These nuts have always been a hit at catered events, disappearing quickly whether or not they’ve been accompanied by cocktails. They couldn’t be easier to make, as they require only six ingredients, and they will stay fresh for up to a month when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
The secret ingredient here is the freshly squeezed orange and lime juice; citrus fruits are in peak season now and at their best flavor. The juices are necessary to make the spices adhere to the nuts—the orange gives them a boost of sweetness, and the lime gives them a tang.
Use any nuts you like—I chose a mix of almonds and pecans, but cashews, peanuts and other nuts will work, too. This particular recipe has just a hint of spicy heat, so if you want to turn up the excitement, add a little cayenne pepper or some chile flakes to taste. Fresh chili powder is a good addition, too.
In preparing this recipe, I did a little research and learned for the first time what chile powder is made of. On the elegant and spare janespice.com site, there is a recipe for making your own chile powder from scratch. The ingredients are cumin, ancho chile, chile flakes, oregano, and fennel seeds. Who knew! See the recipe here: http://www.janespice.com/recipes/how-to-make-chili-powder. I took the time to try this out, and my nuts had a lot of subtle flavor from the different spices. However, if you have a short gift deadline (that’s most of us, excepting those extraordinary people who make all their gifts in October and carefully set them aside), feel free to use store-bought chile powder.
Once your nuts are in the oven, you’ll want to keep an eye on them, pulling them out every 7 minutes or so and giving them a good toss. This will prevent them from burning and from sticking together in clumps. For packaging, a Mason jar tied with a ribbon is a great choice because you can see the nuts. Another creative and sustainable choice is a hinged tin box used to hold saffron. My friend Joy Turk, a wonderful cook (and my cohort yesterday at the Colbert Report), gave me some homemade brittle in one of these lined with parchment paper, and it looked lovely.
Recipe: Sweet Chile Toasted Nuts
4 cups nuts
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup lime juice
3 tablespoons dry sugar
4 tablespoons chile powder
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons salt
Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.
In a large bowl, toss the nuts with the orange juice, lime juice, sugar, chile powder, and salt until they are well coated. Transfer them to a baking sheet, making sure to scrape out any leftover spices and juice clinging to the sides of the bowl.
Put the nuts in the oven and bake for 7 minutes. Pull them out, toss well, and bake for another 7 minutes. Toss again. Bake for another 5 minutes, or until the nuts are completely dry and crunchy. Transfer the nuts to a cool baking sheet or a plate and allow to cool completely. Seal in airtight containers and store in the refrigerator.