My wife and I were recently having a pre-dinner Scrabble game and feeling peckish. We decided to snack on some pistachios.
While removing the green nuts from their tan-coloured shells, my wife reminisced about a time when pistachios were always sold tinted a bizarre neon-red colour.
I had forgotten that, but was instantly curious about why pistachio sellers did that.
According to the online nut seller Nuts.com, the practice of dyeing pistachios began in the 1930s in places where they were grown, such as the Middle East.
They were dyed to bring attention to them, and it seemed to work: Pistachios became a popular snack in North America and people didn’t seem to mind that their fingers got stained red when they were eating them.
Another reason the pistachios were dyed was to cover up unappetizing-looking stains caused from traditional and antiquated harvesting methods that saw the nuts sit awhile before being processed.
Nuts.com says red pistachios became scarce by the 1980s because of a limit on pistachio imports in the United States from the Middle East. There was also a huge spike in American-grown pistachios.
Those nuts were harvested using modern techniques, methods now used in other parts of the world, and there was no reason to dye them red because there were no longer any stains to cover up.
That said, some folks still pine for those red pistachios, and places such as Nuts.com realized that and are selling them again. But undyed pistachios are what you find for sale at every supermarket these days, and I prefer them.
The meat of a pistachio in its natural form has a very appealing green/yellow hue.
Because of that, and the nut’s rich flavour when left whole or chopped, it’s a wonderful ingredient to add to myriad dishes, both savoury and sweet.
To give you just a few examples, I use pistachios in stuffings for pork, in coatings for chicken and fish, in toppings for baked oysters, and in or on cookies, cakes and chocolate truffles.
I also sprinkle chopped pistachios on foods I think need a last-second hit of colour and fine flavour, such as today’s sumptuous scallop recipe.
In this recipe, large sea scallops are flavoured with lime and curry paste, seared, set on mashed yams flavoured with ginger and then topped with pistachios.
Other colourful accents include pomegranate seeds, fresh herbs and a drizzle of warm yogurt.
When eating pistachios, take heart in the fact that you’ll be enjoying something that, among other things, is a good source of fibre, protein, vitamin B-6 and thiamin, potassium and other minerals.
Curry-spiced Scallops with Yams, Pistachios and Pomegranate Seeds
Nicely spiced, seared scallops set on sweet mashed yams flavoured with ginger.
The dish is richly accented with pistachios, pomegranate seeds, tangy yogurt and fresh mint or cilantro.
This recipe could be doubled, tripled or expanded even further if you are serving a larger group.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About 20 minutes
Makes: Two servings
1 medium to large yam, peeled and cubed (mine weighed 425 grams)
2 tsp peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp mild, medium or hot Indian-style curry paste (I used Patak’s brand)
2 tsp lime juice
10 to 12 large sea scallops, thoroughly patted dry (about 350 grams)
• salt and white pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp vegetable oil
3 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt, warmed (see Note 1)
2 Tbsp unsalted shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped (see Note 2)
2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds
• fresh mint or cilantro leaves, to taste
Place cubed yams and ginger in a small pot and cover with cold water.
Set over medium-high heat, bring to a boil and cook yams until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
While yams cook, combine curry paste and lime juice in a shallow bowl. Add the scallops and toss to coat. Cover and let scallops marinate at room temperature until yams are mashed.
Preheat oven to 200 F. When yams are tender, drain well and then thoroughly mash. Mix in the butter, salt and pepper.
Transfer yams to a heatproof dish, cover and keep warm in the oven until scallops are cooked.
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet set over medium-high.
When oil is very hot, add the scallops — be careful of splatters — and cook one to two minutes on each side, or until just cooked through (see Note 3).
To serve, mound an equal amount of mashed yams on each of two plates. Set five to six scallops on top of the yams on each plate.
Drizzle scallops with any juices in the pan.
Use a small spoon to drizzle the scallops and yams with the warm yogurt. Sprinkle scallops and yams with pistachios, pomegranate seeds and mint or cilantro leaves, and then serve.
Note 1: To warm the yogurt and make it something you can drizzle on the scallops, place in a small bowl and zap in the microwave 30 seconds, or until fluid.
Note 2: Shelled pistachios are sold in the bulk-foods section of some supermarkets and at bulk food stores. If you can’t find them, shell 1/4 cup of in-the-shell pistachios to get the amount required here.
Note 3: Scallops cook quickly. When cooked they’ll turn opaque and feel slightly firm, but still have a little give in the centre. Overcooked scallops will feel very firm and shrink in size.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.