Healing Weeds - Getting a closer contact with the healing world of herbs and wild plants.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sweet Chestnut


NL: tamme kastanje / F: Marrons

Sweet chestnuts are incredibly nutritious and offer their fruits abundantly without the need for big human input. All one needs to do is to plant a tree and take some little care of the baby tree (like giving it some water in overly dry seasons) until it reaches a considerable size and from then on, the tree will take care of itself. That puts them among some of the most sustainable foods ever.

Consuming grains means large amounts of land being used for growing the crops, large machines are employed in harvest, usually ruining the soil fertility, then they are processed, stored and transported until it gets to the consumer. Chestnut trees, on the other hand, do a great job in the soil, offer shelter and food to wild animals, birds, insects, clean up the air and on the top of that they yield precious foods that can be easily harvested.


Sweet chestnuts grow easily in most of the Northern hemisphere. It is hardy from zones 5-7.

The skin of sweet chestnuts can be easily removed after steaming or blanching the nuts. Score them by a cross slit at the tufted end (where the colour of the skin is lighter than the rest).

cutting the chestnuts like this makes peeling much easy, specially if they are still hot


In France most people prepare their chestnuts directly on the fire with the use of special pans, like this one:  'La Lyonnaise' Poêle à Marrons . These are pretty handy to use and it allows you to peel both the outer shell and inner dark brown layer (which doesn't bother me but it might give a little rough effect in some creamy recipes). Note that if you don't have direct fire to cook with - meaning, if you use an induction, ceramic or electric cooking stove - these pans are not an option.

Cooked, steamed or roasted chestnuts are very versatile and can be used in endless culinary ideas, sweet or savory. You can use them to thicken desserts, soups, puddings... they can be added to various vegetable stews instead of grains, as they absorb the sauce and help to enrich the dish. They can also be turned into flour for bread making or as a thickener in various culinary creations.


Here are a few examples of where and how I use cooked/steamed chestnuts in:
- smoothies with banana, carob or cocoa powder
- hot drinks, with almond milk and spices (like the recipe in this post) or with chocolate
- creamy sweet spreads with vanille and dates or with - guess what? - melted dark chocolate! ;-)
- savory spreads with nutmeg, chilli pepper, tahini, garden herbs such as rosemary or basil
- tapenades with sundried tomatoes, capers, nutritional yeast, olives, sambal and lemon juice + zest
- stews instead of rice or noodles - I just add them at the end of the cooking, lightly broken
- Thai or Indian curries, also instead of noodles or rice
- pancakes, cakes, bread...
- burgers, with some chickpea flour or oat flakes and spices
- add to seitan recipes, for extra richness
- lasagne white sauce (instead of wheat flour as used in bechamel)
- pizzas and calzones
- croquettes
- or I simply freeze them for later use.


*Note: if you harvest sweet chestnuts for the first time, please make sure to learn the difference between them and horse chestnut, a similar nut that can also be found in similar environments during the same season. Here is a post with pictures that can help you with that:
Sweet chestnuts and Horse chestnuts: how to tell the difference.


Next to its use as foods, chestnut leaves are rich in tannins and can also be used as a first aid herbal medicine to help stop bleedings and diarrhea. Its leaves can be also used in concoctions and syrups to help relieve respiratory ailments.

The tree flowers are harvested during spring time and used in Bach flower remedies.




Now with chestnut harvest season open we'll be cooking every day something with sweet chestnuts. 

Here is a recipe for a Chestnut Spice Latte



Ingredients:

100g steamed and pealed chestnuts (or 300g sweet potato or pumpkin, baked in the oven)
600 ml almond milk (or a mixture oat milk + coconut milk or the milk of your preference)
1 1/2 t.s. cinnamon 
sweetener to taste (sucanat / mascobado, agave syrup, dates, stevia)
1 t.s. cardamom powder
1/4 t.s. mace powder (or nutmeg)
1/4 t.s. allspice powder
1/2 t.s. freshly grated ginger
2 tbsp orange compote or 1/2 t.s.. orange zest (optional)
1 tbsp orange water
Other nice additions are saffron and 1/4 t.s. red chilli flakes

freshly harvested sweet chestnuts are highly nutritious and can take part in so many delicious recipes


Rinse the sweet chestnuts and make shallow cuts on their round part to help steaming go smoother and to help with pealing them. Steam them for 10 minutes or until they show the little cross cuts open up. Peel them while they are still hot as it is much easier than when they cool down.

Mix the cooked and peeled chestnuts with all the other ingredients until smooth and bring the liquid to a quick boil over medium-heat until the chestnut and milk seem well thickened. If too thick, add more milk. Serve immediately.


Feel free to play with the spices of your preference adding a little bit more or less of each spice. The suggested amounts here are more a guideline than a "rule". Each version I make tastes totally different. There is no problem if you don't have all these spices at home. It works fine sometimes only with cinnamon, cardamom and orange compote for instance. 



Here are some nutrition facts from sweet chestnuts (source: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3143/2) :


Sweet chestnuts x Horse chestnuts


This time of the year we can find plenty of sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) available in most urban parks or in any little piece of nature where the chestnut trees were allowed to grow and do their job.

Chestnuts are highly nutritious and they rank among some of the most ecologically responsible foods you can think of.  

The only thing you need to know is how to tell the edible chestnuts from the horse chestnuts, which are usually shedding their fruits at the same period.

Here are some pictures of the sweet chestnut to help you identify them.


The main features to help you identify the edible sweet chestnuts are the little "tail" on the nuts, their husk and the shape of the leaves.



Here are some pictures from the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastannum) so that you can see how different they are from the sweet chestnuts. Note that this plant and nuts are NOT edible. That is why it is so important to learn the clear difference between the two of them.


The nuts of the horse chestnut are round without the little "tail". Also the husk contains less spikes compared to sweet chestnuts.



this is how the leaves of the horse chestnut look in spring time. Quite different than the leaves from sweet chestnut

Here is a video that helps to make the distinction between these two plants.

"Chestnut" side-by-side comparison - Horse and Sweet





Tuesday, August 18, 2015