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Perfect Pistachios

Natural Times, July/August/September 2015

By Crystal Wakoa

The pistachio, with its delicate mauve skin and light green flesh, has always seemed an exotic nut to me. Its current popularity and ready availability have not always been the case. Pistachios made it into the American diet with the invention of pistachio ice cream in the 1940s. Before I ever popped my first pistachio from its blonde, cracked shell into my mouth, I was smitten with the unique and complex flavor of the creamy green ice cream from Howard Johnson’s.

For ancient civilizations, the pistachio was the prized ingredient of the earliest trail mix. One of the oldest flowering nut trees, originating in Central Asia and the Middle East, the pistachio has been part of the human diet for at least 9,000 years. Travelers on the ancient Silk Road that connected China to the West cherished the pistachio for its long shelf life and nutritional richness. A member of the cashew family and cousin to the mango and spice sumac, pistachios thrive in semi-arid desert climates. Today, Iran is the top producer of pistachios worldwide.

Guess who’s second? Hint: Mine wasn’t the only American family to fall in love with pistachio ice cream. California farmers began planting pistachio trees in the 1960s. The desert tree takes seven to ten years to reach significant nut production, with peak production occurring at 20 years. In these short decades, California has risen to become the second largest producer of pistachios in the world, supplying 98% of America’s pistachios at 300 million pounds of nuts per year.

The pistachio is a nutritional powerhouse of a nut. It has the fewest calories, lowest fat, and highest protein compared to walnuts, almonds, cashews and most other nuts. A one-ounce (30 gram) serving of 49 nut kernels yields only 160 calories and packs six grams of protein (12% RDA), 300 mg potassium (8% RDA) and three grams of dietary fiber (12% RDA). Of the 14 grams of fat, 90% is the healthier mono- and polyunsaturated kind. Pistachios are also an excellent source of copper, manganese, thiamine, phosphorus and Vitamin B6 (20% RDA). And they offer the most nuts per serving compared to any other snack nut —49 to be exact (compared to 18 cashews or 14 walnut halves.)

No doubt about it—pistachios are a superfood snack. You would do well to include them in your diet. But you should also eat them in moderation because, like most nuts, they have a substantial environmental impact in terms of water usage (although pistachios outshine almonds and walnuts in this regard, as well.) It takes .75 gallons of water to produce one pistachio nut (as compared to 1.1 gallons per almond and a whopping 4.9 gallons per walnut.) Until California addresses their water shortage problems through a comprehensive water policy that includes regulations for agriculture, it would be wise to include the more eco-friendly nuts—local peanuts and pecans—into your diet as well.

Pistachios, in addition to being nutritious and delicious, offer an opportunity to practice mindful eating. It takes attention and just the right amount of effort to shell each nut, which slows the eating. Taking time to savor the rich flavor of each pistachio provides a satisfying culinary snack experience. And, you’re less inclined to overindulge as you watch the empty shells pile up.

Sprinkle chopped pistachios in your cereal. Add them to smoothies. In salads and baked goods, and as a topping for pasta and grains, pistachios will add nutritional pizazz to any otherwise ordinary dish. The following links will take you to two recipes that look particularly tantalizing: Quinoa Kale Risotto with Pistachios and Curried Rice with Pistachios. Bon Appetit!

Oh, and if, like me, you still hanker for pistachio ice cream, you can get your fix from Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs or Sicilian Pistachio gelato from Talenti (at the Co-op)—without the green food coloring from the old Howard Johnson’s recipe.

Curried Rice w/ Pistachios

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
2 cups brown rice, medium grain
4 cups water
1/2 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

1/2 bunch scallions, sliced

Directions:

In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add rice and reduce heat, and simmer until all water is absorbed. Set aside and let cool.

In a blender or small food processor, blend together apple juice, lemon juice, coconut milk, curry powder, salt, and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss cooled rice with dressing, scallions, and pistachios.

Serving Tip:

Rice can be served warm or chilled.

Reprinted by permission from StrongerTogether.coop. Find more recipes and information about your food and where it comes from at www.strongertogether.coop.

Photo by Krissy RuddyAvocado-Pistachio Pudding

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados
1/2 cup raw pistachios (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup coconut water
1/8 teaspoon of high quality sea salt (or regular in a pinch)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
Squeeze of fresh lemon
Handful of fresh baby spinach

Optional: shredded coconut for garnish

Directions:

Soak 1/2 cup of the pistachios for 10-15 minutes in warm water. Place all ingredients except lemon in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. Squeeze in lemon to taste and blend again. Serve in small bowls with some extra pistachios, coconut and salt on top for garnish.

Recipe by Krissy Ruddy. Krissy is a Holistic Health Coach for women who want an amazing life and a body to match. Find more recipes and transformative tips at www.krissyruddy.com.

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