Walnuts are the fruit of the Juglans regia, which means approximately "Jupiter's royal nut," as the ancient Romans believed the gods dined on walnuts. The walnut tree has been cultivated in Europe and Asia for millennia, but Franciscan priests brought the walnut to California around 1770.
Raw walnuts are one of the best sources of plant protein and are full of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants. All raw nuts are rich in healthy fats, but walnuts (like flaxseeds) have significantly higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids compared to other nuts.
Along with most nuts, walnuts can be "dry roasted" for about 10 minutes at 350F to bring out their flavor. Unfortunately, this kills much of the healthy fats and nutrients (and I'm not just some weird health fanatic—I've read this from multiple reasonably credible sources). I chow down on raw nuts for a healthy snack but usually reserve roasted nuts for use in desserts, which I can justify to myself because dessert is not meant to epitomize health.
These make delicious gifts, and are great as complements to meals or other desserts (such as on carrot cake or ice cream).
Makes 2 cups candied walnuts
Prep time: a few minutes
Cook time: about 25 minutes
2 cups raw walnuts
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350F.
Spread walnuts evenly in a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes, until fragrant and very lightly browned.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix together the syrup, salt (which gives it a buttery flavor), and cinnamon. (By the way, feel free to create your own spice mixture, in place of or in addition to cinnamon. I'm thinking nutmeg, ginger, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla...)
Take the nuts out of the oven and while still warm, put them in a strainer and rub them against the sides to remove the skins, which contain the bitter tannins. If possible, do this over a sink or it will make a huge mess, and don't worry if you can't remove all the skins. Dump the walnuts in the bowl with the syrup and mix until nuts are well coated. Evenly spread the nuts back onto the parchmented baking sheet and pour the remainder of the syrup mixture over them. Bake for about 15 more minutes. When you remove them from the oven, the maple syrup should be boiling, but it will crystalize as it cools (and this goes without saying, but be very careful—as I'm writing I have nasty blisters down my hands from the boiling syrup). Remove the parchment and nuts from the baking sheet and place on the counter to cool. While cooling, stir nuts often with a spoon to prevent sticking.