This week I’ve got a couple Asian New Year inspired snacking recipes for you. I don’t think I would go so far as to call these “healthy”, but tasked with an Asian Celebration this week that required easy finger food, these are a couple of the recipes that made the final cut. I’ll post a couple more later in the week for you to try.
First up: Asian Inspired Honey Pepper Walnuts. I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to spend some time cooking with a native of Bejing. Her husband used to bring back packaged snacks on his trips back and forth. My favorites was a tiny candied walnut.
These snacks are typically fried in the wok because ovens are rare in most households. The most interesting part of this snack is that the Asian walnuts are typically significantly smaller in size and more delicate in flavor than the black walnuts we have in the US. So I decided to break up my pieces just a bit to get a more consistent ratio of sweetness to the nut flavor in the original snack.
Another challenge was to use local ingredients. Locally, I’m not sure where to get walnuts. I have had trees on my property before and see them around the parks but not at the market. But we can get peanuts from many sources. My favorite is a Black Peanut, so named because of the black skin. They are little guys but packed with flavor. I would have used them in this recipe if I had any left, but we finished them off a couple of months ago. Being an heirloom peanut, I only know of one source locally to get these gems: Wild Onion Farm in Johnston County and they are grown organically (not certified). So I ended up going to the market for NC peanuts. I also wanted to replace all of the white sugar with local honey. Unfortunately, doing this yields a lovely sticky walnut that is worthy of a great topping on ice cream, but not exactly finger food.
I eliminated the soy sauce found in most recipes because it’s so salty that it wouldn’t allow me to experiment with different types of salts. It can also be overbearing. The last challenge was “frying”. Eliminating the oil makes this more healthy, keeps your hands cleaner, and makes it possible for first-time cooks to make this in a toaster oven in less than 15 minutes.
Asian Inspired Candied Walnuts
- 1 1/2 cups raw black walnuts broken into pieces
- 1/4 cup Superfine Castor sugar (raw will work)
- 1/4 cup local honey (I used Woodleaf: Louisburg NC)
- 1 -1 1/2 Chinese medium size dry peppers, chopped w/seeds
- 3/4-1 teaspoon salt (I used the Murray River Flake Salt)
- Combine your sugar, honey, chopped dry peppers and salt in a small pan or a double-boiler set-up and heat for about 5 minutes until your sugar is completely dissolved. Superfine Castor sugar is typically used in bar drinks because it dissolves faster, so be more careful about your heat setting if you are using a raw sugar. Stir constantly so you don’t burn the mixture. The heat will help the peppers begin to release oil and infuse the sugar.
- Turn off the heat and working quickly, put your walnut pieces into the mixture and stir it well to coat all of the walnuts.
- Pour the mixture on a small baking sheet that is covered with foil on the bottom and then parchment on top of the foil. The parchment will keep the walnuts and sugar from sticking to the pan and burning.
- Using your toaster over, toast these for about 5-7 minutes. You will need to watch them so they don’t burn. The sugar will get quite bubbly and you may see some smoke, but you should not smell burning. If you do, pull them out quickly.
- Using a spatula (silicon works best), put the entire hot mixture on a cold ceramic heat-proof plate to cool. Spread it out well with forks and let it cool. It hardens as it cools and this takes about 30 minutes.
- Store in airtight container. I haven’t kept these more than a couple of days. They normally get eaten up.
- The amount of dry Chinese pepper you use will be determined by how hot you like your food. 1 pepper is relatively mild while 2 is probably more than most people would care to eat. Remember that each year the peppers will vary in heat so use them sparingly.
- The Murray River Flake salt is a bit smokey in flavor and I thought that was nice with the walnuts. A Pink Andes Mountain salt works equally well and is very delicate in flavor. You could actually add the fine grade of salt after you toast the nuts and sugar.
The second recipe was chosen for the traditional use of five spice and peanuts (called groundnuts in China) which are important to the Chinese diet. When I first tried this recipe it was good. Spicy, salty, all the things you want in a “bar nut” to encourage drinking. But I didn’t think it would hold its own without a liquid beverage so I went back and found some additional recipes that used cinnamon and sesame oil. Sometimes recipes come together because of what we have in the pantry. I only had toasted sesame oil and not much because I had already used quite a bit testing a salad recipe this past weekend. So the recipe was modified for oil and sugar and I left out heat on this one. It’s easy to make and it’s one that kids might like too. Happy Year of the Rabbit!
Toasted Five Spice Peanuts
- 1 cup blanched whole peanuts
- 1/2 teaspoon Five Spice Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Ceylon Cinnamon
- 2-3 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon raw sugar
- 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon Alderwood smoked salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pink Andes Mountain salt
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 cup filtered water
- Mix the spices, sugar, water, and oil in a small pot and heat on low to dissolve the
- Add your blanched peanuts and stir to coat. Continue stirring on low heat using a silicon spatula to avoid sticking to the sugar. Allow the water to almost finish evaporating.
- Turn off the heat and spread the peanut mixture on a baking sheet that is covered with foil and parchment paper to avoid burning.
- Bake in a toaster oven at 300F for 45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes to avoid burning and cook more evenly.
- Let cool and store in airtight container
- I did not test this recipe with honey instead of sugar. I liked the brown sugar with the Ceylon cinnamon.
- The Five Spice Powder lends itself to using the Alderwood salt, but be careful about adding too much.
- I did test the recipe without sugar and cinnamon and oil. It is a bit salty like the type of snack you would find in a bar and pleasing to eat but I liked the sugar and sesame oil version more.