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December, 2010

Vegetarian Walnut Canapes

By Heidi Allison

With all the cooking, entertaining and celebrating going on in December, creating tasty, economical, and healthy appetizers can be a challenge.

Add to that the time-crunch this season brings, and finding recipes that do double duty becomes a godsend. These elegant, vegetarian canapés do just that-- by emphasizing no-fuss preparation of easy-to-find ingredients. Moreover, the versatile walnut paté, which forms the foundation of these cutting-edge, multi-culti holiday starters, not only tastes great but also helps you get a grip on stress!

While previous research has shown omega-3 fatty acids, such as the alpha linolenic acids in walnuts and flaxseeds, reduces LDL cholesterol, a recent study found walnuts and their oil influence blood pressure-- at rest and under stress. It appears that walnuts pack a three-way punch in promoting cardiovascular health by blunting our response to stress: these nuts reduce resting blood pressure, reduce blood pressure elevations in response to stress, and lower levels of c-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. This is the first study to show walnuts reduce blood pressure-- which is crucial for people with exaggerated biological responses to stress, since they have a higher risk of heart disease. Other studies link the beneficial effects of walnuts to reducing the risk, delaying the onset or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Although this is a simple recipe, there are several steps you must follow to ensure success. First, the raw nuts must be soaked in water for 5 hours, which softens their texture and removes bitterness. Then, the bland nuts need to be seasoned with caramelized onions, roasted chiles and toasted cumin seeds, which imparts a rich, mellow and slightly spicy flavor. In the first recipe, the walnut paté serves as a stand-in for conventional pork, chicken or beef taco meat, and is spread on fried mini-corn tortillas, then layered with freshly shredded cabbage and a sprinkle of minced cilantro. In this dish, the sweet taste of the toasted corn and slightly bitter flavor of fresh cabbage are the perfect counterpoint flavors to enhance the seasoned walnut mixture-- no avocado or salsa required. The second dish is an Armenian-Style Wrap, which ingeniously uses the walnut paté as a seasoning paste, and is paired with smoky, roasted eggplant and freshly shredded cabbage rolled in toasted lavash bread. The good news is that these economical sides are easy on the budget and save time-- both in short supply these days.

Vegetarian Walnut Paté
Vegetarian Walnut Paté
Ingredients:
6 oz. shelled walnut pieces
4 cups water
3 Hatch chiles, roasted, seeded and peeled (can also use fresh Anaheim or Poblano chiles)
2 yellow onions, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 large garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 ½ Tbsp. cumin seeds
3 Tbsp. canola oil
1 head of green cabbage; cored, quartered and shredded into a ¼-inch slice
1 head of red cabbage; cored, quartered and shredded into a ¼-inch slice
1 package corn tortillas

Preparation:

Place walnut pieces in a large bowl and pour in enough water to just cover the nuts. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 5 hours to soften. Pour off soaking water then, set aside. Heat a large Dutch oven with 3 Tbsp. of canola oil on medium heat. Add onions, sprinkle with kosher flake salt, and stir. Immediately lower heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown and caramelized—about 25-30 minutes. Add garlic and cumin seeds, and cook till seeds are fragrant and lightly toasted –about 3 minutes. Roughly chop chiles and add to the pot and stir, cook till heated—about 5 minutes more. Take off heat and set aside. Makes about 2 cups. Add soaked nuts to food processor and cover with warm onion mixture. Pulse until you have achieved a slightly chunky, paste—about 15 pulses. Season with salt and black pepper to taste, and pulse an additional 10 times to incorporate the seasonings.

Walnut meat tacos
Walnut meat tacos:

Cut an 8 inch corn tortilla with a biscuit cutter into 3 (2 inch) rounds. Heat a 10 inch cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat and add enough oil to film the bottom of the pan—about 2 Tbsp. Add 6 tortillas and cook till crispy, then turn over with tongs and cook the other side—about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and drain on a baking rack. Place 1 tablespoon of walnut pate on each tortilla, sprinkle with shredded cabbage and minced cilantro, then serve.

Armenian eggplant filling:

1 medium eggplant, roasted over a gas burner till soft
¼ tsp. granulated garlic
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 slices of Lavash bread cut in half

Armenian Eggplant Wraps:
Makes: 4 wraps

When eggplant has cooled, scoop out the flesh and place in a medium bowl. Add the garlic, oregano, paprika, salt, pepper and olive oil and whisk with a fork until incorporated. Place 2 tablespoons of walnut paté, 2 tablespoons of roasted eggplant and 1/3 cup of shredded cabbage on half a lavash; then roll up into a wrap. Heat wraps in oven in the oven for 5 minutes at 400 degrees till crispy, then serve.