Hanukkah has just ended and Christmas is less than two weeks away. How are your preparations for the holidays coming along? Have you decided on your menu, have you ordered that free range turkey? Is all your Christmas shopping done? Or is there one person on your list for whom gift giving is next to impossible?
We all have at least one; that friend or relative who is absolutely impossible to buy for. Your father in-law will not thank you for another gaudy tie. Your mother has all the Chanel No. 5 she will ever need. Your paperboy (do they still have paperboys?) and letter carrier deserve a little something, but you don’t want to break the bank buying gifts again.
And let’s face it, Christmas doesn’t have to be about lavishing expensive or elaborate gifts on your loved ones, or those who seem to have everything. Most often a little token of love or appreciation, a Golden Girls Thank-you-for-being-a-friend gesture is all that is required. Maybe a little treat you made yourself, something that can be tucked away, then broken into again and again, a sweet little something that shows your friends you’ve been thinking of them. Maybe something they can snack on, something delicious that they eat and be rid of. And while they are happily munching, they will think of you, and what a great friend you are.
Something like a little jar of homemade spiced nuts. This is the perfect time of year for this classic gift, and making a big batch of spiced nuts will cover all those hard-to-please friends without sending you into the poorhouse.
There are many recipes out there, just a few clicks away. Everyone from Martha Stewart to Emeril Lagasse seems to have had a go at nuts. I’ve tried quite a few to be honest, and have often been less than overly impressed. Many recipes are either too bland, or too hot, or overly sweet. But there is one magic recipe for spiced nuts that is just about perfect; my favourite recipe for spiced nuts comes from (Segar Kulasegarampillai) a chef I worked with years ago, who made these amazing spiced nuts at Mildred Pierce. The smell of these almonds, filberts and cashews roasting in the oven would waft out into the dining room of the restaurant and would drive our patrons, well, nuts.
The exotic, aromatic spices in this recipe reflect Segar’s Sri Lankan upbringing and offer a spicy, savoury and sweet taste of his homeland.
After much cajoling and bartering, I managed to wrest the recipe from him and present it to you in the hopes that you will share this delightful treat with that ornery in-law. This recipe makes six pounds of nuts, or 24 portions of ¼ pound “gifts,” but of course, you can cut or quarter the recipe to suit your needs.
A word to the wise: six pounds may sound like a lot, but you and your helpers will snack on about a pound of these while they are drying.
Yield: 6 pounds, portion: .25 pounds, # of portions: 24
4 cups brown sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons ground cardamom
3 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons cayenne
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground clove
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp five spice powder
2 lbs cashews
2 lbs pecans*
1 lb whole blanched hazelnuts
1lb whole blanched almonds
Soak pecans in boiling hot water for 15 minutes before roasting
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
1) Make a syrup with brown sugar and water: in a non-reactive pot over medium heat fully dissolve brown sugar in water. Set aside.
2) Combine all spices, mix thoroughly and set aside.
3) Lightly roast nuts in batches of same type nut by spreading nuts evenly on cookie sheet(s) and roasting for about 12-15 minutes.
4) Remove from oven and immediately toss nuts with syrup in a large bowl, adding spice mixture as you toss.
5) Cool nuts on baking sheets lines with parchment paper, separating any nuts that may clump together. Let totally dry on a shelf, or even in the oven for a day or two, then portion into jars.