The Nut Cracker
There is something inherently Christmas-y about nuts. The most obvious link would be the ballet -The Nutcracker was a yearly tradition at home. If we didn't actually make it to the teater hall, then we would definitely watch it on the the television: I was, after all, obsessed with ballet and madly in love with Mikhail Baryshnikov.
There is, however, a more pragmatic reason for the association of nuts and Christmas: oily fruits were once a winter staple, providing much needed calories to withstand the cold, and they kept well into spring, often outlasting apples and other fruits.
Nowadays, most any fruit can be shipped around the world all year round, yet nuts are still very much present at this time of the year. It might be the sociable aspect of sitting around a crackling fire with friends and family, while cracking open nuts; the shells get thrown in the hearth, feeding the flames, and the fruits are munched at, while great conversations are had.
I personally have a weak spot for flavoured nuts, tamari-glazed almonds being my downfall... They are a pricey habit to maintain, but they are a cinch to make at home. They also make great foodie gifts, especially for that oh-so-difficult-to-buy-for-someone on your list.
Spicy Tamari Nuts
Yields about 500g/1.1 lb
500g/ 1.1 lb mixed nuts: I prefer equal parts cashews, pecans, pistachios, skinned and unskinned almonds
125ml/¼c soy sauce
3 Tbs demerara or light brown sugar
1 tsp coarsely crushed or ground cumin
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper
Pre-heat oven to 130°C/ 250°F.
Mix all the ingredients together until the nuts are evenly covered with soy sauce and spices.
Spread evenly on a lined baking tray.
Bake for about 45 minutes, making sure to stir the nuts every 15 minutes or so.
If the nuts smell a little scorched after 20 minutes, lower the oven to 100°C/200°F.
The nuts are ready when they fell dry to the touch.
Leave to cool down on the tray before storing in airtight jars.
Try to privilegedemerara sugar (or any coarse brown sugar) over a soft brown sugar: the large granule won't easily dissolve in the soy sauce, so instead of forming an overall sweetness, they'll roast into clusters of sugar that burst out every now and then. As long as they are stored in a dry spot, the nuts should keep for a few weeks.