No Carbs? Go Nuts with Cashews

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
It was with no small amusement that I read recently of the drop in demand for low-carb products. If obesity weren’t such a problem in this country, it’d be comical how lemming-like people run from one diet to the next.
I took my own stab at a low-carb life for a few days at the beginning of the year, not because I really wanted to “do Atkins,” but because I knew I’d gotten too hooked on sugar. After reading Atkins, I tried to follow a version of his diet, with no carbohydrates but those few from veggies, in the hopes that going cold-turkey off sugar would cut the cravings.

Besides the bad breath, the problem with Atkins came clear to me after just a few days: no crunch! Aside from some salad greens, nothing crunched. No wonder so many people gain all the weight back.
We’ve already become a nation of soft-food eaters (despite food columns that so constantly call for “crusty bread” as a go-with that it’s become a joke among copy editors). We adore pasta, fluffy white bread, applesauce, custards. Should we be surprised at how tiramisu took us by storm? What a perfect combination of squishy cake, custard, and a touch of alcohol.. Now, unless you go for a chewy steak, low-carb diets could send you to that scary place where you barely need teeth.
(I also learned from Atkins that everything in the entire world will soon contain corn syrup. I base this on my reading of labels for smoked sausage, to check for hidden sugar. Why, pray tell, does smoked sausage need corn syrup? Apparently, to keep the price down — I had to spend about 75 cents more for the one without corn syrup. I already knew how insidious this stuff was, but still, to find it here?)
But back to crunch. My version of Atkins did what I needed, stopping the sugar cravings cold in just a few days. Thank heavens, because I couldn’t have taken it much longer. I knew I didn’t want to start eating crackers or some glorious crusty bread, or I’d risk revving the cravings back up. But my teeth needed a workout, and nuts worked perfectly.
Almonds are the hot nut these days, especially Marcona almonds from Spain ($16.99 a pound at Whole Foods!), but cashews win my heart. Creamy, buttery, slightly sweet, salty cashews satisfy nearly all my cravings.
Simply roasted and salted, they’re great on salads in place of croutons, or sprinkled over pimiento cheese-stuffed tomatoes (or, to be precious, cherry tomatoes). Use them in pesto, in place of pine nuts. Glaze some sautéed carrot coins with orange juice, sprinkle with tarragon, and top with chopped cashews for a quick but snazzy side. Or put a pat of compound butter over simply roasted fish fillets. Make it by creaming unsalted butter with minced thyme leaves and chopped, salted cashews, plus orange juice and zest. This butter would also be good over roasted green beans or asparagus, or to add some interest to peas.
But I have to confess, despite my sugar bust, that I most like cashews’ saltiness mixed with sweet. The easiest way to get that, and still feel fairly virtuous, is to caramelize them. Candied cashews are great on salads, and they’re perfect with a glass of wine before dinner or with a dessert wine.
Better still, cashews make wonderful sweets. Ignoring Atkins, I’m back to a “moderation in all things” plan, meaning I can still indulge in dessert, rationalizing it a bit by remembering how heart-healthy nuts are.
Lacking the bite of other nuts (especially walnuts), cashews slide in effortlessly where others have gone before. Take a basic peanut brittle recipe, for example, and substitute cashews, adding a bare pinch of cayenne. Put them in chocolate chip cookies, or spread the same caramelized cashews you made to top a salad onto a cashew-crusted chocolate cheesecake. Put them in a pie in place of pecans. Take a shortbread recipe, add some orange zest, and blend in chopped cashews; to up the flavor further, toss in a bit of minced rosemary leaves. Add them to popcorn balls. Instead of walnut bread, try cashews. As with orange, cashews go well with lemon. How about a carrot cake spread with a lemony cream cheese frosting, its sides coated with chopped cashews? Or try them in cinnamon oatmeal cookies, or in apple-sage muffins, or in a Northern-style, slightly sweet cornbread. So easy, and your teeth will thank you.
First published in the Independent Weekly, April 27, 2005

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