Nix nuts and nut butters from your “no-no” list. Recent research has affirmed what your taste buds already knew: nuts are great for your health. How good? Findings from five epidemiological studies have concluded that consumption of one ounce at least five times a week may significantly reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease. That amounts to 1/4 cupful of nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter five times a week. Not a difficult amount to get down.
Tired of nut butter and jelly sandwiches and celery sticks filled with peanut butter? It’s time to explore a multitude of more interesting options. You can transform nut butters into delicious dairy-free salad dressings, sauces and dips for raw and cooked fruits and vegetables, use them in sauces for exotic entrées, and as an addition to luscious, dairy- desserts.
Fat is where its at
One of the secrets to making vegetables more appealing to children and adults is to prepare or serve them with healthy fats or oils. This could be butter or ghee; olive, avocado cocout, or palm oil; avocado, guacamole, olives, or bacon; nuts or nut butters, or a dip made from one of these.
Adding fat to vegetables in cooking or at at the table makes sense nutritionally; it boosts the absorption of the carotenoids in vegetables, increasing the likelihood that some of the pro-vitamin A (betacarotene) will be convereted to true Vitamin A. Without fat, the conversion is a losing proposition.
Veggies dressed for success
Including fats, oils, nuts, or nut butters in meals and snacks, including those that contain vegtables, will help to stabilize your energy and blood sugar levels, making you feel more satisfied for longer periods after eating. Fat also carries and accentuates flavors of herbs, spices, and even sea salt, making everything it touches taste better.
The winning recipe
What follows is a recipe from my previous book, The Garden of Eating, that has been a house favorite for me, many of my friends, cooking students, coaching clients, and former personal cheffing clients for years. It is easy to assemble.You can double or triple it with ease. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator or for several months in the freezer. It’s versatile. You can make it thick and serve it as a dip or make it thinner and serve it as a ranch-like salad dressing. It pairs well with so many different foods.
Cashew Dill Dip & Dressing
Prep: 15 minutes/ Yield: 1 3/4 cups; 8 servings
The creamy texture and rich taste of cashew butter makes a delightful, dairy-free, low-fat dip and salad dressing–––perfect for parboiled vegetables or tossed green salads. Look for unsalted, unsweetened cashew butter in natural foods stores or make your own.
Note: I often make a double or triple batch of this recipe. It only takes a few more minutes. The dip or dressing will last for 2 weeks in your refrigerator or several months in the freezer. For a triple batch, use an entire 16-ounce jar of nut butter (1 ¾ cups), then triple everything else. You may need to add a little more water.
Most salad dressings and dips pack a lot of fat in small serving. Not this one. You can turn 1 tablespoon of nut butter into 3 or 4 tablespoons of dip or dressing. You eat 1/4 cup of this for only 135 calories and 10 to 12 grams of fat.
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted, unsweetened cashew butter (see variations below)
1/2 cup warm filtered water
1 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt (reduce by ½ if using salted nut butter)
1/4 cup cold filtered water (omit if you want a thick dip; add for a salad dressing)
3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar or brown rice vinegar or 1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup minced scallions/green onions or 1 tablespoon freeze-dried onion flakes
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried dill weed
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or 2 teaspoons dried chives
1 teaspoon wet or dry mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed, optional
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper, optional
1. If you’re opening a new jar of nut butter, do not discard the oil on top; blend the entire contents of the jar in a food processor or a bowl with a sturdy spoon. If you’re not making a triple batch, return the mixture to the original jar and refrigerate the unused portion.
2. Dissolve the sea salt in warm water then mix it with ½ cup nut butter until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and purée in a blender, a food processor, or in a bowl with a whisk or immersion blender until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides.
3. Pour into a clean jar, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or freeze for 1 to 2 hours, until thick, before serving. Mixture will thicken when chilled. If too thick, stir in water 1 tablespoon at a time. Freeze what you don’t plan to use within 2 weeks and refrigerate the rest.
1/4 cup dressing: 135 calories, 2 g protein, 5 g carbohydrate (1 g fiber), 12 g fat, 17 mg calcium, 296 mg sodium
* Replace scallions (green onions), dill, chives and garlic with 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of a salt-free dill blend made by Spice Hunte, Frontier Herbs, or some other company.
* Cashew-Macadamia Dill Dip & Dressing: Use unsweetened roasted cashew-macadamia nut butter above. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s, a local independent natural foods store, Sprouts, or Whole Foods Market.
* Macadamia Dill Dip & Dressing: Use unsweetened roasted macadamia nut butter above. I buy it at a local independent natural foods store Sprouts or Whole Foods Market.
Source:The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook by Rachel Albert-Matesz & Don Matesz (Planetary Press, 2004).