Sometimes you feel like a nut–sometimes you don’t!
You should definitely feel like a nut–or a few of them–today, on National Nut Day. But did you know that nuts are fruits? They’re of course much different from the apples and peaches you’re used to when thinking about fruits, but nuts are different because they are the seed of their plant, whereas a fruit is simply a soft, appetizing casing for dispersing the plant’s seed. There’s also a big difference between botanical nuts and culinary nuts: when talking about nuts for food, the definition is much broader than what’s strictly a nut in biology. The old adage is true: a peanut is neither a pea nor a nut! But in lots of culinary circles, “false” nuts like peanuts, almonds, pistachios, and Brazil nuts are used as nuts in a myriad of recipes, both savory and sweet. I would sure like to get a botanist and a chef in a room together and have them duke it out over what is considered a “nut” and what isn’t! 😉
We’ve already had lots of nut food holidays throughout the calendar year, whether they’re “real” nuts or not: we got to munch out on Pistachio Day, Chocolate Covered Nuts Day, Peanut Cluster Day, Chocolate Covered Cashew Truffle Day, Pralines Day, Macadamia Nut Day, and National Peanut Day–not to mention all the days dedicated just to peanut butter. That’s a lot of nuts! So I wanted to celebrate a few nuts we haven’t taken a look at on other national food holidays, but still play important and integral roles in cuisine in New York and around the world. It’s time to go nuts for some nuts!
I hate that pine nuts are so expensive. The edible seeds of pine trees are used in culinary cultures all over the world, from Italian pignoli cookies to Southwestern pine nut coffee. My mom likes to use pine nuts in her homemade basil pesto sauce, and it is delicious. But because pine nuts are so small–there are only a few species of pine trees that even make seeds large enough for us to eat–and relatively rare, they cost a lot when you buy them in bulk. So mom’s pesto is only a special occasion kind of sauce! But you can get some delicious pine nut treats at celebrity chef Michael Psilakis’s restaurant Kefi. Dedicated to all things Greek and Mediterranean, you won’t find pignoli cookies here, but you will find the refined flavor of sheep’s milk dumplings with spicy lamb sausage. They’re topped with roasted tomatoes, feta cheese, and toasted pine nuts. The richness of the feta and sheep’s milk dumplings goes great with the spicy sausage, and the buttery nuttiness of the toasted pine nuts helps bring out the bitter flavors of the dish to make a well-rounded sensory experience. And unlike a lot of other celebrity chef restaurants, Kefi feels like a full meal, with a lot of food on your plate that will fill your belly with deliciousness. And at a steal for only $14 per plate, this dish is almost worth its weight in pine nuts alone! Order it and you definitely won’t be disappointed.
505 Columbus Ave (between 84th St & 85th St)
“My daughter and I shared a main course of sheep’s milk dumplings with spicy lamb sausage ($13.95)—the spicy merguez-like sausages for me and the pillowy soft dumplings for her. Topped with roasted tomatoes and feta cheese, it further benefitted from a generous addition of spinach and the crunch of toasted pine nuts.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Sheep’s milk dumplings: Another signature dish, served with toasted pine nuts, feta cheese, and spicy lamb sausage in a deliciously juicy tomato sauce. It’s no wonder that this is a signature dish- a unique combination that absolutely tantalizes the tongue. I loved the juxtaposition of the crunchy pine nuts against the fluffy, pillowy dumplings, and the wonderful heat from the lamb sausage. A winner!”–Velina L.
“Sheep’s milk dumplings with tomato, pine nuts, and spicy lamb sausage: A. This dish is heavenly. The dumplings are light and fluffy; the pine nut flavor is delighful, and the spicy sausage adds the perfect amount of kick. It’s a bit on the heavy side and great for sharing.”–Beth H.
Fall and winter are the perfect times of the year for chestnuts roasting on an open fire…or the pretzel warmers on New York City hot dog carts, lol. Pretty soon these timeless Christmas treats will be popping up on Manhattan street corners again, selling the roasted true nuts at an inflated price for tourists. But chestnuts have been used in cuisines way longer than there even was a Christmas: chestnut cultivation in Turkey has been going on since 2000 B.C., and has spread all over the world to Mediterranean, Asian, and North American cuisine. A particularly sweet nut, chestnuts are also very starchy and can be made into a gluten-free flour. Other popular preparations include candied, deep-fried, and even fermented into chestnut beer! But Mas Farmhouse in the West Village prepares it in a different way: the chestnuts are roasted, pureed, and made into a creamy soup appetizer. It’s the perfect way to get both nutty and creamy tastes and textures in a soup, the chestnut’s starchy qualities working like no other nut to leave the soup smooth and not grainy. Add a cured duck leg to the dish–with crispy, fatty skin and meat that falls off the bone–and you’ve got a deconstructed Christmas dinner that anyone will fall in love with.
39 Downing St (between Bedford St & Varick St)
“I started with a small, complimentary Amuse-Bouche (below) and the Chestnut soup with cured duck leg. Like a wise man once said, if there is a leg of duck in your soup…. eat it. The meat fell off the bone and the skin was the perfect kind of crispy. My mother ordered a starter that had shrimp, which she has an allergy to, the waiter quickly took it back without question. That level of service is what will keep me coming back here for a long time.”–West Village Food
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“We had the pre-fixe instead of the chef’s tasting menu only because we wanted to know what we were getting. I’m sure the chef’s tasting menu is great but its also a surprise apparently – they don’t list the items on it. I started with the creamy chestnut soup with duck and it was nothing short of genius. I won’t detail the rest of the items but pretty much the same – brilliant. Further, the staff was downright lovely from start to end and if you’re going to get the wine pairing, bring a good liver. We were told it was a ‘taste’ with every dish but I’d lean more towards ‘large glass’. We kind of stumbled out the door.”–Sean K.
“On to the food. The chestnut soup that’s currently on the menu is a creamy wonder. I don’t really like chestnuts and was stunned by the subtlety of the flavor. If they have the pork belly on the menu when you go – get it. We’ve gotten the chef’s tasting menu a few times and have been consistently delighted.”–DeDe D.
But the most popular nut that we haven’t touched upon for any national food holiday so far is the walnut. I love walnuts! The little brain-shaped nuts of the walnut tree are high in protein and fiber, and are widely cultivated in the United States, so they’re cheaper to buy than pine nuts or chestnuts. Walnuts can be found in both sweet and savory dishes all over the world, from Chinese walnut shrimp to banana walnut bread. And in Hell’s Kitchen, you can try walnuts in a traditional Mediterranean preparation: spicy walnut spread. Kashkaval (I kinda love that name!) may not look like a great restaurant from the outside–the front of house is dedicated to selling Mediterranean cheeses–but once you head into the back, you’ll find a small oasis of inexpensive, delicious, authentic cuisine. Known for their savory tapas, Kashkaval offers a wonderful appetizer sampler that is large and substantive enough to count as a whole meal. One of the many dips you’ll find on the sampler plate is a spicy walnut pepper spread, which, unlike your silky-smooth hummus or baba ganoush, contains rough-chopped walnuts within the dip, adding texture to a Mediterranean meal that is usually lacking in anything that requires excessive chewing. Kashkaval is best for dinner, so make sure to stop by and get a seat early–there aren’t many to spare, and with the buzz this place is getting, everyone will want a table!
856 9th Ave (between 55th St & 56th St)
“Spicy Walnut Pepper Spread: The slightly crunchy texture of this uniquely flavored walnut spread was a nice contrast to the other choices.”–Serious Eats
“We decided to share a large sampler platter of cold Mediterranean tapas, which allowed us to choose up to six of the appetizers/dips/salads that were on the tapas list. We selected the spicy walnut pepper spread, stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush, red pepper spread, lentil salad, and beet skordalia. It was hard to choose because there were so many options that looked appealing. My favorite items on the platter were the stuffed grape leaves, which were soft and flavorful, the baba ganoush, which had a nice smokey eggplant flavor, and the spicy walnut pepper spread, which was an interesting spicy/tangy/nutty combination.”–Two Fat Bellies
“The sampler plate is the reason the word smorgasbord was invented, an over-sized plate filled with heaping piles of five freshly made dips of your choosing ($12) and a basket stuffed with fresh pita bread for your scooping pleasure. Kaskaval has got the full-flavor and texture spectrum covered, from the salty lentil tapenade, to crunchy walnut pepper spread, to the zesty red pepper dip: every option satisfies a specific portion of your pallete.”–Complex
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Not your average fondue joint. The Gorgonzola fondue will rock your world. You really can’t go wrong with any of the dishes. Try a sampling of the Mediterranean tapas; specifically the walnut dish. The atmosphere is fantastic. The back dining area is transformed and unrecognizeable from the front which is like a deli. Try picking up a lunch at the front of the store and taking it for a picnic to Central Park.”–Sarah Rachel W.
“Cozy little place – perfect for a few glasses of wine and some tapas or a cheese plate. As other reviewers have mentioned, it’s a smaller space so be prepared for it to be crowded. We were there on a Wednesday evening, and there was a 15-20 minute wait for a table. Luckily, the general ambiance isn’t affected by the crowd – not too loud or anything. The wine selection here is decent, and the tapas are good (especially the spicy walnut pepper spread). The standout here, though, is their cheese selection. They also have a popular takeout counter.”–Jennifer Z.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!