The best unsolicited advice I ever got from a random old lady at the Park Slope Food Co-op was to soak my nuts. I was skeptical, as I typically am when counseled about my eating habits by overly concerned strangers—especially when the advice sounds slightly pornographic. But something about her insistence nagged at me, and, when I got home, I began to research the health benefits that she had espoused while not so subtly blocking my escape route.
I can’t speak to the trustworthiness of the various sites I discovered and their claims about phytic acid and neutralized enzymes, but I can tell you this: Soaking your nuts before you roast them will greatly enhance their flavor. And if you’ll allow me to be the old lady at the co-op in this scenario: You should be roasting your nuts at home. Don’t buy the overly oiled concoctions you find in canisters at the grocery store or spend double what you should on whatever seasoned nuts your health food store is offering. Get your nuts raw—they’re already expensive enough!—and roast them yourself. Just be sure to soak them first.
In addition to being less oily and less expensive than your typical party mix, roasting your own nuts will allow you to experiment with different flavors and spices. Instead of an oily sheen that masks nuts’ natural rich taste and adds unnecessary calories, you’ll end up with a cleaner, sharper flavor that won’t leave your hands feeling slimy. I’m partial to a curry seasoning, but there’s no end to the possibilities. Soaking your nuts beforehand will lead to better absorption of the spices and result in a crunchier, easier to chew texture.
You may be tempted to turn the heat up, but don’t! If you roast them at too high a temperature you’ll have a dark outside and a raw inside, leading to an inconsistent flavor. Good nuts come to those who wait: Slow roasting prevents burning and leaves you with a perfectly tanned snack.
Curry Roasted Cashews
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Time: About 3 hours, mostly unattended
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups cashews
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1. Dissolve ½ tablespoon (1½ teaspoons) salt in 3 cups water in a large bowl. Add the cashews. Soak the cashews for 2 hours, then drain and let sit in the strainer for 10 minutes to get rid of excess liquid.
2. Heat the oven to 200°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Return the cashews to the (dried) bowl and add the remaining 1½ tablespoons (4½ teaspoons) salt, the curry powder, the cumin, the cayenne pepper, and the paprika. Toss to combine, and let sit for another 10 minutes. Spread the cashews evenly on the baking sheet and roast, stirring every 20 minutes, until evenly browned, about 1 hour total. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Store leftover nuts in an airtight container for up to several days.)