Sunday, October 25, 2009

Around the World in One Nut

One of the oldest flowering nut trees, Pistachios began their journey around the world from the Middle East thousands of years ago spreading to the Mediterranean. Rich in nutrients and resilient, pistachios became an essential travel food for explorers and traders who carried it to China and the New World (California is one of the world’s largest Pistachio producers). It’s no wonder then that Pistachios have been incorporated into almost all of the world’s cuisines. Take Pistachio Mexican Cakes for example. Little buttery cookies that appeared during the Cold War when serving Russian tea cakes became a faux pas. Or the many versions of pistachio chicken in Chinese cuisine. Or varieties of iconic French crème brulee which incorporate pistachio as paste, crushed or as topping. Pistachio trees have also become emblematic of Sicily. The proof is in their most cherished pastry, the cannoli siciliani which often includes pistachios in the filling. Pistachios feature in Moroccan cuisine as well appearing in everything from Moroccan rice pudding to couscous.
Pistachios are most prevalent in the cuisines of Turkey and Greece. Both countries call this treasured nut by similar names Fistikli and Fistikia. And both lay claim to that delectable pistachio pastry Baklava, a filo pastry stuffed with crushed pistachios. (Baklava is also served in Afghanistan where the pastry is lightly covered with crushed pistachio nuts.) They have other pistachio pastries as well. Fistik ezmesi is a marzipan like pastry made of ground pistachio. The Turkish also make Fistikli Kebab, a succulent combination of minced meat and pistachios. Roasted and salted pistachios are the standard snack in Greek homes. The Greek island of Aegina is particularly famous for its pistachio nuts. The Greek Fistikia Aiginis or Yogurt Cake with nuts is a veritable feast for all pistachio lovers. An egg-rich cake made from self-rising flour, semolina, pistachios, brandy and lemon juice, this cake is wonderful with tea or coffee.
With all the countries that now cherish pistachios, these nuts are the perfect remedy for the next time you feel wanderlust. Indulge and let your taste buds travel a little.

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