Cashew and Vegetable Stir fry
I'm going to concentrate on a slightly controversial food, deemed by some to be too 'fattening' to be included in a healthy eating plan, but in my view are a great source of many nutrients, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients. We are talking nuts!
Cashews are part of the same family as mangos - who would have thought! Pistachios also belong to the same family and these nuts are known for their phytosterol content. More and more research is coming out about these nutrients and their beneficial effect on heart health. Phytosterols block cholesterol absorption in the gut and could lower cholesterol levels in body - great for healthy eating.
Cashews have a lower fat content than most nuts (at almost 60%) but it is the type of fat that cashews that is important. Cashews are made mostly from oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been linked to heart health (olive oil is another source of oleic acid).
They are also a very good source of copper which is both good for your bones and connective tissue, magnesium which is good for bone and heart health and also an anti-oxidant. Cashews do contain a substance called oxalate, which have been linked to kidney stones. At present the research is not conclusive enough to tell people to avoid oxalate rich foods.
My advice would be, considering their oxalate and fat content, to consume no more than a handful of cashews a day (1 oz) , or fewer if you are having a range of nuts and seeds during the day - your total daily intake should be around a heaped handful of nuts and seeds.
When buying cashews, the best type to buy in terms of healthy eating are raw and unprocessed. You can get 'dry roasted' which are the next best thing (I've a recipe below to make your own dry roasted cashews). Try to buy in sealed packages where they are uniform in colour and not shriveled. Upon opening the packet they should be sweet smelling. If they are sharp or bitter they could well be rancid (see below).
You can also buy 100% cashew butter from health food stores and this is delicious as a snack - put some on whole grain toast, sliced pear or apple for an afternoon snack. Always refrigerate once opened. With whole cashews, store in a sealed container, in a cool dark place.
Cashews are such a great addition to your diet in terms of healthy eating that I've given a basic dry roasted recipe below and a range of suggestions to their use. I've also included a tasty stir fry which is perfect for the evenings that you don't have much time for cooking.
- 3 oz of cashews
- 1 head of broccoli (cut into florets)1 yellow pepper (cut lengthways)
- 1 red pepper (cut lengthways)
- 2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
- 2 spring onions - chopped
- 1 large fresh chilli (deseeded and chopped finely)
- 4 tsp soy sauce
- A teaspoon peanut oil
- Serves 4
- Chop the garlic finely and crush, leaving it aside for 5 minutes.
- Chop all of the vegetables before you start, so that they are all ready for the stir fry.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok.
- Add in the garlic and chilli, tossing it for a minute. Do not let it go brown.
- Add in broccoli and spring onion for another minute and then the peppers for another minute. Add the soy sauce, stir well.
- At the last minute add the cashews and stir through.
- Serve straight away in a large bowl.
- This dish would be perfect with cooked buckwheat or rice noodles and your favourite fish or meat.
Make your own dry roasted cashews:
Roasting cashews can intensify their flavours and also give them more of a bite. I'm suggesting roasting cashews at a fairly low heat for a longer time - this helps reduce the liklihood of rancidity (see below) and so is better in terms of healthy eating.
1. Preheat oven to 70 oc
2. I'm using about 3oog (2 cups) of cashews here so that you can do a large batch in one go but use as much or as little as you want.
3. You can flavour the cashews. Sprinkle some tamari (soya sauce) on if you want to eat them as a snack instead of crisps, add to stir fries or on top of salads. Sprinkle them with cinnamon if they are going on top of your porridge in the morning or on chopped fruit and yogurt as a morning snack.
4. Spread a layer on a roasting tray and roast for 15-20 mins.
I keep mentioning the issue of oils and fats and rancidity. I think its the most important element of using fats and oils. The more I read the more I realise that it is about the quality of the product and how it has been processed that is important. Buying extra virgin, cold pressed oils are best as the least amount of heat, light and air have been used in their processing.
We are no longer looking at fat in terms of calories as this only looks at one part of the picture. Yes fats can be highly calorific but their are many benefits as well. These have mostly been highlighted in terms of the essential fatty acids, Omega 3, 6 and 9. These mono and poly unsaturated fats have been linked to all aspects of health, especially heart health. Yet, it is important to note that these fats are highly susceptible to alternation from outside sources. Light, air, heat and movement can all affect the makeup of these fats and turn them into free radicals within the body.
This is why the best quality olive oils are found in dark bottles (keeping out light), should always be tightly shut (keeping out air) and should be kept either in the fridge or in a cool dark place (keeping away from heat). The more I read, the more I realise that most oils should not be cooked with. I use either no or a little oil in cooking and when I do cook with it, I try to use fresh herbs and spices to counteract the free radical damage.