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KITCHEN SHRINK: Going nuts over pistachios

One of my favorite childhood pastimes was to sit at the kitchen table and crack open a mound of salty, red-dyed pistachio nuts, making two piles — the shells and the nut “meat.” I would then pop a handful of the shelled nuts into my mouth, and relish the fruits of my labor.

Unfortunately, afterward I would have to scrub my scarlet-stained fingertips clean. I recall our family was invited to a friend’s holiday party, and my mom bought a box of those scrumptious red pistachios for the hostess. She warned me not to touch them, as they were a gift. Not able to resist those savory morsels, I carefully untied the bow, snuck a few, then retied the ribbon. As we were leaving for the party, mom shook the box and asked me if I had sampled the nuts? When I denied it, she told me to hold up my hands, and the evidence was indisputable — caught “red-handed” with crimson-colored fingers.

Today pistachios have made a healthy comeback, au naturel without any incriminating dyes that were originally used to camouflage unappetizing blemishes and splotches on the shells from crude harvesting techniques in the Middle East before they were exported to the United States and other countries. Going strong with spokesperson Stephen Colbert personifying the flavorful nut, and a national day designated to celebrate this green powerhouse (Feb. 26), here’s why you should pistachio up!

Nutritional profile in a nutshell

One ounce of potent pistachios, comprising about 49 kernels and a mere 160 calories (mostly from unsaturated fats) has a load of fiber and minerals, including copper for optimal functioning of the heart and arteries, along with red blood cell production, manganese and phosphorous for healthy bones and connective tissues, and potassium for fluid balance. This heart healthy, hearty nugget is packed with stress-busting Vitamin B6, and rich green and purple hues bursting with immune-boosting antioxidants.

Pistachio behavioral psychology

Dr. James Painter, Chair of the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Eastern Illinois University has created a behavioral paradigm called the “Pistachio Principle.” He explains that since pistachios are “in-shell” snacks, the activity of removing the shells puts the skids on consumption, while the pile of empty shells acts as a “visual cue” to show much is eaten, and therefore provide a deterrent to gorging.

Go green

Pistachios are a versatile food enjoyed equally in sweet and savory dishes that can be crushed and sprinkled to enliven hummus, quinoa or spinach salads, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt parfaits, or chocolate dipped strawberries. Tossed in stir-fries, or used as a crust for chicken or eggplant parmigiana, wild caught shrimp, salmon, Diver scallops or fish sticks. Blended in pie crusts, Egyptian dukkah dips, or eaten out of the cream-colored shell, raw or roasted with a variety of herbs and spices from chile lime or pink sea salt to wasabi or chipotle seasoning, they are all scrumptious.

Nutty Chicken Cutlets

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, sliced thinly, cutlet-style

1 cup of chopped pistachios, roasted

1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, panko work well

1 tablespoon of spicy mustard

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon each of dried rosemary, thyme, parsley

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Method: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a cookie or baking sheet with parchment paper and slather with olive oil. Set up an assembly line with two shallow bowls, one containing the beaten eggs, the other with the pistachios, breadcrumbs, herbs and spices.

Brush mustard on the chicken breasts. Then dip first in the beaten eggs, and then coat with the pistachio/breadcrumb mixture.

Place chicken breasts on the baking sheet. Lower temperature to 400 degrees F, and bake until cooked through and the coating is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges. Serves 4