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PRABEEN SINGH
HIGH TABLE

Rich in protein, it’s easy to justify the odd walnut binge

ike millions of privileged children from the subcontinent, I grew up with a loud voice dinning my head with, "Eat your almonds. It is good for your brains". I still have not figured out who are these THEY who decreed all sorts of health and other rules which are good for the mind, body and soul, and why did we have to slavishly follow these dictums, which in all likelihood had very little scientific foundation.

No, almonds were never my favourite, which really did not worry me as my elder brother happily munched mine on the way to the school bus stop on weekdays, without any of the elders knowing better. Although I do wonder at times if it did affect my brains, and his! Now walnuts were my favourite and I would have happily chomped through the mandatory five walnuts instead of those horrid almonds. My oft repeated rational that they actually looked like a brain and hence had far superior nutritional powers fell on deaf ears. As walnuts were considered heat inducing, we were given our share with raisins only during winter.

Winter was also a season to look forward to the delicious walnut and wheat germ flour barfi, which my grandmother rationed out to us; her favourites (thank god I was one of the lucky grandchildren!) were given a generous second piece. My mother was more generous in her distribution of the walnut and jaggery toffee. I remain a walnut gobbler, rationalising each bite with, 'it's full of proteins, a great antioxidant, good for the heart, prevents cancer and a good source of iodine'. After all, it was the fruit of Gods in ancient Greece and Rome, meant just for royalty in Persia.

Babylon's Hanging Gardens had groves of walnut trees towering to great heights of 100 feet and more. It could be the tree of life in the Genesis as the Kaballah philosophy ('tree of life') originates in this region. But I am realistic enough to admit my extra 3kg of weight is thanks to my greed and excesses. Why can't I stick to just one walnut a day?!

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At Roman weddings, bridegrooms would throw walnuts to ward off the evil eye, disease and increase fertility. However, the Roman bride would place a walnut in her bodice for every year she wished to stay childless.

The walnut tree is believed to have been native to Persia. It travelled right across the world through various routes, reaching the shores of North America under the auspices of Franciscan priests. Greek usage of walnuts dates back to the 4th Century BC, almost 100 years before the Romans discovered it and used it in their food as well as in mystical rituals. At Roman weddings, bridegrooms would throw walnuts to ward off the evil eye, disease and increase fertility. And young boys eagerly would scramble to pick them up as it also indicated their passage to manhood. However, the Roman bride would place a walnut in her bodice for every year she wished to stay childless.

In the middle ages, Europeans believed it would ward off fevers, witchcraft and epileptic fits. The Chinese carried their cherished good luck charm – the cricket nestled in walnut shells carved with intricate designs. A great favourite of birds, squirrels and other tree creatures, it has been observed that the ravens in California and Geneva would fly to the height of almost 60 feet with a walnut clutched in their beaks to drop them to the ground and fly down to eat the fruit. What ingenuity!

Furniture made from walnut wood is a prized possession all over the world and one of the finest examples of intricately carved walnut wood furniture can be seen at Kashmir. Today, the finest walnuts supposedly come from Great Britain; they were introduced to England from Gaul and Italy hundreds of years ago.

Muhammara: Walnuts in pomegranate juice

Ingredients:

½ cup walnut shelled

2 tbls fresh breadcrumbs

3 tbls pomegranate concentrate juice

2 tsps harrisa

4 tbls olive oil

6 tbls of warm water

1tsp roasted cumin powder

2tbls lime juice

Salt to taste

Method:

Pound or pulse-grind the walnuts so that they are roughly ground.

Add the pomegranate juice, bread-crumbs, lime juice, harrisa, cumin powder and half of the olive oil.

Mix in enough water to get the right (thick sauce) consistency.

Make a well in the middle and pour in the remaining olive oil.

 
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