Monday, 18 June 2012

Chestnut, cacao and pomegranate multi-purpose mix!

I would say that chestnuts are the complete package.  They have a great nutrition profile, and they also lend themselves beautifully to both savoury and sweet dishes and are even a great idea for a snack.  They have a delicate, slightly sweet flavour and a lovely smooth texture.  Unlike other nuts they are quite starchy,  often used as a substitute for potatoes in some European and African countries.

Since travelling through Europe for a couple of months in 2007, these little packages of goodness take me back to a freezing cold day in Salzburg, Austria.  Our group all piled off the bus like typical tourists wearing the most summery outfits you could think of (having come from a much warmer place earlier that morning), and, whilst marveling at such beauty around us, we were all getting a little preoccupied with the feeling of frost bite that was developing at a rate of knots (not to mention the ridiculous looks we were getting from all angles!!).  And then we spotted them!  Little carts selling hot, freshly roasted chestnuts - straight out of the roasting dish!  I was doubly happy given they are naturally a gluten free option for me!  And so our hands and hearts were warmed and I think about that day when each winter rolls around again and we can delight in these tasty little morsels!

Nutritionally, these are set apart from the traditional profile of other nuts.  Firstly they are very low in fat!!  They are high in complex carbohydrates and have a low glycaemic index, making them a great choice for diabetics and people looking to maintain a healthy weight.  They also contain low sodium (salt) levels, and contain vitamin C, B vitamins, folate and potassium.

They are good value in their season, generally available for about $6-7/kg but can also be purchased as a puree in tins (sweetened or unsweetened), dried, or even as a flour.  Look for blemish free smooth skins that shouldn't rattle when shaken.  They can be stored in the crisper section of your fridge for a week or so (not that I've had a chance to test that personally as they don't ever last that long around here!).
Even though I have cooked with them many times in the past, I mostly just roast them in the oven and eat them as a snack.  Simple to prepare, you can either boil, BBQ or roast them.  I generally roast them by cutting little slits across each shell and place them on a baking tray.  Pop them into a 180ish degree preheated oven and cook them until those slits separate slightly and reveal the flesh inside (approximately 20 minutes).  For ease of shelling, I then place them immediately into a tea towel and leave them to 'steam' for 10 minutes or so.  Then its just a matter of cracking them with your hands and peeling off the skin.  A bit fiddly but so worth it!

Other uses for them include:
  • shelling the roasted cooled chestnuts and tossing them through a brown and wild rice salad with some dried cranberries, baby spinach leaves and a dressing of orange juice and seasoned olive oil.
  • either pureeing the roasted cooled chestnuts with a touch of sugar (rapadura would be great or raw castor sugar) or buying the sweetened puree in tins, use as a spread over crepes that have been made to fit the size of a 20cm cake tin.  Layer them up with the chestnut puree in between, chill and serve in wedges drizzled with a beautifully warm chocolate or caramel sauce, cream and fresh raspberries for an easy but effective dessert!
  • Mix the sweetened puree with a little cream and use to fill mini tart cases.  Top with roughly crushed hazelnut toffee shards.
  • If you have the Weber going this winter, once your meal is cooked, don't waste the heat!  Throw on a tray of prepared chestnuts and leave until the splits have separated slightly, as described above.  What a lovely way to finish a meal, sitting around all together shelling hot chestnuts with a strong espresso or glass of Madeira in hand!
Here is a great recipe for you to try with chestnuts.  I call it a multi-purpose mix because it can be moulded into energy balls, used as a fruit crumble topping (on top of cooked apples, pears for a fructose friendly alternative, berries or a mix of the above!), as a breakfast cereal topping (porridge, Weetbix, etc) or even wrapped in filo pastry as a baclava alternative!
The benefit of this recipe is that by using chestnuts in place of other nuts you are cutting out a lot of the fat content (even though it is of the healthy variety!) so you don't have to feel too guilty if you are like me and can't seem to stop at one serve!  Then on top of that if you use Crio Bru, you can add benefits like antioxidants and a prolonged energy release!
And take a license to take this recipe and play around with it!  Whats in your pantry?  Sunflower kernels instead of chia?  Prunes instead of dates?  A dash of cinnamon or ginger?

Chestnut, cocoa and pomegranate multi-purpose mix!


300g chestnuts, shells scored and roasted for 20 mins in a 180 degree celcius oven (as detailed above.  This will give you about 200g of chestnut 'meat' in the bowl after shelling)
100g dates
40-50g raw cacao nibs, good quality dark chocolate pieces or Crio Bru  (you may want to use less if making this for brekky!!! Or not... )
1tbs chia seeds
1/2 c organic shredded coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 pomegranate (or orange out of pomegranate season)


  1. If using a thermomix and dark chocolate pieces, place chocolate into bowl and press turbo a few times until crumble size pieces.  If not, chop pieces with a knife or coarsely grate.
  2. Add the shelled chestnuts into the Thermomix (or food processor) with the dates, raw cacao nibs, dark chocolate or Crio Bru, chia, coconut and vanilla.  Pulse the mixture until rough crumb texture (see picture below)
  3. Pour out into a small mixing bowl.  Squeeze enough of the half pomegranate into the mix (allowing some of the seeds to drop in too) until a ball can be formed (if making energy balls) by gently squeezing the mix together.
  4. Roll into balls and EAT! (or chill to store) - makes approx 20.  OR...  place cooked seasonal fruits (pears, apples, berries etc) into a baking dish and spoon this mixture over the top.  Bake at 180 degrees for approx 30 minutes or until heated through.  A couple of dobs of butter could be placed on top of the topping before baking.  OR.....  place a few tablespoons ontop of cooked porridge, weetbix or any of your favourite breakfast cereals for added flavour and a burst of nutrition to start your day!  OR.....  Paint a light spread of melted butter onto a sheet of filo, place another on top and repeat a couple of times.  Cut sheet lengthways in half.  Place mixture along the longer bottom side in a snake shape then roll up pastry, sealing with melted butter.  Either wind it around tightly into a snail type shape and place of baking trays, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with rapadura or raw sugar.  Bake in preheated 180 degree oven until pastry turns golden brown.  Serve drizzled with warmed honey.                 

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