Nuts and the holidays have always gone hand in hand in my family. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas there was a silver nut bowl set out on the coffee table, with a big old nutcracker right alongside it. For us kids it was a rite of passage to learn how to crack them open for ourselves, without having to ask a passing Aunt or Uncle for help. The pecans were the easiest. Then it was on to the walnuts and almonds, and finally the Brazil nuts, which I have to admit I never mastered. We had to work hard for our snacks back then! I was glad when my mom started putting out bowls ofPlanters nuts instead…they’ve been a holiday staple in our house ever since.
With these luscious Za’atar Roasted Cashews I’m continuing that tradition — let’s hear it for progress!
If you follow this blog at all you probably already know that I have a thing for nibbly bits and cocktails. I can be perfectly happy all night long with a nice glass of wine and a bowl of something crunchy like these cashews. They’re slightly sweet, slightly salty, tangy, crunchy, herby, and, well, nutty! They’ve got it all going on. I patterned the glaze after a wonderful dip I had at a Middle Eastern restaurant. It was a bright and exciting mix of pomegranate, tahini, olive oil, za’atar, and sumac. Turns out those same flavors make a fabulous glaze for my Planters cashews. Each of the elements is distinct and unique, and each one comes through in every bite.
On special occasions I really like to serve my family and friends something they haven’t had before, I don’t want them to get bored before the party’s even started! These nuts fit the bill perfectly. Here’s a breakdown of the ingredients in case you’re unfamiliar with any of them…pomegranate molasses is a thick, tangy syrup that is simply pomegranate juice that has been reduced down. It’s sweet and zippy and one of my favorite condiments. Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, and is one of the main ingredients in hummus. Za’atar is a wild thyme-like herb that grows in the Middle East, and is used as is, or in an herb blend called by the same name. Sumac is also a classic Middle Eastern spice, made from the sumac berry. It’s a deep reddish brown and looks like chili powder — the flavor is vivid, and citrusy.
A bowl of Za’atar Spiced Nuts for a crowd
Yes the flavors in this dish are unique, but the whole process is simple. Holidays are not the time for elaborate appetizers…for one thing you don’t want everybody to fill up before the big meal, and secondly, who has time? Nuts are the perfect holiday starter because they’re packed with good fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and they’re satisfying enough to stave off the munchies without ruining everybody’s appetite. To make these spiced cashews I just whisk together the glaze, and toss the nuts in it. You want to toss gently, so you don’t break any of those gorgeous whole cashews. I spread them in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake for ten minutes. It’s that easy! The coating loses its stickiness after baking, and you’re left with lots of flavor and crunch.
Spiced nuts are best eaten right away. If you need to do them ahead you can coat the nuts first and then bake them just before guests arrive. If you’ve got leftovers you can reheat them for a few minutes in a 350F oven to re-crisp them.
I like to serve these nuts in a bowl with a spoon and plenty of cocktail napkins, you can go rustic, festive, or elegant, depending on your style. I sometimes portion them out in single 1/2 ounce servings and offer them in little shot glasses or martini glasses.