Monday, January 08, 2024

Crunchy Stuff

I stumbled upon SAUCE UP Almond Crunch Sauce while perusing Amazon for chili crisp. Like chili crisp, it's a sweet and oily combination of fried alliums and chiles, but also contains chopped almonds and a bit of dried thyme. It's different and delicious and adds a whole 'nother level of texture to dinner. But as much as I like this product, this post isn't going to exhort you to buy it. It's going to encourage you to make your own

What I've been doing is to finish most of the jar, then add my own nuts, seasonings, and oil to extend the product. This stuff comes in handy when I have a dinner planned that might be somewhat lacking in texture variety, perhaps braised chicken with rice or potatoes and green beans. Thought it might be perfectly tasty, there's nothing exciting texture-wise in that dish. It needs a little crunch to zhuzh it up, give it a little spark. Sometimes I'll make up a type of dukkah, a dry blend of spices and nuts that originated in Egypt. And other times, I want something a bit oilier.

I keep a variety of both raw and roasted nuts in the freezer. Some nuts, like hazelnuts, go rancid in a ridiculously quick amount of time. Others I just don't consume fast enough. Freezing keeps them fresher for a much longer stretch of time. I may grab a couple ounces of roasted almonds or sunflower seeds which I toss into a sandwich bag and bash into smaller pieces with a meat tenderizer. These go into the mostly empty sauce jar along with a pinch of kosher salt and a glug of olive oil. Depending on the flavors of my meal, I might stir in a pinch of za'atar and toasted sesame seeds, or curry powder and nigella seeds, or toasted fennel seeds and dried oregano. For heat, I like adding a bit of Urfa Biber (a Turkish dark burgundy chile flake with a somewhat smoky flavor) or Aleppo pepper. I stir and taste and reseason, and when it tastes good, I put the jar in the fridge. (I always keep my jar in the fridge, so the nuts and oil stay in a cool and dark place, to stave off rancidity.) 

Recently, I decided to use TJ's Gluten-free Battered Plant-based Fish Fillets in tacos. Honestly, I find the average fish taco to be incredibly boring, so I would never order one in a restaurant. Battered fish (or vegan fish) is bland. Tortillas--especially commercial ones--are bland. Slaw might be vinegary, but raw cabbage is boring. Basically, the usual mayonnaise-based (more blandness) topping is left to do all the heavy lifting, flavor-wise, and it doesn't do a particularly good job of it. At least there's a bit of texture going on with the cabbage and hopefully the fish batter doesn't go completely soggy before being consumed. To me, what this dish needs to be more appetizing is a sauce that is both crunchy and spicy. An almond crunch sauce with a Mexican vibe.  I combined a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a goodly amount of Tapatio Picante Seasoning with freshly toasted and cooled pumpkin seeds (a small handful) and cumin seeds (1/4 teaspoon-ish) to make a textural condiment that added just the right amount of extra pizazz to dinner.

Need more than a rough guideline? Here's a "recipe." If you try it, or something like it, do let me know in the comments.

Homemade Savory Nut Crunch

About 4 ounces of your favorite nut(s) and/or seed(s), which may include: roasted and unsalted almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds, broken into pieces roughly 1/4" - 1/8"

Enough neutral oil or good olive oil to moisten the mixture without making it liquidy, a tablespoon or so

A pinch or more to taste of dry herbs and savory spices of your choice, such as thyme, oregano, za'atar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, curry powder, jerk seasoning, nigella seeds, etc.

A pinch of kosher salt

Pepper flakes, such as Urfa Biber, Aleppo, gochugaru, Ancho, etc. (optional)

Combine everything in a bowl, stir and taste. Add more of anything or everything depending if it's too dry or not salty enough. You could also add a tiny bit of sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup) - a quarter teaspoon or so, if it seems appropriate. Garlic or onion powder would also not be out of place here, though I don't tend to add either. 

Store in a covered container in the fridge. 

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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