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GO NUTS — GO HEALTHY

October is showcase time for food. It’s cheese month and the hunt for the best New Zealand sausage is on. World Egg Day falls on October 13, and the 22 nd is our National Nut Day.

An important part of our diet, nuts are used in so many ways that we almost take them for granted. They add crunch and flavour to salads, ragouts, cakes and cookies. Nuts are popular with pre-dinner drinks and add interest to lunchboxes.

Nuts are nutritious. Health professionals maintain that a 30-gram serving of nuts five to seven times a week can lower the risk of developing heart disease. They are protein rich and a handful is a great way to avoid that mid-afternoon slump. Nuts are high in calcium and the B vitamins and a good source of vitamin E and magnesium. They have anti-inflammatory properties but they also contain a reasonable level of fat and therefore kilojoules — up to 80 per cent of a nut is fat. For this reason they should be consumed in moderation.

Fortunately, as nuts are of plant origin, they contain no cholesterol and plenty of essential fatty acids.

Shelled nuts should be refrigerated and tightly covered for up to six months. They can be frozen for up to a year.

ORANGE WALNUT CAKE

Light and luscious, this cake is delicious served ‘as is’ or with whipped cream or yoghurt.

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
1/2 cup olive oil
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spray a 23cm-diameter spring-form cake pan with oil. Line with baking paper.

Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped but not floury. Combine with the flour and baking powder in medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs in a large bowl until frothy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, beating until thick and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Gradually add the walnut-flour mixture. Add the orange juice, orange peel and olive oil, beating until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

Place the cake pan on a baking tray. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Place on a serving plate. Dust with the icing sugar.   

HAZELNUT CHICKEN

To skin hazelnuts, place in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave for 1-2 minutes then shake in a sieve until the skins fall off. Or, wrap in a clean tea towel and rub hard. Hazelnuts are sometimes called filberts or cobs in the USA and England.

2 small skinned and boned chicken breasts
1/2 cup peeled hazelnuts
pinch salt
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon each: finely grated orange rind, chopped thyme, Dijon mustard
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons cornflour

Flatten the breasts until they are about 1cm thick. You may want to cut them in half lengthwise.

Pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Combine with the salt, panko crumbs, orange rind and thyme.

Whisk the mustard, egg, water and black pepper in a shallow bowl. Place the cornflour in another bowl.

Dip the chicken in the cornflour then in the egg mixture then in the nut mixture, coating well. Press it in then chill for 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the chicken breasts in a large oiled baking pan. Bake for about 15 minutes, until cooked. Serves 2.

NUTTY BLACK BEAN DIP

If black beans with chilli are unavailable add a little chilli paste to the mixture.

425g can black beans with jalapenos
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt to taste
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped mixed raw nuts eg almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts
Garnish: chopped coriander, chopped walnuts

Drain the black beans reserving a little of the liquid.

Place the beans in a food processor with the lime juice, olive oil, salt, garlic and nuts. Pulse until a paste is formed. If too thick add 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved liquid.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish. Great served with veggie crisps. Serves 6.

CARAMELISED BANANA & PISTACHIO FOOL

Caramelised Bananas: 3 large bananas
3 tablespoons demerara sugar
Pistachio Fool: 300ml cream, whipped
1/2 cup Greek-style yoghurt
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped out
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons white rum, optional
200g unsalted pistachios, shells removed, lightly crushed
1 small banana, sliced

Preheat the grill to high.

Slice the bananas into 7mm rounds. Line a roasting pan with baking paper. Add the bananas and sprinkle with the sugar. Place directly under the grill and cook until the sugar caramelises. Cool.

For the fool, combine the cream, yoghurt, vanilla seeds and icing sugar in a bowl. Fold in the rum (if using), the caramelised banana slices and 3/4 of the crushed pistachios.

To serve, spoon the fool into wine glasses or sundae glasses. Sprinkle with the remaining nuts and the sliced banana. Serves 4-6.