Have you ever pondered how walnuts look on a tree? Hanging from branches in their hard wooden light-brown shells like other nuts do, right? Wrong. A typical walnut is not a nut in a strict sense of the botanical word. Walnuts are actually seeds inside stone fruits, also known as drupes. Imagine a common peach with its stone inside. In case you wonder, you can take the kernels out of other stone fruits as well; peaches and apricots kernels are used to make persipan – cheaper substitute of marzipan made of almonds. Well, walnuts are just like those peach stones but they just happen to be more massive. And they also give us brain-like edible kernels that we love to add to pies, coffee cakes and baklava. The latter is one of the most prominent desserts of the Middle East and Balkans that originated in the Byzantine Empire. It’s made from special filo pastry (that is rolled so thin you literally can see through it) filled with chopped nuts and covered with syrup or honey. When you sink your teeth into baklava, pastry shatters and cracks so pleasantly that this alone makes you ask for more. The more baklava you eat, the sweeter you become. But walnuts don’t belong only to sweet dishes.
Nuts can be a great snack on their own but they play a nice crunchy role in salads. In bright autumn salads like carrot-raisins slaw. They can bring much pleasure to your table. Just peel and grate 500 g / 1 lb of carrots in a large bowl, add ½ cup of roasted walnuts and ½ cup of raisins. Mix the ingredients with 3 Tbsp of olive oil (or any nut oil in case you have it in your pantry), 3 Tbsp of lemon juice, 1 Tbsp of honey and season with salt and pepper. Put the salad into the fridge to let the flavours marry and serve cold when ready to crunch. That’s an easy one but you can elevate your salad to the next level by roasting some starchy veggies like beets, Jerusalem artichokes, eggplants with olive oil and grated ginger, cumin, paprika, thyme and pepper for 25 minutes at 180˚C/ 350˚F. Then combine the veggies with roasted walnuts and dress with a vinaigrette made from 1 part oil to 3 parts orange juice mixed with 1 clove of finely chopped garlic, some honey to taste, thyme, salt and pepper. This is the base to which you can add a variety of leafy greens of your choice: arugula, lamb’s lettuce, iceberg salad, radicchio, you name it. And don’t forget about the cheese. Crumbly feta or gentle ricotta make everything deeper and flavorful.
Adding walnuts to sweet and savoury dishes is a perfect way to go, but what if you want something more unexpectable on your table. Say a walnut soup that can be eaten in place of dessert? May sound unusual but some Chinese love that type of preparation. Thick, rich, creamy and absolutely dairy-free. You’ll need 2 cups / 8 oz of shelled walnuts. Blanch them for 1 minute in boiling water to soften, drain well and bake in an oven until golden. Process the nuts in a food processor with some water until a smooth paste. Add more water if needed. Then whisk ¼ cup rice flour with 1 cup of water in a saucepan until smooth. To that pour your walnut mixture with 2.5 cups of more cold water. Heat gently over medium-high heat, constantly whisking, until everything boils. Then add 85 g / 3 oz of brown sugar into the mixture and wait until blended. Your soup should be of a thick consistency but it can always be diluted to your liking with more water. Serve hot and remember the name – hup tul woo. Not only Chinese make soups with walnuts. We have minestra di noci in Italian cuisine, sopa de nueces in Mexican cuisine and a whole lot of other walnut soups with pumpkin, cucumber, peppers mixed with chicken stock and yoghurt, vegetable stock and cinnamon. People love walnuts!