Often dismissed as a mere snack food, nuts are nature’s little miracle workers. They are nutrient-dense, meaning relatively small amounts provide a wallop of good stuff like protein, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins E and B2, folate, fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and selenium. They also have a low glycemic index and—get this—studies have shown that nuts can protect against heart disease and high cholesterol. All that aside, we argue that the best thing about nuts is they make great eating. Buttery, earthy and crunchy, they are a vital part of our culinary toolbox. We’ve rounded up seven local delicious ways to ingest these natural wonders. NUTS AND CHOCOLATE Painted Turtle Chocolatier Nuts and chocolate are a fine combination, and no one knows that better than Patricia Godfrey, owner and chocolate maker at the Painted Turtle Chocolatier. The selection of nuts-with-chocolate at this charming shop boggles the mind; we recommend asking for suggestions. We tried luscious caramel pecan turtles in both milk and dark chocolate, Italian hazelnut bon bons, crunchy pecan toffees, cashew clusters, creamy peanut butter truffles, jasmine tea pistachio truffles, milk and dark chocolate-covered almonds and more. One of the best things we ate was a dark chocolate coconut “haystack” (yes, coconuts are nuts, too). These clusters of chocolate-drenched shredded coconut are delightfulsweet, dense and chewy. One haystack will suffice; it’s an intense gustatory pleasure that lingers long after you lick your fingers clean. Haystack, $1.50. Chocolate prices vary. 10100 Sixth Ave. N.; 763.550.9475; paintedturtlechocolatier.com PESHAWARI NAAN Curry ‘n’ Noodles There are many varieties of naan, or flatbread, in South Asian cuisine; this one hails from Peshawar, Pakistan. It resembles a crepe, paper-thin and nicely blistered from cooking over high heat. It’s filled with finely chopped cashews, almonds and raisins, and baked in the tandoor (clay) oven. Although the filling is slightly sweet, the naan is served with a startlingly spicy, neon-green cilantro chutney. The contrast of sweet and savory is delectable, and the nuts contribute a pleasing crunch inside the soft bread. This would make a fine appetizer, a lovely afternoon snack with tea or a complement to one of the restaurant’s excellent curries. $3.99. 802 Mainstreet, Hopkins; 952.681.7834; currynnoodles.com PECAN-CRUSTED WALLEYE Jake’s City Grille Finely crushed pecans conspire here with breadcrumbs and herbs to form a crispy, moisture-sealing case for a handsome 10 ounce filet of delicate walleye. All it needs is a spritz from the accompanying lemon wedge and it’s a transporting aria of earth and lake. The dilly tartar sauce is a creamy delight but not a must. $19.95. 3005 Harbor Ln. N.; 763.559.1595; jakescitygrille.com CASHEW CHICKEN Tea House Even though cashews are technically a seed, we still count them as our favorite nut—i.e., the first ones we pick out of the party mix. And we’re not alone. Cashew chicken is one of the most popular dishes at Chinese restaurants and for good reason: the pairing of crunchy, buttery cashews with tender chicken breast cubes is fantastic. At the Tea House, the lightly sauced dish includes water chestnuts (another not-technically-a-nut) and is appealingly mild. Cashews are pricey, but this restaurant does not skimp; the nut count matched the chicken, nugget for nugget. $11.25. 88 Nathan Ln.; 763.544.3422; ourteahouse.com PAD THAI Thai Table Because nuts are nutrient-dense, they are invaluable extenders for high-bulk, low-cost foods like noodles. Thai cuisine exercises this principle to delicious effect with the beloved pad Thai. Springy rice noodles are pumped up with scrambled egg laced with scallions, cilantro and bean sprouts, and doused in the all-important shower of crushed peanuts. Thai Table’s tofu version is our favorite; large cubes of tofu are deep-fried for a crisp exterior and custardy middle. Add a squeeze of lime and a dash of chili sauce, and you’ve got a mighty tasty one-dish meal. Also available with chicken, pork, beef or shrimp. $8.99 with meat, $9.99 with shrimp. 10100 Sixth Ave. N.; 763.591.6085; thai-table.com CARAMEL PECAN TART Truffles and Tortes Most people think of pecans as Southern nut, but we discovered that Arizona is also a major pecan producer. Apparently it was a difficult crop this year and consequently prices shot through the roof, but we’re certain that a slice of pecan pie is worth whatever expense. We recommend the astounding caramel pecan tart at Truffles and Tortes, which practically oozes butter with each bite. The sturdy shortbread crust makes the perfect cradle for the luscious nut filling. Bring one home, warm it up and enjoy it with a good cup of coffee—sheer ecstasy. Smaller 10-inch tarts are also available. $4.99 for an individual sized tart. 72 Nathan Ln.; 763.512.0944; trufflesandtortes.comDUCK SALAD Eat Shop Salads love nuts for a much-needed hit of earth, crunch and salt. Walnuts are a frequent guest star with the green stuff; we always appreciate them in a classic Waldorf. The duck salad at Eat Shop makes smart use of sweet, cinnamon-spiced walnuts that sing along with a rich duck confit, duck-bacon vinaigrette and a runny poached egg. $12.95. 16605 County Rd. 24; 763.270.5929 theeatshop.com
Delicious Nut Dishes around Plymouth
Local choices for our favorite nutrient-dense flavor bombs.