I was recently shuttling several food-forward, knitting friends around yarn shops and eating establishments in western Maine. We do this sort of thing annually as the food, farming and fiber arts scenes in Maine are certainly things to be enjoyed in good company.

From the back seat amidst the clicking of needles, I heard cookbook author Cathy Barrow say, “I think of nuts as one of those flex ingredients. You know, one of those things where one type can almost always stand in for any other one in a recipe.” Right on, Cathy!

Much in the same way most hearty greens (chard, collards, mustard greens, spinach, and beet and radish tops) can be substituted for each other in a sauteed dish; most winter squashes (acorn, buttercup, butternut, delicata and kabocha) can be scooped out, stuffed and baked; and any lean animal protein (chicken, pork loin, turkey, or rose veal) can be pounded into a schnitzel, where one nut works in a recipe, so can many others. Using what’s on hand is always a greener option than running to the store.

Your recipe calls for hazelnuts and you’ve only got cashews? Relax. It’s no big deal. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Nuts (and legumes like peanuts) obviously come in different shapes and sizes. Think about a shelled pistachio sitting next to a mighty Brazil nut. So you do want to make sure the nut you substitute is roughly the same shape and size as the one the recipe called for. If your recipe asks for a cup of shelled pistachios, chop your Brazil nuts roughly to the size of pistachios before measuring the cup of nuts.

It’s also important to take note of how the nuts called for in the recipe are prepared, blanched or roasted, for example, or salted or unsalted. Sub like with almost like in this regard. For example, if your recipe calls for raw, unsalted almonds, then use raw, unsalted pecans.

But if you check your freezer (more on that in a moment) and all you have are roasted, salted pecans, then simply decrease the amount of salt in the recipe. Next, figure out how you can adjust the recipe to account for the fact that the nuts you’re using are already roasted, perhaps stirring them into the brownie batter where they won’t burn instead of scattering them on top where they probably will.


If you only have raw nuts, and they need to be toasted, simmer 1/2 cup of nuts in 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a pan over low heat. Not only does this process toast the nuts, it gives the oil a nutty flavor that will be as welcome in chocolatey desserts as it is in a salad dressing.

What matters more than the type of nut a recipe calls for is its quality, food scientist Harold McGee asserts, and the fresher, the better. The same high fat content that makes them nutritious, he writes in his opus “On Food and Cooking,” also makes them ripe for going rancid. Always store nuts, no matter the type, in the freezer in tightly sealed containers.

Drizzle the chocolate glaze over the bars once they’ve cooled. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Boozy Chocolate Nut Bars

You can use any type of nut/booze combination. For the photo, I baked bars with hazelnuts and Three of Strong Stone Pier rum, but pecans and bourbon, almonds and cherry liquor (like Luxardo), peanuts and peanut butter whiskey (like Skrewball or Sheep Dog) are all great combinations.

Makes 24 bars

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted
¾ cup confectioners sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon whiskey, rum  or liqueur
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup dark chocolate chips


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup corn syrup
3 tablespoons whiskey, rum or liqueur
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 ½ cup chopped nuts

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

To make the crust, beat the butter for 2 minutes in a stand mixer until very creamy. Add the sugars and mix until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the alcohol and flour and beat until just combined and the dough has a crumbly texture.

Line a 9 x 13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper that hangs over the sides. Pour the crumbly crust onto the parchment paper. Spread the dough out to cover the bottom of the pan. Use a flat-bottom glass to press the dough into a smooth layer.

Bake until the crust is slightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips all over the crust. Wait until the chips have melted, 1-2 minutes, then use the back of a spoon to spread the melted chocolate into a single layer.


Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

To make the filling, combine the melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, alcohol, salt and cornmeal in a large bowl. Whisk the mixture until smooth. Add the nuts and stir to combine. Pour the filling in an even layer over the chocolate-topped, pre-baked crust.

Bake until the filling is set in the middle, for 40-45 minute. Remove the bars from the oven and cool completely.

To make the drizzle, in a heat-proof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, combine the chocolate chips and butter. Let the ingredients melt. Use a rubber spatula to combine into a smooth glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the bars.

When the chocolate solidifies, cut into 24 bars.

When you toast nuts in oil, in this case peanuts, you get a two-fer – both toasted nuts and a sort of home-made nut oil that’s useful in many recipes. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Quick, Asian-inspired Nutty Salad Dressing


Peanuts are the obvious choice here, but macadamia nuts, slivered almonds and Brazil nuts would all work, too. It’s important to start with raw nuts for this recipe as the time spent in the hot oil will cook them. The dressing is versatile, at home on vegetable slaw or noodle salad, and great as a dip for summer rolls or a sauce for grilled chicken.

Makes a generous 1 cup

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped raw nuts
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek

Combine the oil and nuts in a small saucepan, over medium heat, and cook the nuts in the oil until they are golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer half of the nuts to a flattened paper bag to drain.

In the canister of a blender, combine the remaining nuts and oil with the remainder of the ingredients. Process in the blender until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Use the reserved nuts as a crunchy garnish for whatever dish you choose to serve with this dressing.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: cburns1227@gmail.com

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