created at: 2013-01-16
Tu BiShvat, which begins at sundown on January 25th, is coming at a perfect time. My annual resolution to eat healthier got off to a late start this year, so I’m currently in the middle of a two-week cleanse. But let me be clear: It’s not one of those crazy juice cleanses where you’re only allowed cayenne pepper-spiked lemonade. I’m actually allowed real food (!), including lots of greens, veggies, fruits, and lean protein. Basically, it’s the way I should eat year-round, but putting the word “cleanse” after it—implying it’s temporary—makes it seem feasible. I think I’d probably be able to fool myself into finishing something called the “Lifetime Cleanse,” thinking it was only temporary.

On Tu BiShvat, we’re supposed to take time to plant trees and appreciate all they do and provide for us. With that in mind, I decided to come up with a cleanse-friendly, Tu BiShvat-appropriate recipe using one of the foods we’re supposed to eat on this holiday: nuts. I’m tired of eating them unsalted, so I decided to dress them up with a simple syrup (a mixture of water and sugar) and slew of spices. In my experience, spiced nuts make a perfect snack and a nice gift, and their healthy fat means you can eat them even when you’re on a cleanse. (I figured a little bit of sugar and oil wouldn’t totally derail my healthy-eating efforts.)

For inspiration, I thought about the Sweet and Spicy Cashews I’d tasted at The Hawthorne a few months ago but still remembered for their crunchy-but-not-teeth-shattering texture. The first couple batches I made using pecans and walnuts came out good but not great. The nuts had good flavor once tossed with the simple syrup and spices, but their texture was a bit dry. After a couple more tries, I figured it out: Coating the nuts with just a tablespoon of oil helped keep them tender (as much as nuts can be tender) and added flavor to boot.

In addition to the oil trick, I learned that making spiced nuts is really easy. I included my recipe here, but I urge you to view the spice quantities as mere guidelines. If you want your nuts a little spicier, add an extra dash of cayenne or black pepper. If you want them more on the sweet side, be generous with the sugar. And if you fancy yourself a salt monster like I am, use an extra sprinkle of salt.

So feel free to experiment with this spiced nuts recipe and make your own. I know I’ll continue eating it long after my cleanse is through.

Spiced Pecans (or Walnuts)

Spice Mixture
1 tablespoon sugar
1½ teaspoons brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon cloves
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ teaspoon salt

Simple Syrup
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups pecans (or walnuts)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Combine all “spice mixture” ingredients in a small bowl.

2. For simple syrup: Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Set aside and allow to cool.

3. For pecans: In a medium bowl, combine pecans and olive oil. Stir until pecans are shimmery and evenly coated. Spread pecans into one layer on prepared sheet pan. Bake for five minutes, giving the pan a shake halfway through cooking. Meanwhile, wipe out bowl.

4. Remove pecans from oven and transfer to wiped-out bowl. Drizzle 2 tablespoons simple syrup over pecans, and stir until pecans are evenly coated. Mix in spice mixture. Stir until nuts are evenly coated.

5. Return pecans to sheet pan. Bake for another 6 minutes, shaking pan halfway through cooking. Remove from oven, stir them with a rubber spatula (the nuts will stick to the paper as they harden), and allow to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container.