to preserve them. Fridge is great. Freezer is best. Once a package is opened, I always put it in a plastic freezer bag; remove the air and seal it up good!
As you can see from the pic, it doesn't take up all that much space to create a Nutty Nut Drawer. That said, we're cooks. And cooks like refrigerators and freezers. We have three freezers and three fridges! But even if you only have one, you can certainly leave a little room for at least a handful of nuts.