Butter toasted nuts are a simple but essential technique for outrageously delicious nuts to finish a wide variety of Lebanese dishes.
There are so many great ways to finish a dish in Lebanese cooking: a dusting of spice, a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of chopped fresh herbs, or a fabulous sprinkling of salty, buttery toasted nuts. Most important thing is that a dish does get finished with one or more of these last-but-not-leasts. These are flavor-makers that help us layer on flavor, which means deepening flavor and making everything you cook taste better. This is one restaurant trick we can replicate at home with ease, for eye-opening taste.
Which nuts to choose?
Any. All. Take a pick of your favorites and don’t be afraid to mix them. Lebanese nut favorites are pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, and almonds. I also love throw in cashews, pecans and hazelnuts here and there. One nut rarely used here is the standard peanut. It’s just not a typical flavor in Lebanese or Middle Eastern savory cooking. Start with whole nuts for most of these. Walnuts can be huge, so a rough chop works on them. Almonds, same, though I often start with slivered (not sliced; the difference is that slivered are spear-like, sliced are flat pieces).
It’s true that there is very little butter used across the board in Lebanese recipes. Where we do employ this heavenly fat, there are few if any substitutes. Think baklawa. Here, what’s to love about butter besides the obvious in terms of flavor is the way butter foams up when heated, surrounding the nuts with heat and giving them a nice, even toasting. Can we substitute with olive oil? Yes habibi, we can and sometimes, we do. Follow the same method, and don’t overheat the olive oil.
Patience is a virtue.
Nuts can burn in a New York minute, so it’s important to toast them low and slow. And keep them moving by stirring constantly. This is not your multi-task moment of the day. It’s your focus moment. Your moment to seek and find the level of deep golden brown that is what the toasted nut is all about. Once brown turns to burnt, the nuts are bitter and really unsalvagable. Unlike dulce de leche and other charcoal burnt flavors that are intentional and fine, not so with the burnt nut.
Salt them but good.
Again, can you leave the salt behind here? Of course. But we use so many other flavor makers in our Lebanese recipes that allow us to cut the salt. Here, salt is an important part of what makes the toasty nuts so flavorful. Use table salt or kosher salt and sprinkle it on when the nuts are still hot, to melt the salt right into the nuts and give them deeper flavor.
Butter Toasted Nuts
Use any nut or combination of nuts you love. Stay close to the nuts and keep them moving for best toasted results. You'll find yourself topping all kinds of dishes, from salads to pilafs to simple vegetables, with a handful of these flavor-makers. Make the nuts ahead and store them in an airtight container or bag in the refrigerator for at least a month and in the freezer for up to six months.
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup cashews (roasted or raw)
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
In a medium-sized skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the nuts.
When the butter foams up, leave the nuts undisturbed for a minute or two so the nuts will toast in the foamy butter. Then stir constantly until the nuts are golden.
Transfer the nuts to a bowl and add a teaspoon of salt while they are hot, and stir to combine. Cool completely; the nuts regain their crunch when cooled.