Nuts About Summer Snacks

I received free samples of California Walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by California Walnuts and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Snacks make the world go ’round. On the go or at home, it’s easier to eat lots of small bites to keep hunger at bay, rather than two or three big meals. No matter what’s on the agenda, smart snacks are necessary to power through the day. Few foods come close to the powerful nutrition contained within the humble walnut. Research suggests walnut consumption may be associated with improved cognitive function thanks to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

That doesn’t mean that trail mix or raw nuts are the only options. This incredibly versatile nut is ideal for mixing seamlessly into all sorts of sweet and savory applications, or in this case, thoroughly coating some of summer’s best produce.

Unripe green tomatoes, firmer and tangier than their juicy red brethren, were born to be batter-fried. Fried green tomatoes are a time-honored southern staple that look like crispy gold coins and taste like a million bucks, too. Some use cornmeal, finely ground crackers, or breadcrumb for that gilded crunchy exterior, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to go a little bit nuts.

Pulverized walnuts create a completely gluten-free crust, further enhanced by aromatic herbs and spices. Though flavorful enough to satisfy cravings all by themselves, a dip into spicy remoulade sauce can really take these savory slices to the next level. That, too, is made from a creamy walnut base, demonstrating the full range of culinary potential locked inside each unassuming shell. Punchy paprika, horseradish, and hot sauce add flavor with firepower for a truly mouth-watering flavor sensation.

If a more substantial snack is called for, consider this the base for the most epic BLT ever. Replacing raw red tomatoes with fried green tomatoes adds heat and texture to this foolproof sandwich, and you can even use the remoulade instead of plain mayo. Piled high on soft slices of bread with crisp lettuce and umami meatless bacon, each bite is pure summertime brilliance. Now that’s a real snack with both brains and beauty.

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Trifling Matters

Shattered beyond repair, my once grand glass trifle dish lay in ruin. Wordlessly closing the cardboard shipping box that had become its tomb, I placed it by the door, ready for the next trip to the dumpster. No tears were shed, no outpouring of emotion could be summoned. It was a devastating loss, without a doubt, but I was already numb from uncovering the very same scene in each of the over 40 packages I shipped to save moving expenses. Of all the pieces I would mourn, the trifle was at the bottom of that list. Who really needed a vessel that would feed a crowd in the middle of a pandemic, after all?

Glorious layered affairs that are the stuff of royalty, grand parties, and celebratory gatherings throughout the centuries, there is no such thing as a small trifle. It transforms into a parfait or a verrine when scaled down; no less delicious, but a far cry from its original grandeur. Even the most humble of ingredients can become sublime in such a magnificent presentation.

This one stacks as a summery strawberry shortcake fit for a crowd. Soft cubes of freshly baked vanilla cake soak in jam like sweet sponges, layered with fresh berries, buttery custard, and clouds of whipped coconut cream. Though simple in concept, it makes a big impression as one generous, family-style indulgence.

Time heals all wounds. No, it’s not possible to put those irreparably fractured shards back together, but there is hope for a new start. A new life, a new community, and a new trifle dish; some how, they all seem linked in my mind. It’s just a trifle, but being able to share it freely with a full home of new friends feels incredibly significant.

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Rice, Rice, Baby

Young vegans today don’t even know how good they’ve got it. Back in my day, dairy-free milk was still a rarity, available only in niche health food stores. Even there, your choices were limited to only soy or rice. Oat? Almond? Cashew? Forget about it! Who knew there were so many potential sources of creamy liquid back then?

Shelf stockers at mainstream markets would either scratch their heads, dumbfounded by the request, or haplessly led you to the lactose-free cartons. For a compassionate eater living in the suburbs, without a driver’s license, that meant stocking up and paying obscene prices for the luxury of access, or getting a bit more creative.

Guess which path I chose?

When sold in watered down cartons, rice milk was usually my least favorite option, but at home, I found a crafty loophole to create a thicker, richer blend. Creating a dense rice milk concentrate, not entirely dissimilar to wallpaper paste, I could better control the viscosity, flavor, and sweetness, all while building up a stockpile to easily whip up another cup, quart, or gallon at a time if I so desired. It was cheap, effective, and highly satisfying to beat the system.

Over time, my own means of access improved along with a boom in widespread availability. Once an essential staple, that formula that served me so well fell to the back of the digital recipe box. Collecting virtual dust, forgotten until an unfortunate computer crash forced me back onto an old laptop, it suddenly popped up like a long lost friend.

Today in 2021, I don’t need to make my own rice milk in bulk (thank the stars) but the concept spoke to me in a whole new way this time around. With a few little tweaks, a little polish, and some modern upgrades, I had a beautiful, brilliant instant horchata concentrate on my hands.

Perfect for sweltering summer heat when all you need is a tall, icy drink to keep your cool, horchata is the ultimate agua fresca. Creamy but not thick or rich, subtle notes of cinnamon and almond play in the background with in delicate, balanced harmony.

By skipping the time-consuming step of soaking whole grains of rice, prep time is slashed by an eighth or more, and it’s ready to reconstitute whenever a profound thirst strikes. Whether you’re serving a solo drinker or making a pitcher for a party, this stuff is like liquid gold for a quick fix.

We may not need bulk rice milk anymore, but you can never have too much horchata.

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Extra Virgin, Extra Special

One of the most important ingredients in my pantry, tied for a photo finish with salt, is olive oil. Always close at hand, in at least two or three varieties, it’s my top pick for baking and cooking, both sweet and savory. We’ve talked about the subject at length, but there’s still so much more to learn about such a historical, essential staple.

Reinvigorated by an inspiring Flavor Your Life Virtual Influencer Event, I’m taking another deep dive into this golden-green elixir. Assembled for the express purpose of sharing the rich, delicious heritage of authentic extra virgin olive oil from Europe, they’re on a mission to banish subpar, rancid blends from kitchens everywhere.

Extra virgin olive oil is the gold standard since it’s made simply by pressing olives without heat or chemicals, which makes it virtually free of the bitter acidity plaguing lesser, cheaper blends. A panel of trained, expert tasters test for defects, ensuring that each drop encapsulates a harmonious balance of fruitiness and spiciness. If the oil doesn’t have that signature essence, it won’t receive an Extra Virgin rating, no matter the painstaking processing methods employed.

Contrary to common belief, extra virgin olive oil has a high smoking point of 400°F, which is why it gets top billing in my cookbooks as a go-to for almost all recipes. The best dishes start with quality ingredients; there’s no two ways about it. That’s why I was so eager to put Le Stagioni d’Italia to the [taste] test.

Billed as having a robust flavor of artichoke and almond with a medium bitter, spicy aftertaste, as well as a green, ripe, fruity aroma, this powerful profile is a clear winner. Featured in a number of rice dishes during the online event, I was hungry for a piece of the action at home, with my own personal touches. Though the golden risotto was quite tempting, glowing luminously even on my dull computer screen, I had to go with cooler, more summery fare.

Sweet cherry tomatoes are slowly roasted to concentrate their natural sugars into tiny umami bombs, bursting with flavor across the landscape of plump carnaroli rice. Though these short grains are typically used for risotto or paella, they’re brilliantly tender yet toothsome once chilled, creating a more texturally satisfying salad than long grains that tend to get dry and brittle over time.

Amplifying the inherently rich profile of the oil itself, I decided to fold actual artichoke hearts into the mix, and instead of using cottage cheese as called for in the original recipe, finish each serving with a creamy dollop of almond ricotta. Infused with fresh herbs and zesty lemon peel, it’s bright, vibrant, complex, luxurious, and yet still approachable and comforting all at once. That’s the beauty of good olive oil; such versatility knows no bounds.

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Socca Punch

Is there anything that chickpeas can’t do? They’re the Swiss army knife of legumes, seamlessly working their way into dishes sweet and savory, from breakfast to midnight snacks, as the bold feature or silent base. Fresh, dried, or ground, every form of this humble bean opens up new culinary possibilities, each more innovative than the last. Of course, many of the best preparations are those tried-and-true formulas, having withstood the test of time through the hands of countless cooks. Such is the case for socca, alternately known as farinata depending on who you ask, and is the meal-sized enlargement of the crisply fried, well-salted bar snack, panisse.

Essentially a large, thick pancake made with chickpea flour and a touch of olive oil, it could be categorized as peasant fare for its humble ingredients. However, proving that the sum is greater than its parts, the taste is fit for a king (or queen.) Legend has it that the first socca was hastily whipped up in Nice, France, while under siege from invading Turkish forces, these pantry staples were the only sustenance available. Since then, it’s come a long way, especially in this lavish seasonal twist.

“Wholesome decadence” defines my sun-kissed ode to summer, featuring peak produce picks set atop this beguiling chickpea base. No longer the food of strife, but of victory and resilience, this socca still began life as the results of a pantry raid, but could ultimately grace a table set with fine linens, should the occasion arise.

Sweet corn, stripped from the cob in crisp rows, and peaches so explosively juicy they quiver at the mere sight of a knife, tangle together in a tender nest of baby kale. A bite of minced jalapeño warms the palate periodically, lending gentle heat without overwhelming the delicate flavors at play. Of course, there must be tomatoes, though I’d admit the assembly might be improved with fleshy heirlooms, rather than more toothsome cherry tomatoes, if you can get them.

Then again, there’s no wrong way to dress a socca, and no bad recipe for using chickpeas. Make it count while harvests are abundant. While the season will be gone in a flash, such a deeply satisfying taste memory will last forever.

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Long-Suffering Syntax

If you’re a child of the 90’s like myself, you grew up with Looney Tunes and all the idiosyncrasies of those animated characters. Much of the “adult” insinuations went right over my head, precisely as intended by the creators, but offer curious nuggets of knowledge today.

Uttered many times by a certain conniving cat, the term “suffering succotash” comes back to me in a flash, just as quickly as summer produce proliferates in local markets. The dish itself comes from the native Americans, originally a stew of vegetables, not limited to one season at all, but Sylvester undoubtedly had nothing of the sort in mind. Supposedly a bastardization of the curse “suffering savior,” it has religious undertones that have lost their original bite today, through the current vernacular of much more harsh language.

Things sure have changed since 1910, the earliest record of its usage in print. Primed for the ridiculous by the 1940’s when these cartoons took off, it managed to fly under the radar of most conservatives, and of course by all the kids distracted by comfortingly predictable cat-and-mouse antics (or cat-and-Tweety-bird antics, as it were.)

In any event, this is all to say, words are strange, wonderful, and only meaningful if you want them to be. No matter what, you should try your hand at making succotash this season while the corn is sweet and tomatoes are plentiful. I don’t give a flying fish what you call it, either.

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