Ground seeds and nuts are a weeknight cook's dream ingredient.
With virtually no effort from you, they add tons of protein-rich crunch and pack deep, savory flavors. Ground peanuts, for example, can be used to flavor meatballs and burgers or to coat meatloaf. Ground almonds can be combined with tomato sauce and chipotle peppers to make a Mexican mole sauce for chicken.
Ground cashews can be used to coat shrimp for baking. Ground pistachios are wonderful tossed with a bit of melted butter and sprinkled over salmon for roasting.
And ground nuts of just about any variety can be sprinkled over rice noodles tossed with shrimp or chicken for a peanut noodle-style dish.
There are just a couple pointers to consider when cooking with ground nuts or seeds. First, the point is to grind them only until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs, not reduce them to peanut butter. A food processor (use the pulse setting) is ideal for this. But in a pinch, you can do it by hand with a large knife on the cutting board.
Second, nuts and seeds stand up fine to baking, but not so well to broiling. The high fat content of most nuts and seeds makes them rather flammable. I once tried broiling a pan of scallops topped with crushed peanuts. They quickly burst into flames. Really.
One of my favorite ways to use ground nuts is in breading for baked chicken breasts. In this recipe, I give them a bit of kick with red pepper flakes, but use whatever seasonings you like.
For the nuts, I used marcona almonds, which are a Spanish variety of almond that have a tender, buttery-savory flavor quite different from conventional almonds.
Marcona almond-crusted baked chicken breasts
To cut the fat in this recipe, you could substitute fat-free half-and-half for the heavy cream used to make the pan sauce.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
2 cups salted marcona almonds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces sliced button mushrooms
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
In a food processor, combine the almonds and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the almonds are coarsely ground, but not reduced to a paste. Transfer the mixture to a wide, shallow bowl. Mix in the breadcrumbs. Place the flour in a second bowl and the egg in a third.
One at a time, lay each chicken breast flat on the cutting board. Use a knife to carefully slice each in half horizontally to create 2 thin cutlets. Dredge each cutlet first through the flour, then the egg, and finally through the almond-breadcrumb mixture until well coated. Arrange on the baking sheet.
Bake the cutlets for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic and saute until the mushrooms are browned and any liquid that was released has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cream, scraping the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the chives.
Served the chicken cutlets topped with the mushroom sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 850 calories; 560 calories from fat (66 percent of total calories); 63 g fat (17 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 195 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 45 g protein; 7 g fiber; 360 mg sodium.