Celebrating Chestnut Season: Six Ways to Enjoy Them
(Besides the Obvious Open-Fire Roasting, That Is!)
(Besides the Obvious Open-Fire Roasting, That Is!)
As Christmas draws near, it's time to appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells associated with the holiday season. It may be this last sense that has the most powerful associations: cinnamon, cedar, peppermint, gingerbread—and if you live in New York City, you can add to the list the magical scent of roasted chestnuts drifting down the street and throughout the city. Even if you haven't experienced them personally, you no doubt associate chestnuts with the Christmas season thanks to the iconic tune made famous by Nat King Cole: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose...
But did you know chestnuts are way more than just a seasonal treat? Mary Wendt, MD, says they pack a powerful nutritional punch.
"Chestnuts may remind us all of Christmastime, but few people realize they are a very healthy and versatile food and make an effort to actually eat them," says Wendt, founder of www.getwaisted.com and author of Waist Away: How to Joyfully Lose Weight and Supercharge Your Life. "We should be adding chestnuts to many of our wintry dishes, both for their unique nutritional properties and their deeply satisfying flavor!"
Long before they found their way into our holiday hearts, Wendt says that chestnuts were a dietary staple in the mountainous regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Because grains could not grow in those areas, the locals relied on chestnuts to round out their diets. And not surprisingly, chestnuts are nutritionally more like a grain than a nut. They are low in protein and fat, but high in starch and fiber. Naturally gluten free, they average 180 calories a serving and are unique in being the only "nut" to contain vitamin C.
Thanks to their distinctive sweet and nutty flavor, chestnuts can be added to all sorts of dishes in exciting and unexpected ways. Here are a few different ways you can try them:
- Raw or Roasted. For a simple and delicious treat, eat them straight from their shell any time you need a snack or a pick-me-up. (Be sure to always score and peel them first!)
- Pureed. Grind them into a puree and try them on crackers alone or with jam.
- As a form of bread. If you need to eat gluten free, chestnut flour is a safe and versatile choice. You can find it online, in some natural markets, or you can grind your own at home.
- Sprinkled on salads. Toss raw or roasted chestnuts into your salads for extra crunch and nutrition.
- Added to savory vegetable dishes like soups and stir-fries. (Be sure to check out Dr. Wendt's Brussels sprouts and chestnuts recipe below.)
- In tantalizing desserts. From spiced seasonal cakes to chestnut mousses and strudels, the sweet possibilities are nearly endless. Check out chestnut dessert recipes online for inspiration. Then get crackin'!
A Yummy Chestnut RecipeBelow you will find Dr. Wendt's recipe incorporating chestnuts with Brussels sprouts, another seasonal ingredient ideal for winter.
Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Chestnuts
- ½ pound chestnuts (fresh, approximately 2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half (approximately 5 cups)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Use a paring knife to score an "X" into each chestnut. Arrange chestnuts in a single layer in a large baking pan with the X facing up.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until the shell begins to curl away from the nut. Do not overcook!
- Remove from heat, partially cool, then peel and discard shells. Chestnuts are easiest to peel when they are warm.
- In a large skillet, warm oil over medium heat and add Brussels sprouts and garlic. Sautee sprouts 5-10 minutes, covered, stirring now and then until lightly browned.
- Add chestnuts to skillet and cook covered an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until sprouts are very brown.
- Stir in salt and pepper and sauté an additional 2-3 minutes.
In addition to promoting a primarily plant-based lifestyle, Dr. Wendt is a strong believer in eating seasonally—that is, eating foods that are harvested around their peak growing time. Because chestnuts are in season for only about two months, now is the time to enjoy their flavor and nutrients to the fullest extent.
"Eating chestnuts during the holidays is a great example of how you can select foods based around their growing season," concludes Wendt. "Eating with the seasons ensures that you eat a healthy array of foods and also support sustainable farming practices in this country. And best of all, you get to enjoy a holiday treat that really is actually good for you!"
Mary R. Wendt, MD, is the founder of Get Waisted and the author of Waist Away: How to Joyfully Lose Weight and Supercharge Your Life. She is an expert on making the transition to plant-based nutrition and has 20 years of experience practicing internal medicine in private and hospital practice. When she's not eating rice and beans from Chipotle, she's searching for the latest healthy choices available all over New York City.
To learn more, please visit www.getwaisted.com.
About the Book:
Waist Away: How to Joyfully Lose Weight and Supercharge Your Life (Doctor Doctor Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-49749246-2, $14.95) is available from Amazon and other online retailers.