I didn’t eat my first chestnut until I was in my thirties. Is that shocking? I really have no idea. Some people enjoy chestnuts every Christmas – roasted over an open fire, as the recipe/carol says – but we didn’t do that in my family. I grew up having no concept of what a chestnut was, and thought, for a long time, that it was an old-timey, out-dated, possibly fictional seasonal food item, much like ‘figgy pudding’ and ‘sugar plums’ (neither of which I’ve seen in real life).
For the past two Thanksgivings, when my family has congregated for turkey and football at my sister Sarah’s house in Colorado (where I’m going this weekend for the big race), we’ve gone to a local shopping center so Sarah’s kids can see Santa arrive. It’s a big to-do: they have actual real-life reindeer in a pen, carolers, and local restaurants passing out food. Either last year or two years ago, I saw a guy with a contraption that looked like a bingo ball tumbler set on fire. Turns out he was roasting chestnuts. I tried my first chestnut. I remember it being outrageously hot and burning my mouth – and not much else.
So I don’t know exactly what came over me, but about a month ago I came home from the store with this:
It was an impulse buy – and an expensive one – 15 bucks! I’m so unfamiliar with chestnuts that it’s never occurred to me that I could actually purchase them, but then I saw them at the store, on a shelf near the olives and capers (and not, oddly, by the other nuts).
This blog has proven again and again that I like to try new things, so I suppose that’s why I came home with chestnuts. And since then, I’ve been dumbfounded by them.
Usually, I enjoy researching and figuring out what the hell I’m going to be eating. I like knowing what part of the world my rare and exotic produce items come from, and how they’re used. But I’m enjoying not knowing a single thing about chestnuts. They’ve been a mysterious food item my entire life… and it’s kinda fun thinking of them as such. That’s not to say I don’t have my suspicions, because I do, and they can be boiled down to one single theory: They’re not really nuts. Here’s why I think this:
- Their texture is completely different. These chestnuts are roasted, and while every other roasted nut on the planet is delightfully crunching, these are creamy, almost more like little potatoes than walnuts or pecans.
- While most nuts are full of protein, calories, and fat, chestnuts don’t have much of any of those things. A serving of these chestnuts has 40 calories, no fat, and less than 1 gram of protein. They also don’t have sodium, which is unlike other roasted nuts, which are doused in tasty salt.
- They’re not sold in the nut section. Case closed.
Maybe I’m wrong, and they’re as much a nut as any other nut (except peanuts, which are technically legumes). Or maybe I’m right. Maybe I’ll never know. Although if you can shed any light, please do so in the comments section!
I’m about halfway through that jar, and so far, I’ve been pulling them out, one serving at a time, and munching on them plain. They’re good when they’re not scorching the roof of your mouth! They have a slightly nutty flavor, but are also kinda grainy, and, like I mentioned above, soft like potatoes. I haven’t experimented with them more because I had no idea what to do with them. Until the other day, when I noticed the side panel on the jar:
As a person living alone, I don’t really roast entire birds, so that idea will go untried, but what’s this? Saute with brussel sprouts? What a lovely idea! I adore brussel sprouts, and yesterday I happened to have some in my fridge!
I pulled out a serving of chestnuts, which, by the way, is four of them:
I gave them a rough chop, and then halved all my brussels. I sauteed them together, with some garlic and some low-fat balsamic vinaigrette.
And it made for a delightful side dish!
So who out there is a chestnut connoisseur? I still have chestnuts left in my chestnut jar… what shall I do with them? I want your healthy chestnut meal ideas!
Keep it up, David!