Once you start, it’s hard to stop. To say spicy mixed nuts done just the right way are moreish doesn’t do them justice. Addictive is a better moniker. Serve them as an appetizer with drinks, then lock them away. And hide the key. They’re that good.
As we move closer to the year’s big r’n’r season, it’s a grand time to raise your game beyond offering drinks with a few bowls of potato chips and peanuts.
Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those. When the sun dips below the yardarm and ice clinks into the first glass of the day, I’ll never say no to some salt ‘n vinegar chips or dry roasted peanuts.
But you have to admit they’re a bit ordinary. Grand for the chillun with their sodas. And the good folk who only drink beer. But with a Martini or a Manhattan? Not so great.
Just like our extra spicy marinated olives, this is an appetizer for grown-ups. Fact is, strong flavors partner well with strong liquor. It’s not a competition. They just harmonize to bring out the very best in one another.
Remember your first taste of a serious chili or your first sip of Scotch? They’re both acquired tastes. Right from the start, you knew they were going to take some getting used to. And some practice. There was a worldly danger lurking in both — and it needed to be faced bravely. They were a couple more pieces to be fitted into the big, confusing jigsaw of growing up.
Speaking of grown up, these spicy mixed nuts are uplifted to the status of exceptional by cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, and cilantro. A little cinnamon adds a counter-balance of smoky sweetness. And olive oil and tart lime juice provide a coat for some salt to cling on to.
As your pals devour them and start glancing about the room to locate a not-yet-emptied little bowl, it’s nice to know that you’ve served them an appetizing treat that’s particularly healthy. Unless you’re allergic to them (sorry for you), nuts are super good for us humans. As are the elevating spices.
Which nuts to use? The pack of least expensive, mixed raw nuts that I bought featured mostly almonds, with cashews, walnuts, and macadamias all playing fairly prominent supporting roles. That’s grand because almonds are particularly good when they’re roasted. Pecans, brazils, and hazelnuts would also be great in an almond-rich mix.
As if our spiced mixed nuts needed any more gold stars, they do earn two more: quick and simple to make.
Spicy Mixed Nuts
- Place a big baking tray in an oven set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. You’re going to be roasting these nuts hot and fast.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the salt and lime juice. You need to give the nuts a thorough stir so that they all get coated by the oil and spices.
- Once the oven is hot, spread the nuts in a single layer on the tray. They’ll sizzle a bit as the oil hits that tray. Good.
- Bake for five minutes and then stir the nuts so that they get turned on the tray. Bake for another five minutes.
- It’s now that you want to try a few. You want a good crunch when you bite into them. But – and this matters – you don’t want to over-roast them. This depends on how fresh the nuts are and how oily. It’s not an exact science. If you think the nuts are still too soft, bake them for another few minutes. It’s a bake and test process. Also bear in mind that the nuts will continue to ‘crisp’ a little as they cool after their roasting.
- When you’re happy with the crunch from your bake-and-test, remove them from the oven and quickly pour the lime juice over them as they sit on the hot tray. Stir the nuts so that all get a coating of the lime juice.
- Now add the salt and stir again. The whole point of adding the lime juice prior is to give the salt something to cling to.
- Now tip the nuts into a steel colander and give them a quick shake. Why? This will knock off any excess spices and salt and leave you with nuts that are crunchy, pretty dry but not arid, and deeply flavored – rather than oily and still coated in slightly gritty, roasted spices.
- Allow the nuts to cool in the colander. Once that happens, taste a few to check for saltiness. By all means add some more salt according to your taste. Serve in small bowls.