by Mary Alice Shreve, RD, LD
Ah, spring! Come hither, asparagus and artichoke. Pull up a chair, wild onions and spring peas. Have a seat, radish and rhubarb.
As we usher in warmer weather, thoughts of breezy nights on the patio and fun-filled afternoons outdoors are again becoming a reality. With rising temperatures also comes the desire to turn off the kitchen oven and fire up the grill.
One of the best parts about this time of year is the turn from bulky, hearty stews and a move towards lighter, healthier dishes. Suddenly, a veggie-packed wrap sounds lots more appealing than a beef stew to pull out of a lunchbox.
Among the most versatile ingredients to accompany these healthy dishes is the pecan. Bursting with healthy fats and protein, this vitamin-rich tree nut lends both a nutty flavor and tasty crunch to a wide variety of recipes.
Packed with fiber, B-vitamins and antioxidants, pecans definitely deserve a seat at your spring table. Whether coating chicken or fish with pecan meal, or mixing a simple salad dressing using pecan oil, pecans bring flavor, nutrition, and ease to your next meal.
Below are recipes and easy preparation ideas for ways to accommodate just about every diet preference at your table by enjoying pecans.
For the kids
Healthy, easy, and yummy. How to achieve all three? Pecans are the answer. Try breading all-white-meat chicken filets with Dijon mustard, egg, panko crumbs and pecan meal, then baking them until cooked and crispy. If your child is gluten-intolerant, leave out the panko—pecan meal works just fine on its own. For another simple-yet-satisfying treat, spread pecan butter onto just about anything! School lunches are a breeze with fresh veggies and pecan butter, PB and J (that’s pecan butter and jelly) whole-grain sandwiches, or an apple spread with pecan butter.
For our fish lovers
There is nothing like a touch of nuttiness to complement a piece of fish. While a rich pecan brown-butter sauce comes to mind for preparing fish, try a lightened-up version made with pecan oil instead. This Georgia Pecan Crusted Trout is a winner for both flavor and ease. Also pair pecans with salmon– as in Skillet Salmon with Georgia Pecan Hash – for a dish loaded with healthy fats.
For you meat lovers
Long over are the days of referring to nuts and seeds as “rabbit food” – these ingredients are in and trending! Complement your next meat-focused dish with a healthful touch of pecans by adding them to a meat stuffing. One example is this divine Roulade of Flat Iron Steak Stuffed with Spiced Georgia Pecans. Or, try these mouthwatering Pork Chops with Pecan and Onion Stuffing). Don’t forget pecan meal or ground pecans as a protein coating, such as in this lightened version of a Southern classic, Oven Fried Georgia Pecan Chicken, or this Horseradish and Georgia Pecan Crusted Beef Tenderloin.
For our vegan and vegetarian diners
When working pecans into cooking, try venturing out beyond just pecan pieces and into less commonly used ingredients such as pecan oil. Pecan oil contains less saturated fat than olive oil and is high in monounsaturated fats. Try blending it with some red wine vinegar, garlic, and a little salt and pepper for an easy salad dressing with a mild nuttiness. Enjoy this fresh Summer Salad with Georgia Pecans.
Pecans are an excellent protein (about 3 grams per 1-ounce portion) and fiber (an ounce provides 10 percent of the Recommended Daily Value for fiber) source, so incorporate them for an extra-hearty dish. Toss together a quinoa bowl with sautéed mushrooms and roasted pecans or give this Wild Rice Salad with Georgia Pecans and Preserved Fruits a whirl.
For the omnivores in the crowd
Try starting your day with Georgia Pecan Power Bars for a convenient breakfast on the run. Go for an easy-to-pack lunch of Tarragon Chicken Salad with Grapes and Georgia Pecans with some whole wheat naan bread on the side. Meat or no meat, dinner can be healthful with the addition of pecans. Prepare either Vegetable and Georgia Pecan Calzones or this Poultry and Mango Georgia Pecan Stir Fry.
Don’t forget gluten-intolerant folks
Pecan meal makes for an equally delicious breading for meat as bread crumbs do. Southern chef and personality Virginia Willis has a recipe for Gluten-Free Georgia Pecan-Crusted Turkey Tenderloin that uses chopped pecans and gluten-free crisped rice for a breading alternative. Pecan meal is a fantastic route to take when avoiding wheat flour in baked goods. This indulgent (within reason) Pecan Cake is the perfect example.
For everyone with a sweet tooth
While we all love a pecan pie, there is so much more to explore beyond this classic! Go lighter by bringing Spring fruits into the mix with these Apricot Pecan Granola Bars or these Strawberry Pecan Oat Bars.