Eating walnuts must be the tastiest way to protect your heart and your mind.
Just a handful lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and improves the way your blood vessels function. They’re rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a plant form of omega-3 fat linked with better brain function and positive moods. And even though they are high in fat and calories, research finds that people who eat them regularly don’t gain weight.
Our guess: It’s because they are so satisfying. At 185 calories, a daily one-ounce serving (about seven halves, or one-quarter cup) provides heart-healthy benefits without derailing your diet. To find new ways to include walnuts in our meals, we asked cookbook author Debby Maugans. She gave us three recipes: Walnut Butter, Walnut Baba Ghanoush and Candied Walnuts (yes, healthful “candy!”). Be sure to read her tips at the end of this article to learn 15 more ways to enjoy walnuts.
EVEN BETTER THAN PEANUT BUTTER
This one is so delicious that it can entice even the most resolute peanut butter devotee. We tested several versions using raw walnuts, toasted walnuts, nuts with a little olive oil to make it creamier, salt and no salt. The winner was a mixture of raw and toasted walnuts, a little salt and a teaspoon of honey to smooth out any residual bitter taste from tannins in traces of walnut peel that may cling to the nut after shelling. Toasting the walnuts adds texture and aroma, too.
Makes about one cup
2 cups chopped raw walnuts
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Spread one cup of the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
Place remaining raw nuts and the toasted/cooled walnuts in a food processor. Process until the mixture is a coarse paste, about 30 seconds. Add honey and salt, and process until smooth, 20 to 30 additional seconds. Scrape bowl as needed.
Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator.
A NUTTY TWIST TO EGGPLANT SPREAD
Walnut Baba Ghanoush
For these flavors to blend and develop a richer overall flavor, refrigerate the dip for 4 to 6 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.
Makes 1⅓ cups
1 (1- to 1¼-pound) eggplant, unpeeled
3 large shallots
Vegetable cooking spray
3 Tablespoons Walnut Butter (see recipe above)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup crushed raw walnuts
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Remove stem end from eggplant, and cut in half lengthwise. Peel shallots and cut lengthwise into quarters. Place eggplant halves on baking sheet, cut sides up, and coat with cooking spray. Place shallots on baking sheet, and coat with cooking spray. Bake, turning shallots occasionally, until eggplant is very tender when pierced with fork and shallots are golden—about 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet.
Remove peel from eggplant and chop coarsely. Add to food processor with shallots, walnut butter, lemon juice and salt, then process until smooth, scraping bowl as necessary. Add walnuts and pulse until well blended, 2 or 3 times.
Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving with crackers, pita bread or vegetables.
A LESS SWEET TREAT
Maple Candied Walnuts
Store-bought candied nuts often are coated with loads of sugar. A little pure maple syrup gives our candied walnuts just the right amount of sweet flavor with a crunchy crystal coating.
Makes 1 cup
1 cup raw walnut halves
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
⅛ teaspoon salt
Place a dry medium-size skillet on medium heat. When it is hot, and working quickly, add walnuts, maple syrup and salt. Stir until nuts are coated and let it cook, stirring frequently, until walnuts are toasted and syrup is almost evaporated but not burned.
Scrape out onto a sheet of wax paper, and let cool. As they cool, separate walnuts with a fork. Store in an airtight container. Eat as a snack…or use as a topping, such as over yogurt, oatmeal or salad.
15 MORE WAYS TO ENJOY WALNUTS
The best way to have the freshest walnuts is to purchase them in their shells and open them as needed. The next best way is to purchase shelled walnut halves—they’ll stay fresh longer than pieces. Store in a cool dry place in an airtight container.
If the appearance in a recipe is important, you can dice them. When a recipe calls for crushed walnuts, place walnut halves in a freezer ziplock bag and roll with a rolling pin to crush them. You’ll end up with pieces that appear almost ground and some that are finely broken.
Here are more tasty ways to slip walnuts into your diet…
1. When making a smoothie, toss in one-quarter cup of walnuts or two tablespoons of walnut butter.
2. Make a savory Walnut Crumble Topping to sprinkle on and season cooked vegetables. Mix one cup finely chopped, toasted walnuts, one cup whole wheat panko, one tablespoon minced fresh thyme, ⅛ teaspoon salt and one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Store in a sealed freezer bag in the freezer.
3. Sprinkle two tablespoons of finely chopped Maple Candied Walnuts over a dish of yogurt or fruit for a naturally sweet dessert, snack or breakfast.
4. Make this appetizer: Stuff one-half teaspoon of goat cheese into a date, then tuck in a walnut half.
5. Before roasting fish fillets, coat them with crushed walnuts.
6. Grill or roast peach or pear halves. Drizzle one teaspoon of honey into each half and add one tablespoon of walnuts.
7. Make a kale salad with diced fresh pears and walnuts. Toss with vinaigrette.
8. Toss shaved and blanched brussels sprouts with a walnut vinaigrette. Crush ¼ cup walnuts. Sauté one minced shallot in two teaspoons walnut or olive oil Add three tablespoons rice wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar and one teaspoon Dijon mustard in a small bowl. Stir in walnuts.
9. Add walnuts to brown rice to augment the protein in vegetarian main dishes.
10. For a heart-healthy dessert, dip walnut halves in melted dark chocolate and let it cool and harden.
11. Sprinkle crushed walnuts over mashed cauliflower. (No really—try it!)
12. Make a breakfast bowl of cooked oatmeal topped with chopped walnuts and vanilla yogurt.
13. Keep a jar of walnuts on your desk to snack on throughout the day.
14. Pack several single serving-size snack bags of walnuts mixed with dried cranberries (look for the kind that doesn’t have added sugar) to keep handy for breakfast or lunch on the run.
15. Try walnut oil in salad dressings. It’s made from nuts roasted before pressing, so it has a deep nutty flavor.
To learn more about walnuts, see these Bottom Line articles about walnuts and nutrition, diabetes, stress and cancer. Interested in other healthy nuts too? See Bottom Line’s Best Nuts for Your Health.
Got a recipe that uses walnuts that you want to share—or a tweak on the recipes here? Leave a comment below!