This year, if you’re looking to put a twist on your holiday party, chestnuts might be your favorite new go-to. It’s incredibly easy (and health-smart) to wrap this tasty tradition into your holiday season.
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Chestnuts are the stuff of holiday songs that conjure up all sorts of festive thoughts. And according to preventive cardiology dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, you can feel good about cracking into this tradition because they have many nutritional benefits, too.
“Chestnuts are a great way to have a special holiday recipe without adding too much sugar and fat to our already cheating-a-little dieting trends during the holiday season,” she says. “If you’re going to choose a new recipe, why not go healthy and festive?”
They can be delicious eaten warm by themselves, or a festive addition to salads, soups, stuffing and even some dessert recipes.
How or where can I buy chestnuts?
Depending on your location and how they’re packaged you can buy them ground, dried, puréed or vacuum-packed at many grocery stores year round. (So they don’t have to be just for the holiday season.)
Fresh chestnuts are in season and generally available from fall through December in the U.S., making them a perfect holiday treat.
Are chestnuts good for you?
According to Patton, chestnuts contain potassium, B and C vitamins.
And while tree nuts are typically high in fat with a moderate amount of protein and low in carbohydrates, chestnuts are unique in that they are high in carbohydrate and low in fat and protein, Patton says.
“Enjoy them in moderation and just make sure you don’t overdo them,” she says. “Try to balance them out with other carbs you think you’ll be enjoying,” she says.
“One ounce of roasted chestnuts contains 70 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates,” she adds.
How to roast chestnuts
Step 1: Choose good chestnuts
Roasting chestnuts brings out their rich, sweet flavor and makes them deliciously tender. It isn’t difficult, but you do have to ensure that you buy good, quality nuts and that you roast them for the right amount of time.
Patton suggests that you look for glossy, firm nuts that have minimal space between the shell and the meat inside. Avoid chestnuts that have wrinkled, mottled, or dingy shells, which could mean that they are old or moldy.
“Buy more than you need because once they are open, you might find that some have actually turned bad and are not edible,” she says.
Step 2: Prepare by scoring each nut
Preparing the chestnuts is fairly simple. You’ll need a cutting board, small sharp knife, baking pan and possibly a kitchen towel.
Here are te detials of what you do in this step:
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Wipe off the chestnuts with a clean, damp cloth.
- Place each chestnut, flat side down, on the cutting board and using your knife, cut an “X” into it. This will allow steam to escape as they roast.
- Put the chestnuts in a baking pan with the “X” facing up.
Step 3: Roast the chestnuts and keep a close watch
Depending upon the size of the chestnuts and your oven, cooking times can vary. Generally, chestnuts take about 20 to 30 minutes to roast. You can stir them occasionally to help them cook evenly.
When cooked, the shells will burst open, and the chestnut will be golden brown. Roast until the shells begin to peel back where you cut into them.
“Keep a careful watch to ensure they are not overcooked or undercooked,” Patton says. “Either will result in hard chestnuts and the inner skin will be difficult to remove.”
Step 4: Peel chestnuts while they’re warm
Next, you’ll peel them. Do this while they’re still warm but cool enough to touch. If you wait too long, it will be more difficult to remove the shells.
Serve immediately if possible when they’ll have the best flavor, and enjoy!
“Once you get this easy recipe down, you’ll be bringing both a healthy new recipe as well as a new tradition to your holiday,” Patton says.