My relationship with cashews has been on-again, off-again. Yes, they’d sit in my cupboard, waiting to be chosen as a snack or occasionally crushed up on noodle or rice dishes, but I never really considered them for a central role in a dish. . . until I used them as a base in a vegan macaroni and “cheese” recipe a couple of years ago (uh, yum) and realized cashews are — aside from being lovely and humble and delicious– extremely versatile. Since this epiphany, I’ve used cashews in many other dishes, and I’ve not been disappointed yet!
Cashew trees are native to Brazil, and the cashew nuts we enjoy are actually the seeds that adhere to the base of the cashew apple. Cashew shells are toxic, which leads me to wonder who was brave enough to first figure that out? But don’t be put off by their poisonous exterior; cashews actually have a mild flavor. They would also like everyone to quit saying they are fattening. Yes, cashews contain fat (which is why they can be turned into such a rich-tasting sauce), but they have a lower fat content than other nuts. (About 20 cashews, or one ounce, contains 12 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein, compared to 16 grams of fat in 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.) Cashews are also high in copper (we need this to create collagen, make new red blood cells, and boost our immune system), manganese (think strong bones, normal blood sugar), magnesium (very important for bone health by balancing calcium absorption), and phosphorus (a mineral that helps with kidney function and muscle contraction). Further (did you really think we were done here?), cashews help prevent cardiovascular problems and gallstone formation, and women involved in a cashew-eating study (sign me up!) were able to lose or maintain weight much more easily than those not consuming cashews.
So, get on out there and reintroduce yourself to the cashew, just in time for the holidays!
Cashew Cream Sauce:
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 3/4 – 1 cup water
- 1/2 t. sea salt (optional)
1) Cover the cashews with water and soak overnight (or a few hours if you just don’t have all night!).
2) Drain cashews, put in the food processor (or blender) with water and salt and blend for about 3-4 minutes. And you’re done! If you’re using in a hot dish, you can simply heat up the sauce on the stove, adding in spices or fresh herbs.
3) Of course there are ALL kinds of ways you can use this yummy sauce. Some of my favorite savory ideas are to add 1 tsp. curry powder and use over roasted vegetables, add fresh basil or rosemary and put over pasta –or add some cream sauce to marinara or pesto, or use as a base to soups or mashed potatoes. You can also use cashew cream in desserts, but this is for another post. You’re definitely ready to bedazzle your guests next week with some ridiculously tasty and stealthily-healthy dishes.
I whipped up some cashew cream this evening, adding black pepper and chopped scallions and enjoyed it over pasta with roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato. Happy blending! 🙂