April 20th, 2009

Dig In: Walnuts (Red Pepper Walnut Dip)

red-pepper-walnut-dip

Nuts. Yup, I’m going there. I know you’re probably still nervous given recent peanut and pistachio recalls. I don’t blame you, but that’s also why I’m writing about walnuts. While we should continue being diligent about what nuts we eat and where they come from, we shouldn’t feel so scared that we leave them completely out of our family’s diets. They’re just too damn healthy.

As SuperFoods explains, nuts are nature’s nurseries. “A nut or seed is basically a storage device that contains all the highly concentrated proteins, calories, and nutrients that a plant embryo will require to flourish.” So, in these dark, unregulated times, I say a little cheerleading is in order for the healthiest nut of all: walnuts.

So what’s the scoop on walnuts?

Famed pediatrician Dr. Greene calls nuts, including walnuts, anti-junk food. And Dr. Steve Pratt, author of SuperFoods Rx,considers walnuts—you guessed it—a super food. How super? Well, according to research published in a 2006 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, just 8 walnuts can help protect arteries from the damage of a high-fat meal. Want a real world anecdote instead of research mumbo jumbo?

Inhabitants of Perigord, a region of southern France known for its diet high in fried foods, rich meats, and fatty patés, suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans. At first, medical experts attributed this phenomenon to their red wine habit. But residents didn’t drink any more than those in other parts of Europe. Closer examination revealed that their daily green salads were dressed with walnut oil and chopped walnuts, which was helping lower their cholesterol levels. That’s how super.

Why are walnuts good for you?
With growing awareness of omega-3’s, most folks know that walnuts are an excellent source of the fatty acids. What you might not know (I certainly didn’t!) is that walnuts contain a specific omega-3, ALA, that is very similar to the omega-3’s found in heart-smart fish like salmon. Just a quarter cup of walnuts provides about 90% of the daily value for these essential fats, giving walnuts potential health benefits including:

  • the promotion of better cognitive function
  • anti-inflammatory benefits helpful in asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis
  • improved cardiovascular function
  • improved cholesterol levels

But the health benefits don’t stop there. Walnuts have one of the highest natural sources of antioxidants, including an antioxidant compound that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties. And—yes, there’s more—walnuts are a very good source of manganese and good source of protein and fiber.

Buying and storing walnuts
Due to their high fat content, walnuts are extremely perishable. When buying shelled walnuts out of the bulk bin, make sure that there is good turnover and that the bin is well sealed. Walnuts purchased in their shell should feel heavy and their shells should not be cracked or stained (which could indicate mold). No matter how they come, avoid walnuts that look rubbery or shriveled.

Shelled walnuts stored in an airtight container in the fridge should last for up to six months. You can also store them in the freezer where they will last for up to a year. Unshelled walnuts should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place like the fridge, where they will stay fresh for up to six months.

Cooking with walnuts
Walnuts and walnut oil (also great for you, though without the fiber content) are versatile staples of Eastern European and Middle Eastern cooking. Because their nutritional benefit is maximized when used raw (heat can diminish their antioxidant content) and walnut oil can get bitter when cooked for too long at a high heat, both make great additions to salads, dressings, and dips. Here are some ideas to get your started:

  • kale and walnut pesto
  • spiced or honeyed for snacking
  • added to hummus
  • added to biscotti or cookie dough—you can replace pecans in these whole wheat biscotti
  • sprinkled on cheese crackers right before baking—try this recipe using blue cheese instead of cheddar
  • as a garnish to sauteed or roasted veggies
  • sprinkled on yogurt with honey and fruit
  • in a persian walnut-pomegranate sauce for chicken—do a recipe search for “fesenjan”
  • in place of hazelnuts in homemade nutella
  • added to homemade veggie burgers—especially tasty in recipes that use chick peas as a base
  • sauteed in brown butter and tossed with parmesan and pasta
  • added to breadcrumbs (and grated cheese and/or herbs) to make breading for chicken or fish—try this easy chicken dish

Or, you can make this quick and tasty dip that’s even more addictive than hummus.

Red Pepper Walnut Dip
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)*

1 large clove organic garlic
2/3 cup organic walnuts
1 12-oz jar organic, roasted sweet peppers
1/2 tsp smoked paprika OR 1 tsp regular, organic paprika
1 cup organic breadcrumbs
2 tbsp freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
2 tbsp organic sherry vinegar (or organic balsamic or double your lemon juice)
4 tbsp organic olive oil
salt and pepper, optional

1. Add garlic and walnuts to a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs form.

2. Add peppers, paprika, breadcrumbs, lemon juice, and vinegar. Begin pureeing and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to older kid and adult portions, if you like. We like the hummus-like consistency that this recipe yields, but you can adjust the with a little bit of water.

*There is a lot of disagreement about when it’s safest to introduce tree nuts. Some pediatricians (and we) believe that it is safe to introduce nuts to children without other food allergies or family history of food allergies at 12 months. Others encourage parents to wait until 24 or 36 months. Read more here and speak to your pediatrician about what’s best for your child.

7 Responses

  1. michelle says:

    just read the report from a cool study that says that even though they both contain omega 3s, walnuts lower cholesterol while fish lowers triglycerides. making them BOTH important in a healthy diet.

    http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=ind_focus.story&STORY=/www/story/04-13-2009/0005004608&EDATE=

  2. shannon says:

    Good god. This is delicious. I made it today for my mom’s group and everyone loved it. I think I might take the little bit that is leftover and toss it with some pasta, like a pesto. Thanks for the delicious recipe!

  3. stacie says:

    So glad you enjoyed this recipe, Shannon. Thanks for letting us know. And I love the idea of tossing it with pasta like a pesto! I’m going to try that, too!

  4. Susan says:

    I have made a version of this that includes feta cheese too, just for the extra yum factor.

  5. [...] 20. Or go Mediterranean with my Red Pepper Walnut Dip. [...]

  6. [...] already carried on about how wonderful walnuts are, but it was a while ago. Let’s take a quick refresher. These nuts are considered the best [...]

Leave a Reply