The first time I thought of a walnut in a non-cheese plate situation is when the California Walnut Commission invited t2oS to its annual harvest tour in Central Valley California and I landed the assignment.
This is the headline that flashed in front my eyes almost immediately: A Day In The Life Of A Walnut. As the trip unfolded, I realised I didn’t have to trace the journey of a walnut from seed to salad — or in this case, kebab or halwa (yes, we have the recipe, you have to read on). Instead, by the end of the tour, I had these two major takeaways.
First, I will never look at a walnut the same way. Second, a walnut is not your ordinary nut.
Who knew those nuts would be so photogenic?
The trip began in the town of Modesto, about 240km east of San Francisco, where I met the rest of the media members and our warm hosts from the California Walnut Commission (CWC). It was a sit-down dinner in Galletto Ristorante by executive chef Michael Goularte. Journalists, bloggers, vloggers, trader reps, registered dieticians and even a doctor — our gang was from different parts of the world.
Needless to say, we started the meal with a tricolour salad starring toasted walnuts and ended with apple walnut cake with caramel and whipped cream. Maybe it was the walnuts in the cake, but I didn’t feel half as guilty chowing down that pretty plate.
The warm-up done, the real action began the next morning as we made our way to the walnut orchard, huller and processing unit. Walnut harvest may not be as glamorous as wine tasting, but something has to be said about that tree-shaking moment in the orchard.
It made for a great Instagram story and suddenly all that dust seemed so worth it! I soon realised there were photo ops everywhere, including a walnut boomerang at the processing unit (who knew those in-shell nuts would be so photogenic!).
By lunch, I was equipped to conduct a quiz on walnuts
Over the course of the day, we learnt that there are over 30 varieties of walnuts and about six of them make up almost 90 per cent of the production. The Chandler variety, developed back in the ’50s and representing half of the tonnage of California, is the most in demand.
Half this industry’s research budget goes in developing new varieties. Another big chunk towards cutting use of pesticide and offsetting the environmental impact of farming.
After the walnuts are harvested, they are taken to the huller, where the outer green hull is removed and dehydrated. There’s also a hi-tech process of passing them through an air leg where walnuts without kernels are sucked out. The walnuts then reach the processing unit before they make it to a store shelf.
By lunch, I was equipped to conduct a quiz on walnuts. For instance, did you know that they need to be stored in the fridge or better still, freezer? Apparently, they also easily absorb the flavours of other foods, so remember to keep them far from your fish or onions!
This brain-shaped nut is good for more than your brain
As more and more walnut-themed menus unfolded (we ate a lot, and we ate everything from walnut bread, caramel apple walnut oatmeal, granola and walnut parfaits, many more walnut-sprinkled salads and even a Kahlua walnut brittle), we were given a peek into the health benefits.
If you think about it, the walnut is that rare entry on the superfoods list that has stood the test of time. Kombucha might not be as hot in 2020 and quinoa might be replaced by yet another cool grain, but I am willing to place my bet on walnut. Turns out that this brain-shaped nut is good for more than your brain.
“The CWC supports health-related research on walnuts and while it does provide funds for various projects, the actual studies are done independently by researchers who design the experiments, interpret the results and write the manuscripts,” explained Carol Berg Sloan, registered dietician and health research director of CWC.
Studies show that walnuts may benefit heart health, cognition, fertility, and weight management and fight diabetes and cancer. A recent study shows eating 75g walnuts a day improved sperm vitality, mobility and morphology in men who added walnuts to their diet compared to men who did not.
Apparently millennials who regularly consume foods that contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as walnut, salmon and canola oil, may favourably change appetite hormones so that they can feel fuller for longer.
I might have missed the millennial mark but I am making an effort to include more walnuts in my life. And not just for its organic texture on my cheese plate!
Chicken Kofta in Walnut Gravy
Minced chicken: 400g
Chicken stock: 4 cups
Walnuts: Half cup
Medium onions: Two
Garam masala powder: 1 pinch
Green cardamoms: 2
Fresh cream: 2tbsp
Garlic paste: 1tbsp
Cumin powder: 1/2tbsp
Tomato paste: 2tbsp
Green chillies: 4
Red chilli powder: 1tsp
Ginger paste: 1tbsp
Salt to taste
Combine chicken mince, red chilli powder, cumin powder, garam masala powder and salt. Mix thoroughly. Using a tablespoon, divide into equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball.
Bring chicken stock to boil, crush green cardamoms and mix into the chicken stock.
Add the chicken balls to boiling stock, lower the heat and continue to stir until chicken balls are cooked and the stock has almost evaporated. Keep aside.
Wash and cut green chillies.
Boil walnuts and onions, then grind them to a fine paste. Heat oil in another pan, add boiled onion paste, stir-fry until oil begins to separate, mix in ginger, garlic paste, and chopped green chillies. Stir-fry for a bit.
Mix in tomato paste, then bring to a boil. Mix in walnut paste and stir to mix well.
Lower the heat, mix in fresh cream, stirring continuously.
Mix in koftas and bring to a boil, simmer on low heat for five minutes, adjust salt.
Milk powder: 120g
Grated khoya/mawa (milk solids): 100g
Green cardamom powder: 1/2tsp
Walnut kernels for garnishing
Crush walnuts coarsely. Heat ghee in a non-stick pan, add crushed walnuts and saute till fragrant.
Add milk solids, mix and continue to saute. Add milk powder, mix well and continue to saute.
Add milk and mix.
Add green cardamom powder and sugar and mix well and cook on medium heat till the mixture thickens to halwa (thick) consistency.
Serve warm or cold, garnished with walnut kernels.