Let's face it- salads can be deadly dull when they're just a bunch of lettuce and dressing in a bowl. I like to jazz my salad up with an interesting toppings- feta cheese, bacon bits, preserved lemon. But nuts add the perfect mix of texture and flavor to make a salad more satisfying. If you want to really make your salad sing, make spiced nuts for a salad topper.
I started my search for the perfect spiced nut recipe by going to the experts. The famous chef, Emeril Lagasse makes Emeril's Spiced Nuts, but I found the main flavor profile of cumin was a dull addition to my leafy greens. Next, I checked out Nigella Lawson's recipe for The Union Square Cafe's Bar Nuts. Her recipe includes rosemary...I'm not a fan.
Finally I settled on the recipe that inspired my nut-quest in the first place, the Hot Sweet Spiced Nuts from the Routt County Fair's cookbook - Fair Family Favorites. This version has a sugar/cayenne glaze that makes these nuts a unique party snack or topping. This recipe uses a microwave oven for it's preparation, so batches of nuts can be easily made for a crowd or gifts.
The one adjustment that that I did take from Emeril and Nigella's recipes...they roasted the nuts before adding the coating ingredients. Why toast nuts if you are going to cook them? I found a great explanation, check out this Why Toast Nuts post on The Kitchn website.
Do you have a favorite spiced nut recipe? I'd love to know what seasonings you use and how you serve them. Leave a comment!
Sweet Heat Pecans
- 2 cups pecan halves
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper more or less to taste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons water
- Roast nuts using one of these methods: preheat an oven to 350 degrees, spread nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 10 minutes OR heat nuts in a dry hot skillet (cast iron skillets work well), stirring frequently as they toast for 4 minutes.
- In a large microwave-safe bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and water. Microwave the sugar mixture on high, uncovered, for one minute. The mixture will turn into a syrup.
- Add pecans to the warm syrup, tossing to coat all sides of the pecans. Microwave the coated pecans on high, uncovered, for three more minutes, stopping every minute to stir the pecans.
- Immediately spread the warm, glazed pecans onto a greased baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Separate the nuts so that they won't clump together as they cool.
- Store in an airtight container or freeze for later use.