I finally made a visit last weekend to a friend’s restaurant. It’s in Bushwick, a neighborhood as close to the middle of nowhere as you’ll find in Brooklyn. They serve some delicious seasonally inspired food that definitely makes it worth the trip. One of the appetizers I tried was paired with a watermelon radish salad that inspired me to make a nice salad for dinner the next night. Too often salads in our house consist of merely lettuce, cherry tomatoes, dressing and croutons. Making a truly special salad requires a little more effort and adding these candied walnuts are always just the thing. The nuts are tossed in a hot sugar syrup infused with spices, then baked in the oven until crisp. While they’re baking I like to give them a stir or two, to encourage the sugar to form crystals which form an extra crisp coating. These went into a salad along with some thinly sliced tart apples, watermelon radish, golden beets, pomegranate seeds, and fresh lettuce with a sherry vinaigrette. Other nuts will work with this recipe, but walnuts and pecans seem to work best.
Candied Walnuts (makes about 2 cups)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cups walnut halves or pieces
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bring the sugar, water and spice to a boil, then stir in the nuts. Stir them together for a few seconds, turn off the heat, and remove the nuts from the syrup directly onto a baking sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment paper. Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until they are crisp and any syrup on the pan is bubbling. Stir the nuts once or twice while baking if desired. The more you stir the nuts during baking, the thicker the sugar coating will be. Remove them from the oven, give them one last stir, then let them cool completely. They can be used in salads, desserts, or just for a snack. Different spices may be used as well – try cayenne or chipotle pepper for a spicy version.
Sherry Vinaigrette (makes about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 small garlic clove, pressed or grated
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco
Whisk all ingredients together. Dress the salad as needed and refrigerate any unused dressing.