Go Nuts for Nuts and Seeds
by Cathe Olson
A common concern of vegans or those considering going vegan is how they can be sure they’re getting enough protein, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Many people think these must be obtained through eating meat, fish, and dairy products. A whole foods vegan diet that includes a variety of legumes, grains, fruit, and vegetables will provide all the nourishment your body needs, but the regular addition of nuts and seeds can really boost your nutrient intake.
The term nut comes from the Latin nux or nutriens, which means to nourish. Each tiny nut and seed is packed with highly concentrated nutrients. After all, they are designed to supply nourishment for that seed to grow into a plant or tree. We can benefit from them as well. Nuts and seeds contain many vitamins and minerals, as well as protein and essential fatty acids.
The nuts and seeds I use most often are ones that are especially high in nutrients, widely available, and easy to incorporate into meals. For example, I rarely use hazelnuts because I don’t want to go to the trouble of toasting them and rubbing off the skins. They are also an extremely rich nut and better eaten sparingly.
Almonds are a great source of calcium and iron. Since they are technically a fruit, they may not affect those with nut allergies. They are also less acidic than other nuts. Cashews are a good source of iron. When pureed, they add a wonderful creamy texture to soups and other dishes. Walnuts supply protein and vitamin A, and black walnuts contain natural fluoride.
I like sunflower seeds for their high protein and vitamin D, E, and K content. They also have traces of fluorine for strong teeth. Sesame seeds are high in calcium. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of iron. The high level of magnesium and zinc in pumpkin seeds is especially good for the male prostate gland. Hemp seeds have a well-balanced array of amino acids, and both hemp and flaxseeds are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Keep shelled nuts and seeds in the refrigerator or freezer as the high oil content makes them prone to rancidity. The rich oil also concentrates pesticides, so buy organic. Because they are such a dense, concentrated food, nuts and seeds can be hard to digest. Chew them well or grind them (see instructions below). Lightly toasting nuts or soaking them also improves their digestibility.
Here are some easy and tasty ways to incorporate more nuts and seeds into your diet.
Tiny seeds like flax, hemp, and sesame are too small to chew and will pass through your system whole. They won’t release their important nutrients unless you grind them up. If you have young children, you may be worried that they could choke on whole nuts or large seeds. Use a small electric coffee grinder or blender to grind nuts and seeds to a coarse powder. Add the ground meal to oatmeal, porridge, or cold cereals. Just stir it in and no one will even notice (especially nice if you have a toddler who doesn’t want to try new foods.) You can also add ground nuts and seeds to baked goods or sprinkle them over fruit or grains.
Toasting nuts and seeds brings out their flavor and makes them more digestible. Put a couple of handfuls of nuts and/or seeds in a dry skillet and toast over medium heat until they begin to pop and give off a nutty aroma. Sprinkle toasted nuts and seeds over salads and cooked grains, add them to stir-fries, or toss with pasta and olive oil. Store extra cooled, toasted seeds in a covered jar.
Almond butter, peanut butter, pumpkin seed butter, and tahini (sesame seed butter) are great on toast, bagels, and crackers, and in sandwiches. Mix them into soups or sauces for a creamy taste and texture. My children love to dip apple slices and carrot sticks into almond butter for a snack.
Nuts are a nutritious and delicious addition to baked goods. Add chopped nuts or seeds to cookies, bars, breads, and muffins. You can also use nuts to create a gluten-free crust for pies.
Nuts and seeds are great for snacks. They are a good high-protein pick-me-up that can get you through those afternoon slumps. Eat them raw or roasted, plain or lightly salted, alone or mix with dried fruit for trail mix.
Pumpkin Seed Pesto Ravioli
Using prepared wonton wrappers (available in the deli section of most markets) makes it easy to make ravioli. Be sure to make sure you check the ingredients to make sure you find one made without eggs.
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
- 1 cup packed parsley leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoon miso
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 8 ounces firm tofu
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 (50-piece) package round or square wonton/dumpling wrappers
Mince pumpkin seeds, parsley, and garlic together in food processor with metal blade. Add sea salt and tofu, and process until mixed. While processor is running, drizzle oil through the top.
Flour a tray or board for prepared ravioli, and flour a small work surface for their preparation. Place a cup of water next to your work station. Form ravioli as follows: Place a wrapper on floured work surface and put about 1 teaspoon of pesto filling in center. Dip finger in water and wet edges of wrapper. Fold wrapper over diagonally to form half-moon (round wraps) or triangle (square wraps). Press to seal. Place ravioli on floured tray or board. Continue with remaining wraps and filling. Ravioli can be frozen at this point (see freezing instructions).
When ready to serve, drop ravioli into a large pot of boiling water. Cook 2 to 4 minutes, or until they float to the top. Remove to serving platter with slotted spoon. If cooking all the ravioli at once, do it in several batches.
You can serve the ravioli with traditional marinara sauce; however, I prefer it tossed with just olive oil, salt, and pepper (and maybe a little Parmesan cheese or Sesame Parmesan, see recipe below) so I can taste the delicious flavor of the pesto.
Makes 8 servings.
Freezing Instructions: Place uncooked ravioli on a tray or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place tray in freezer for several hours, or until ravioli are frozen. Transfer ravioli to freezer container or bag. Cook as directed above; however, increase cooking time by a couple of minutes. Do not thaw before cooking.
This is a delicious vegan substitute for Parmesan cheese.
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted and cooled
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Coarsely grind ingredients together in blender. Store in covered jar.
Makes about 1/2 cup.
This is a delicious, raw snack.
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup dried figs
- 1/2 cup peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini
Place sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins, and figs in food processor with metal blade. Chop until everything is ground together. Add nut or seed butter and mix until combined. Roll mixture into balls or press into 8-inch round cake pan and cut into 1-inch squares. Keep refrigerated.
Makes about 3 dozen.
Note: Nuts can be substituted for seeds and other dried fruit can be substituted for raisins and figs.
Coconut Energy Bars: Add 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut to mixture. Add a little coconut milk if necessary to help balls hold together.
Sunflower-Sesame Molasses Cookies
These are cookies you can feel good about as they supply a lot of calcium and iron. This makes a big batch so store some in the freezer for later.
- 1 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1/3 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
- 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
- Egg replacer for 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons nondairy milk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil cookie sheet(s). Coarsely chop sunflower and sesame seeds in food processor, blender, or by hand. Place in large mixing bowl with flour, spice, salt, and baking soda and whisk together. In separate bowl, beat together oil, sweetener, molasses, egg, vanilla, and milk or yogurt. Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture. Stir until combined. Scoop by tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes, or until bottoms are golden. Cool on wire rack.
Makes 4 1/2 dozen.
Note: If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice, use 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
You can substitute almond milk for dairy or soy milk in most recipes. Soaking the almonds is optional but it makes them more digestible.
- 1/2 cup raw almonds
- 2 cups water
- Liquid stevia extract, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar to taste (optional)
If desired, soak almonds in water 8 to 24 hours. Drain.
Place almonds in blender and grind as finely as possible. (Wet nuts don’t grind as well as dry ones but that’s okay.) Add water and blend until smooth. Add sweetener if desired and blend to combine. Use as is in smoothies, cereals, or cooking. For a smooth drinking texture, pour milk through a fine strainer. Nut pulp can be added to hot or cold cereal, breads or muffins. (It also makes a great facial scrub.) Keep milk refrigerated. It will keep for about 5 days.
Makes 2 cups.
Sunflower Milk: Substitute raw sunflower seeds for almonds.
Recipes from The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook copyright © 2005 by Cathe Olson.
For more information about nuts and seeds:
Whole Foods Companion – Revised and Expanded Edition by Dianne Onstad. (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004.)
Nutrition Almanac – Fifth Edition, by Lavon J. Dunne. (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)