Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Although I’m not a huge snacker, when my hunger pangs strike I tend to lose all capacity for rational thought, so I try to make sure I always have some quick and wholesome munchies on hand to restore my sanity between mealtimes. Nuts are the most satiating pick-me-up I’ve tried, but the plain ones can get a bit dull after a while. The Internet is rife with seasoned nut recipes, and I’ve been bookmarking them avidly for years, intending to spice up my snacking routine, but when I finally started sorting through them all, I realized that the majority fall on the sweet end of the flavor spectrum; even those that claim to be spicy have an equally strong dose of sugar. Candied nuts are great for special occasions (they make easy homemade holiday gifts, for instance), but they’re a bit much for every day.

It’s actually harder than I expected to find straight-up savory nut recipes. I do have a great one for rosemary cashews with only a couple of teaspoons of sugar, which I make every year at Christmas, but (a) those are so delicious that I can’t stop gobbling them, and nuts are only a healthy snack if you eat them in small quantities, and (b) I like the idea of having special recipes I only bring out once a year, so making them regularly would take away the magic. I tried another recipe that had promising-looking savory elements like Worcestershire sauce and an array of spices, and although it was definitely tasty, it was far too sweet and buttery to qualify as sensible emergency rations. Then I unearthed this recipe from Serious Eats, and it is absolutely perfect. There’s a tiny bit of sugar, but only enough to temper the sourness of the lime; the dominant flavor is spice. I’d been worried about the heat level, but it was just right for me—enough to bring a glow to my cheeks and make my mouth feel like something’s going on in there, but not so much that I need to eat them with a beverage clutched in my hand to put out the fire. (If your heat tolerance falls below “medium,” though, I’d recommend cutting back to ½ teaspoon cayenne for starters.) These zesty peanuts are definitely addictive, but not so much that I can’t resist shoving them all in my mouth, and the bold flavor excites my taste buds enough that even a moderate portion feels like a richly satisfying snack. Plus, they’re insanely easy to make, with only about 5 to 10 minutes of hands-on labor. I can’t wait to try them on a hot summer day, washed down by a cold beer—but they’re just as lovely when eaten out of a Tupperware container from my purse when I start to feel cranky and shaky while standing in a long checkout line at Kohl’s.

I doubled the lime zest, because I was juicing two limes anyway, so why just zest one of them? It probably wasn’t necessary, because the lime flavor comes through more clearly than you might expect, but I’m a citrus fiend and I enjoy that sort of thing. My seasoning-to-nut ratio was also a bit off, because I bought a 1-pound package of peanuts at Trader Joe’s that claimed to contain “about 16” quarter-cup servings, which I assumed would be approximately the 4 cups the recipe required. Upon taking them home and measuring them out myself, I learned that this is only true if you think that 3½ cups is “about” 4. But you know what? It turned out just fine, and I wouldn’t change a thing. These are going to be one of my go-to snacks from now on. If you don’t like peanuts or are allergic, I assume the recipe would work just as well with other nuts; I can’t wait to try it with cashews.

Freshly grated zest of 1–2 limes
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2–3 large limes)
2 tablespoons chili powder (I used half regular and half chipotle)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups shelled, unsalted peanuts

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

2. Whisk lime zest, lime juice, chili powder, salt, sugar, and cayenne pepper together in a large bowl. Add peanuts and stir until evenly coated.

3. Scrape nuts onto a large, rimmed baking sheet (line with parchment if desired, for ease in cleanup). Bake until nuts are fragrant, dry, and beginning to darken, about 30 minutes.

Yields: 4 cups (about 16 servings)
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Excellent; will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a couple of weeks.

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