Adventures in Cooking: Nutty walnuts

By Majida Rashid

No amount of mother’s scolding deterred me from digging deep into the golden treasure that lay beyond the outer green leathery covering of unripe walnuts. But the challenge was peeling that husk because it also left brown stains that were extremely difficult to remove. That soft succulent and nutty walnut meat overshadows the flavor of dry walnuts and even today I would trade it with the ripe ones. Some avocados also have a hint of that taste.

Growing up I would experience an allergic reaction in my mouth soon after eating a few walnuts, but my love for them surpassed any discomfort and eventually the reaction relented. Now I can eat to my heart’s desire without any difficulty.

The dried-fruit bazaar of Peshawar, Pakistan, sold different varieties of English walnuts; some were imported from neighboring Afghanistan. The ones known as paper walnut were my favorite because I could break them by pressing or hitting two walnuts against each other in the palm of my hand.

This brain look-alike nut is said to have originated in ancient Persia, present day Iran, around 700 B.C. At the time it was reserved for royalty. The famous Khroush-e-Fesenjan, a chicken dish cooked in pomegranate and walnut sauce and prepared on special occasions to welcome loved ones, is considered to be from olden times.

Walnuts, or juglans regia as named by the Romans, were traded between Asia and Middle Eastern countries since antiquity.  Greeks and Romans also cultivated them.  Eventually English merchant marines took the walnuts around the world, hence one of the types is called English walnuts, which we eat today.

The other variety known as black walnuts were in North America. However, they were not a part of native American diet because the nut is hard to crack and their hard husk stays even after they fall off the tree. Though nowadays, they are mostly used for flavoring and extracts for commercial purposes.

Walnuts contain a small amount of iron, Vitamin B6 and protein in addition to trace elements like manganese, copper, magnesium and phosphorus. These calorie dense nuts satiate hunger even when eaten in small quantity and provide healthy fats including Omega 3.

Their versatility has made them popular throughout the world. In addition to eating raw, walnuts can also be boiled, roasted and used in baking. They add texture to a dish and complement the flavors of other ingredients, be they savory or sweet. 

Whole Salmon with Walnut

1 ½ - 2 pounds fresh whole salmon with skin
1 lemon quartered
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cooking oil to paste on the foil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1-2 garlic cloves finely minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander


Preheat oven to 350ºF. 

Wash and pat dry the salmon. Make small diagonal shallow cuts on both sides.  Squeeze and pat the lemon juice inside the cavity and on the top, making sure it’s absorbed in the flesh. Save the lemon skin quarters. Brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and leave aside.

Make the stuffing by mixing together breadcrumbs and cumin seeds. Add in the chopped walnuts, onion and garlic. Put half of the mixture inside the cavity and pat remaining on both sides of the fish, making sure to put some in the shallow fissures made by the cuts.

Line a baking tray with foil and brush it with cooking oil. Put the fish on the tray. Place the lemon skin quarters on the top. Loosely cover the top with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove the top foil and bake further for 25-30 minutes.

Tenderness of the fish is a personal choice. The baking time can be reduced to adjust the end result to one’s own liking. I prefer really well-cooked fish.

• Using a pair of disposable gloves will help keep hands clean.  

• Lining the working surface with old newspaper saves a lot of cleaning time afterwards.

• Coriander can be substituted with parsley if the flavor is strong.

Serves 2-3.