Today we consider pistachio desserts for National Pistachio Day. Though the origins of the holiday remain to be seen, we’re pleased to celebrate what Iranians call the smiling nut, and the Chinese call the happy nut! Let’s look at some pistachio facts before we jump into the treats.
A member of the cashew family, the pistachio came to us from Central Asia and the Middle East. While Iran continues to produce the majority of pistachios in the world, we now find pistachio farms in California, New Mexico, and Australia. The trees love long, hot summers and can average roughly 50kg of seeds every couple of years! That’s right, we’re actually eating seeds. Commonly viewed as nuts, but botanically not so. But regardless of what we call them, we can all agree that they add a spark to any meal.
Just be careful storing them! With their high fat levels and low water content, incorrect storage of bulk pistachios can cause spontaneous combustion. According to the German Transport Information Service and the German Marine Insurers Container Handbook this is possible due to self-heating of nuts and kernels due to chemical, physical and biotic decomposition processes.
Aside from storing them appropriately, the best solution is eating them as quickly as possible in one of the many pistachio desserts available to us.
Of course there’s the most famous Middle Eastern dessert, baklava. We also have pistachio pudding and pistachio ice cream. More specifically we have the Indian kulfi. But let’s not forget pistachio biscotti that is perfect any day, not just National Pistachio Day! When asked about pistachios, Stephen Durfee, pastry chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, states “They add diversity and a layer of luxury compared to other nuts.” He reminds us of the southern European torrone (nougat) and the chewy Turkish delight that sometimes includes pistachios. Another Middle Eastern treat being pistachio halva.
One dessert with a controversial name is the Watergate Salad. This dessert is similar to Ambrosia but hails from the Midwest US. It’s made from pistachio pudding, canned pineapple, marshmallows and whipped cream. The recipe was originally published by General Foods who have since merged with Kraft Heinz. When asked about it’s name, Kraft states: “There are several urban myths regarding the name change, but we can’t substantiate any of them.” The name Watergate Salad was part of a trend for satirically-named dishes politically popular at the time. Other items include Nixon’s Perfectly Clear Consomme and Liddy’s Clam-Up Chowder.
If you’re looking for another reason to enjoy pistachio desserts, the American Pistachio Growers recognize the nut as a complete protein! Good news. Here’s a list of yummy pistachio treats near you to help you celebrate National Pistachio Day today.