Sweet and spicy walnuts
Standing in front of my jam-packed fridge this weekend, I don’t think many people would have confused me with a minimalist. I love the clean and spare look of a carefully curated kitchen counter or a meticulously arranged fridge, but admire as I may, I can’t maintain that look for more than three hours. The cleaning itch hit me this weekend and I swept the countertops clear—mixer tucked away in the pantry, cutting boards oiled and cookbooks tidied away. I even dove deep into the crisper drawers searching for forgotten bits. This is where I unearthed the beets.
A handful of beets had been languishing for more than a few weeks. But the good news is that beets tend to store pretty well tucked away in a cold dark corner. There were a few desperately pale slips of leaves sprouting from a beet or two. Otherwise, they were no worse for their time waiting. Once found, I knew I’d better not stow them again. So in the midst of my kitchen makeover, I pulled the beets out of their bag and dropped them into the sink for a good scrub.
I don’t know too many people who are ambivalent about beets. This humble root seems to divide people into two camps—those who eagerly search them out or those who would rather keep them off the plate. It might just be my experience, but it seems to me that people usually have an opinion about beets. I fall into the first camp, a beet lover. Since I’m still working on a few members of my household, I usually look for ways to add beets into a dish without making them the main flavor. For that reason, beet salad tends to work out really well for me! I roast the beets whole with their skins on. A pan readily fits alongside most anything else I might be baking. And after an hour or so in the heat, they slip easily from their skins. I tuck them away in a jar, just waiting for my next salad.
But no matter what your thoughts might be on beets, you’ll want to hear about my crispy-delicious salad addition—spicy candied walnuts. This recipe has been with me for years, likely shared in some variation by a friend who would whip up batches to feed the masses. I’ve played with the spices, subbing in smoking pimentón and chili powder or even a fancy curry blend, depending on what flavor I’m going for. Sometimes, if my pantry is looking well-stocked, I’ll add a little maple syrup in place of the corn syrup. No matter what the variation, these candied nuts will be a star in any salad, making it substantial enough to feel like a meal. And don’t just save them for salads, they also make a great cocktail snack or a super-luxe addition to a custom nut mix.
2 cups walnut halves
Scant 1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Preheat oven to 325º. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well to coat. Place walnut mixture on baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes until fragrant and the sugar mixture bubbles.
Remove from heat and stir nuts to separate any large clusters. Allow to cool on the pan and store in an airtight container. They’ll keep for several days.