Monday, July 27, 2009

1 Recipe #51: Get Your Omega 3's -- Fresh Basil Pesto, Made with Walnuts & Almonds

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(As promised in a subsequent post, below is "Recipe #51," a backdated recipe post that I finally finished!)

Today I came up with a delicious original recipe as a way of incorporating more Omega-3's & other nutrients into one's diet. By substituting the usual standard "pesto" ingredient of pine nuts with walnuts & almonds, it's possible to create a much healthier pesto, which is lower in fat by almost 4 grams!

As usual, this recipe has been thoroughly taste-tested by some very picky eaters before receiving the "Cook. Eat. Drink. Blog." seal of approval. :) However, before I get into the recipe, I just would like to say a few words about the benefits of walnuts & almonds:

Two excellent sources of Omega 3s are almonds and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids play a very important role in our health, as they are able to reduce inflammation in our bodies. They are the "good kind" of fat, which helps to lower the bad kind. The kicker is that since the body can't produce Omega 3s, we have to consume them instead.

Additionally, almonds & walnuts also contain monounsaturated fats, the same kind of heart-healthy fat found in extra virgin olive oil, which also makes an appearance in this recipe. :-D

Both Omega-3's & monounsaturated fats have been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health, & are associated with a reduced risk for heart disease. For example, the Omega-3s found in walnuts prevent irregular heart rhythms and also benefit those suffering from asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, and psoriasis.

While both almonds & walnuts have a high caloric content (i.e., 575.0 calories per 100 g & 618 calories per 100 g, respectively), they are also high-energy, nutrient-rich foods as well. Case in point: Did you know that one small serving of walnuts has more protein than an egg?! [Of course, as common sense would dictate, it's a good idea to consume moderate, balanced portion sizes of these foods during your meal or snack. :) ]

Almonds and walnuts have excellent nutritional value: Both are incredibly rich in manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, folic acid (B9), and vitamin E. In their pure and unadulterated form, both are low-sodium, high-fiber foods.

Including these nuts in your diet keeps your heart and blood healthy. Both are rich in powerful cholesterol-lowering antioxidants as well as phytochemicals which may help to prevent cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Their high magnesium content positively affects the arteries and veins, and improves the overall flow of nutrients through the body. Almonds are loaded with potassium, a mineral which helps the body maintain a normal blood pressure and protects against hardening of the arteries. Walnuts are high in calcium, which also helps to protect your heart, not to mention its many other benefits.

Studies have shown that both of these nuts may be helpful in preventing gallstones. Regular consumption of these nuts also helps to lower cholesterol levels, control high blood sugar and weight, and improve cardiovascular functions.

Walnuts also contain trace amounts of iodine, which plays a significant role in maintaining efficient metabolism processes and levels, destroying toxins in the body, and ensuring strong and healthy skin, teeth, nails and hair.

Almonds lower the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Their high vitamin E contact might explain the reason why they are associated with a decreased risk for heart disease. Whatever it the reason, there appears to be a correlation between eating almonds and improving one's cholesterol. :)

Some ideas for incorporating more almonds and walnuts into your diet:
--Add a handful of chopped walnuts or almonds to your morning cereal. Use on cold or hot cereal (like oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, etc.).
--Sprinkle nuts on a salad.
--Try substituting almond butter for peanut butter on toast or in a sandwich. Its yummy!
--Take small bags of almonds &/or walnuts with you to keep with you, so you can reach for them as a snack.
--Incorporate these nuts into your meals in alternate forms: Use walnut oil for salads and almond meal in baked goods.
--Substitute almonds and walnuts for other less nutritious nuts. Find walnut & almond-based recipes or modify existing recipes, etc. Or even easier, make the below recipe. :)

Fresh Basil Pesto, Made with Walnuts & Roasted Almonds

3 Tbsp. whole plain raw almonds
3 Tbsp crushed walnut pieces
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
3 medium-sized garlic cloves, roughly chopped
6 c. fresh basil, destemmed and loosely packed
2 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh) (NOTE: Lemon juice is used for flavoring & also as a preservative; the citric acid in the lemon juice helps to prevent discoloration upon exposure to the air.)
1 c. Asiago cheese, freshly shredded (NOTE: For best results, use block of Asiago and shred using microplane grater/zester.)
salt, to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste

1. Lightly toast almonds in oven or toaster; watch them carefully so that they don't burn. Then place toasted almonds, walnuts, olive oil, and garlic in food processor, and pulse until the mixture is finely ground.
2. Next, place basil into food processor, adding a small batch at a time (via the feed tube) while pulsing the mixture until it becomes thick and smooth.
3. Stir in the shredded cheese and lemon juice, and blend until desired consistency is obtained. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

Serving Suggestion: Serve atop pasta. Other ideas: Use pesto as topping for chicken, fish, etc.

Instead of basil, try using parsley, cilantro, mint, spinach, or kale.

Chef's Notes: Pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about 1-2 weeks. IMPORTANT: If you plan to freeze the pesto, it's best to leave out the cheese and add it after you thaw out the pesto. Cheese doesn't freeze very well.

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