I often challenge myself to use an ingredient in a new and unexpected way. The results — pumpkin mac 'n' cheese or chocolate barbeque sauce — are usually delicious. Okay, perhaps cucumber cookies weren't such a good idea. Being willing to make culinary mistakes is the mark of a fearless cook who is open to learning in the kitchen. And these bursts of courage can extend beyond your mixing bowl. The braver you are with food, the easier it will be to tackle life's challenges.
Take nuts, for example. Packed with protein and healthy fats, nuts are more than an afternoon snack — they're also a satisfying addition to many dishes. They add fiber and plenty of vitamins and minerals. And by replacing some of the meat or meat substitutes in your meals and snacks with nuts, you will increase variety and bump up your intake of nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium and copper.
One word of caution: Nuts are calorie-dense and high in fat. The fat is mostly mono- and polyunsaturated fat, so replacing foods high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat with an ounce or two of nuts a day will give you the nutrient benefits without the extra calories. Now, a second word of caution: As always, choose unsalted nuts to avoid a hearty helping of sodium with your healthy meal. Check out the chart below for a nutty nutrient breakdown. (All data comes from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.)
Charts are a little dry, so let's look at a few graphs. This first one compares the percentage of calories from fat with the percentage of calories from protein in each nut. The size of each bubble corresponds with the amount of fiber in each nut.
This next graph is similar, except the size of each bubble corresponds with the amount of saturated fat in each nut. Pretty different from the previous graph, isn't it? Eating a variety of nuts will ensure you get a balance of nutrients.
Nuts can be added to many dishes, from macadamia nut pancakes to pistachio-crusted salmon. To stretch my culinary boundaries, I decided to use hazelnuts, a nut I rarely use. Hazelnuts have a slightly sweet dish that makes them ideal for desserts. What about a main course?
Whole Grain Pasta with Roasted Beets and Hazelnuts
Recipe by Jessie Erwin, RD, LDN
1 pound beets, with greens (approximately four beets)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 pound whole grain pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ Tbsp. olive oil
½ cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Shaved Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350°. Wash beets and cut off tops and bottoms. Chop beet greens into 2-inch pieces and set aside—do not discard.
- Drizzle each beet with a ½ teaspoon of olive oil and wrap in foil. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, unwrap beets and use a butter knife to scrap off the skin. Chop into half-inch cubes and set aside.
- Fifteen minutes before beets finish roasting, boil a large pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in medium skillet and sauté garlic for 30 seconds. Add beet greens and sauté for 2 minutes, or until wilted. Set aside.
- Heat remaining ½ tablespoon olive oil in small skillet and add hazelnuts. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes or until hazelnuts are light brown and toasted. Remove from heat.
- Divide cooked pasta among four plates and top with roasted beets, sautéed beet greens, and toasted hazelnuts. Grate nutmeg over the top and add shaved Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve immediately.
Enjoy with grilled tofu or tempeh to boost your protein intake.