Since the Mediterranean Diet came to more prominence after the introduction of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993 and the many subsequent nutrition science studies conﬁrming the health beneﬁts of the Mediterranean Diet, we’ve also learned about the great health beneﬁts of nuts and peanuts. (While botanically a legume, peanuts are similar to tree nuts in a culinary sense!)
Mediterranean nuts—almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts—and peanuts are nutrient-dense foods that oﬀer heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids, protein, ﬁber, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols (antioxidants found in plants). In the last 25 years, there have been many nutrition studies that have looked at the relationship between eating nuts and peanuts and reduction of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as longevity. You need only look at the Oldways library of health studies around the Mediterranean Diet to see conﬁrmation of these beneﬁts.
To take advantage of these wonderful health beneﬁts and the good taste of nuts and peanuts, we’ve learned to toast and sprinkle or spread nuts and peanuts on salads, yogurt, cereal, and desserts, or add them to cheese boards or appetizer plates. While it’s a great idea to toast, spread and sprinkle, there’s a whole world (or a whole day!) of deliciousness to be enjoyed by incorporating nuts and peanuts into dishes at every meal.
Here are some ideas to add nuttiness to your breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Breakfast : A typical Mediterranean work-week breakfast is quick and light. Aside from the standard coﬀee or tea, there is great diversity in everyday breakfast foods across the Mediterranean. Here are a few examples and how you can add nuts and peanuts for extra protein and crunch:
- Lebanon: leftover grains, usually bulgur or barley + milk + cinnamon + honey + fruit + nuts or peanuts
- Spain and Italy: toasted bread + soft cheese + fresh fruit or freshly squeezed fruit juice + nut or peanut butters
- Greece: paximadia (bread made from whole wheat, chickpea, and barley ﬂour) + olives + cheese + a handful of nuts
- Syria: tahini yogurt with chickpeas + pickles + sliced radishes + toasted nuts or peanuts
- Morocco: fried egg in olive oil + soft cheese + olives + ﬂatbread + nut or peanut butters
In addition to spreading nut butter or peanut butter on toast, almost every breakfast favorite can be improved with the addition of nuts and peanuts. Adding plant protein like nuts and peanuts can help you feel fuller for longer, as well as help you reap the health beneﬁts detailed above. Pancakes, waﬄes, quickbreads, smoothies, muﬃns and scones, porridges, and cereal are easy breakfast dishes to add the ﬂavor and added nutrition of tree nuts like walnuts and ground nuts like peanuts. Even scrambled eggs can beneﬁt from the addition of peanut butter, particularly as a way to introduce peanut foods to infants as early as 4-6 months to help prevent a peanut allergy. The Oldways recipe collection has two special Mediterranean breakfast dishes: Mediterranean Breakfast Quinoa with Walnuts, Figs and Apricots and Overnight Apple Peanut Butter Oatmeal.
Lunch: Everyone loves a great peanut butter or nut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. However, there are many other ways to bring the crunch and great taste of nuts and peanuts to your lunch table! Mediterranean-ize your typical American sandwich by trying a Mediterranean Pita Pocket with Walnut Hummus, spinach, tomato, and feta cheese.
Pesto made with almost any nut ground together with basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil is a wonderful base or toppings for sandwiches, pasta dishes, pasta salads or pizzas, pita wraps and bruschettas. Toasting nuts and peanuts to top salads gives the whole dish a big ﬂavor boost. Soups thickened with ground nuts instead of cream reduce saturated fat and as cookbook author Susan Herrman Loomis writes, “they add a subtle ﬂavor dimension that never detracts or masks but rather enhances.” Her book Nuts in the Kitchen oﬀers many recipes with nuts as a thickener. The same can be said of sauces thickened with nuts and peanuts. The sauces are silky and ﬂavorful but not overpowering of the food they are covering. Susan calls nut and peanut thickeners “light and healthful ways to make foods luscious!”
Dinner: The big meal of the day— whether it is lunch, brunch or dinner—is a time when nuts and peanuts can really shine.
Whole grains are a perfect match for nuts and peanuts, and they make for traditional pairings all around the Mediterranean. Brown Rice and bulgur pilafs in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean or farro or rice risottos in Italy can feature nuts and peanuts. Whole grain pasta can be paired with nuts and peanuts in a number of ways. In addition to pesto (see lunch), pasta sauces made with nuts are easy and quick. Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks writes:
“Pasta with Creamy Crushed Walnut Sauce is the best thing I’ve cooked with the least amount of eﬀort in the past month. If you have a favorite dried pasta, a few cloves of garlic, walnuts, and black pepper you can make it too. You get rich, nutty, walnut sauce from pounding garlic and toasted walnuts into a paste and thinning with a good amount of salted pasta water. Peak comfort food.”
Have you ever tried walnut “meat”? Enjoy the ﬂavors and beneﬁts of a plant-forward Mediterranean eating style by substituting the meat on your plate with this plant-powered alternative. Walnut meat provides satisfying texture, rich ﬂavor, important nutrients such as omega-3 ALA (2.5 g/oz), and best of all— it is customizable for a variety of ﬂavor preferences! Pack walnuts and black beans into koftas seasoned with Mediterranean ﬂavors, mix up your pasta with lentil walnut meatballs, or sprinkle California walnut crumble onto your pizza. To see these and more interesting walnut meat ideas visit walnuts.org.
Nuts and peanuts can add crunch and ﬂavor to ﬁsh and meat. Use nuts or peanuts as a healthier option (coating with nuts instead of frying) in dishes such as Pecan Crusted Catﬁsh or Crispy Walnut Cod. Like chicken or ﬁsh, vegetables can be coated with crushed nuts for a decadent side or main dish. Portobello mushrooms, carrots, any vegetables that you’d roast can be coated with nuts or peanuts and roasted for a crunchy and scrumptious meal. Coating with peanut and nut butters are also excellent ways to add to the nutrition and ﬂavor of vegetables like broccoli or cauliﬂower. Stuﬀed vegetables such as peppers or Turkish dolmas (wrapped grape leaves or eggplant slices) are another place where nuts and peanut ﬁllings provide great taste and added protein.
Beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are key in the Mediterranean Diet; nuts and peanuts are great partners, adding even more plant protein to a dish. Walnuts and lentils make a great Bolognese sauce for pasta; French lentils also pair well with walnuts.
It’s great to try new ways to include nuts and peanuts in Mediterranean meals, but don’t forget nuts and peanuts as toppings and dessert staples. What better way to enjoy yogurt, salads and desserts than to include nuts and peanuts! To move beyond toppings and desserts, try some of the recipes posted here, on the Oldways website, or with the Fresh Friday newsletter!
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