Holiday Nibbles – Spiced Pecans

pecansI absolutely LOVE this time of year. I crave the hustle bustle, the busy sidewalks and I don’t even mind standing in line at the post office, but most importantly I love being social. Dropping in on friends or hosting small fetes is what the season is all about and I hope this post finds you all in full swing and with peace of mind.

I wanted to share one of my favorite all time recipes that works beautifully for holiday noshing and is perfect for any last-minute plans or too-lazy-to-cook attitudes. These Spiced Pecans, from my first book Urban Pantry, are at once sweet and spicy. First fried in a small amount of oil, they are then coated in sugar, producing a hard crackling. From there, cooked nuts are quickly tossed with a mixture of sugar and moroccan spices that I promise you are irresistible. Many recipes are good – this one is GREAT. You must try it.

Spiced Pecans

(Makes 1 cup, and easily doubles)

I owe this recipe to my good friend Rusty Blackwood—a man who pulls together a mean flower arrangement and has a keen understanding of Moroccan food. He made these nuts at an import sale years ago, and I couldn’t pull myself away from the buffet table to shop. I emailed him in a fit to get the recipe, and he promptly responded—from poolside in Marrakech. This is the perfect recipe to pack for a camping trip or to serve alongside a cheese platter, fancying up the boring cheese-and-cracker platters that have become a near epidemic as of late. These spiced pecans are also wonderful served crumbled over any green salad.

4 tablespoons sugar for pan, plus 2 tablespoons for bowl
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 cup shelled pecans

Before you start, measure out your sugar and spices and have ready a large glass bowl. You’ll need to work quickly once the nuts are toasted.

Cover the bottom of a large, deep-sided sauté pan with the peanut oil; let it pool a bit. Heat over medium-high and, when the oil is beginning to ripple slightly, toss in the pecans, stirring continuously so they don’t burn. When the pecans start to smoke and brown, add 4 tablespoons of the sugar and toss, toss, toss! You don’t want to burn that sugar.

After the sugar is dissolved and the nuts are well coated, use a slotted spoon and put the nuts in the glass bowl with the remaining sugar and the measured-out spices and salt. Working quickly, stir to combine. When the mixture has cooled slightly, taste and adjust the flavors, making them more salty-spicy to your liking. Pour the spiced pecans onto a sheet pan to cool. When completely cooled, store them in a glass jar in the cupboard.

Pantry Note: You can easily multiply this recipe for bigger batches. Spices can be swapped as well. If you don’t have turmeric, for example, try curry powder or garam masala. These candied nuts keep nearly indefinitely but taste freshest when eaten within four to six weeks.

Photo Credit: Della Chen Photography

Excerpted from Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen, Skipstone 2010