A couple of months ago I was in a trendy restaurant in Portland with my parents (having an interesting discussion about how different genders judge attractiveness, but that’s an entirely different story) when the waitress brought us—instead of a basket of thick-sliced crusty bread—a small dish of spiced almonds and peanuts.
The peanuts were slightly sweet, roasted in some sugar and a bit of cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, nutmeg, etc. (this I know not because of my impressively developed palate but because my mother, as she is wont to do, finagled the recipe out of the kitchen). And the almonds had been smoked with only a bit of sugar and salt. It wasn’t only the shift in restaurant culture, to be served a few nuts to nibble on before a meal, that interested me so much as how that shift creates an opportunity to offer your guests a flavor profile that traditional bread couldn’t necessarily provide. Savory snacks, for some reason, seem to elude the American food lexicon. This has become less true in recent years I think due to the anti-carb movement. Starbucks now, after all, offers sliced apples and cheese cubes alongside their muffins. But these spiced nuts caught my attention as a newly main-stream food trend.
It wasn’t until several weeks later that the promised recipe showed up in my inbox. The waitress has promised to get the chef to email my mother and, amazingly, she did. It came at a perfect time, as I was trying to think of a good F+T housewarming gift to send my grandparents who very recently relocated from their familiar Texas panhandle town to Dallas. I was looking for a relatively healthy, savory, travel worthy snack and, spiced nuts seemed to be the perfect thing.
I didn’t end up using the Irving Street Kitchen recipes. The almonds had interested me most and they required a smoker (with a smoker-less option to simply strain the nuts and toss with some smoked paprika but then the magic was sort of gone). Instead I began my customary general skim of every spiced nuts mix recipe I could find, trying to find patterns and estimate what may or may not work. In the end I couldn’t help but pick a recipe with bacon in it. It was for a gift after all! No calorie counting on gifts. Even after my internal warnings not to make them too spicy I did end up with using a bit of cayenne, but halved it in consideration of the audience.
F+T Spicy Mixed Nuts (with bacon!)
Spice list adapted from: kitchenkonfidence
2 cups roasted, unsalted mixed nuts (I used almonds, cashews and pecans)
1 egg white, beaten slightly
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound sliced bacon
First, crisp up your bacon. I prefer the hot skillet method because it’s easier to watch, smell and flip your pieces. But if you’re more an oven-baconier then 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes is the way to go. Regardless of your particular bacon eating preferences you want this bacon dark and very crispy. Otherwise it won’t crumble over your mixed nuts properly.
While the bacon is crisping away season those nuts! Place all the nuts in a large bowl and toss with the egg white, making sure to fully coat everything. Add all your spices, sugar, garam masala, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, clove, salt and cayenne (may be helpful to combine all spices in a separate small bowl, stir a bit, and pour over nuts all at once). Toss well (really well) and spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in a 325 degree oven for 12-15 minutes until browned and very fragrant. Remove to a bowl as soon as you can handle them to let cool.
When your bacon is crispy and cool crumble over your spicy nuts and give them one last toss for good measure. Pour off in to charming glass jars and gift to friends and family!
(and yes, writing this post was an epic exercise in restraint)