If it’s holiday time in South Carolina, you can bet you’ll find pecans appearing in many dishes. Pecans are synonymous with pie and pralines, but did you know these sophisticated, buttery nuts make a nutritious addition to your everyday diet?
Melissa Macher, a Charleston-based registered dietitian and nutritionist with a food science degree, relishes the opportunity to add pecans to the recipes she creates for her cooking and entertaining blog, A Grateful Meal.
“They’re great to add to one’s diet,” she said, noting that pecans contain fiber, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins A and E and various B vitamins. “In addition to snacking on them by themselves,” she said, “you can add them to your cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, roasted vegetables or salads for an added nutty crunch.”
Besides containing these nutrients and vitamins, pecans are also rich in monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy fat that can help lower LDL – the undesirable type of cholesterol in our bodies, she added. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, each 1-ounce serving of raw pecans yields about 12 grams of “good” monounsaturated fat and zero cholesterol or sodium, according to information provided by the American Pecan Council, a newly formed organization of U.S. pecan growers and processors who are working together to build demand for American pecans.
Pecans also contain significant disease-fighting antioxidants. According to the pecan council, a 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients found that eating a handful of pecans each day — approximately 1.5 ounces – helped improve specific markers of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Discover delicious ways to add pecans to your seasonal cooking with the following recipes.
RECIPE: CIDER-BRAISED PORK WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS, APPLES AND TOASTED PECANS
To achieve the best sear on the pork, pat it dry well with paper towels after marinating. Cook the Brussels sprouts in a very hot pan so that they sear instead of steam. Makes four servings.
- 1 1/2 cups apple cider, divided.
- 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste.
- 1 tablespoon whole-grain or Dijon mustard.
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar.
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled.
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed.
- 3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided.
- 4 boneless pork chops.
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
- 2 tablespoons light olive oil, divided.
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved.
- 1 large honeycrisp apple, sliced.
- 1/2 cup chicken stock.
- 1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped.
- Combine 1 cup apple cider, salt, mustard, apple cider vinegar, ginger, garlic and 2 to 3 sprigs of rosemary in a microwave-proof bowl. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until salt is dissolved. Cool completely. You can add a handful of ice to make the cooling process faster.
- Add pork to cider mixture and marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.
- Once marinating is completed, dry off the pork and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saute or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Sear pork on each side for at least 2 to 3 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from pan and set pork aside.
- Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in pan. Season Brussels sprouts with salt and pepper and sear cut side down in pan. Add apple slices. Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until Brussels sprouts and apples are charred. Deglaze plan with remaining 1/2 cup apple cider and chicken stock.
- Add pork chops back to pan and heat until warmed throughout, sauce is reduced slightly and Brussels sprouts are softened. Top with additional rosemary sprigs and toasted pecans. Serve and enjoy!
Recipe and photo courtesy Melissa Macher, registered dietitian and nutritionist, A Grateful Meal – agratefulmeal.com.
RECIPE: APPLE AND CELERY SLAW WITH PECANS
Inspired by the classic Waldorf salad, this light side dish replaces the traditional mayonnaise-based dressing with one made from reduced-fat sour cream, sherry vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Makes four servings.
- 1/3 cup pecans.
- 3 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream.
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar.
- 1 teaspoon sugar.
- 1 pound – about 10 large stalks – celery, peeled and thinly sliced to yield about 5 to 6 cups.
- 1 apple – halved, cored and thinly sliced.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast pecans until lightly browned, tossing halfway through baking, about eight to 10 minutes. Transfer pecans to a rack to cool.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together sour cream, sherry vinegar and sugar until smooth. Add celery and apple slices; season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Toss ingredients gently to combine. Crumble toasted pecans on top and divide slaw among serving plates. Serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of Michael Vyskocil.
A PENCHANT FOR PRALINES
Charlestonians can likely agree on one thing: They’ve sampled at least one praline in their lifetime. The buttery, crunchy treat made with butter, cream, sugar and pecans is a staple confection in the South, especially around the holidays.
River Street Sweets in downtown Charleston and North Charleston has been making pecans for 50 years and is one of the leading producers of pralines in the country, according to co-owner Jennifer Strickland. Only the best Georgia-grown mammoth pecan halves go into the company’s World-Famous Pralines. The company sells approximately 130,000 pounds, or more than a million single pralines, every year.
When enjoyed in moderation, pralines are an indulgence that even those eating light can’t resist. “We have many raving fans who tell us they order our pralines and ration them as a splurge,” she said.
By Michael Vyskocil