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Cashews (Recipe: Muhammara, a pomegranate, pepper and nut spread) {vegan, gluten-free}


Sometimes you feel like a nut.

Sometimes you don't.

Sometimes you feel like a peanut, walnut, pine nut, or even an almond, but sometimes you feel like a cashew, and nothing else will do.

Even though it's not a nut.

One of the world's healthiest foods, cashews actually are the seeds of the cashew apple, which is the fruit of the cashew tree native to northeastern Brazil. Portuguese traders in the 15th Century carried the seeds to Africa; today, India, Brazil, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria are major producers.

Botanically cashews belong to the same family as mangoes, pistachios -- and poison ivy. Culinarily, they're happy to be called nuts, so that's what I call them.

Cashew apple 

Cashews are more expensive than other nuts, not because they're more difficult to harvest, but because they have to be roasted twice before they can be eaten.

You never see cashews in their shells in the market. Between the outer and inner shells covering the nut, there's a caustic oil that has to be burned off; the first roasting removes the outer shell and the oil. The kernels are boiled or roasted a second time to remove the inner shell. None of this harms the cashew seed inside, but it's a time-consuming, necessary and costly process.


Buy cashews either raw, or roasted but unsalted, depending on your recipe. Salted cashews can be extremely salty, so it's best to buy the unsalted, and add salt to recipes if needed.

To avoid rancidity, store cashews in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to six months, or in the freezer for a year.

And go ahead... call them nuts. They won't mind.


Muhammara (pomegranate, pepper and nut spread)

Adapted from Mezze by Beverly LeBlanc, this version of muhammara is a Lebanese twist on the traditional walnut-only spread. Serves 6-8, with pita wedges for dipping.


2 Tbsp walnut pieces
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 Tbsp cashews
8 oz roasted red pepper strips
1/3 cup olive oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp fresh bread crumbs
1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper, or more to taste
1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1-2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste
1-2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds, for garnish


In a dry nonstick frying pan over medium heat, toast the nuts until they are slightly fragrant and just starting to color. Add to a food processor along with the red pepper strips. In the frying pan, heat the olive oil, and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, then add the cumin and cook for an additional 2 minutes, until the onion is soft.

Add the onion and any oil in the pan to the food processor, along with the bread crumbs, Aleppo pepper, pomegranate molasses and lemon juice. Process until the mixture is a thick paste. Then, with the motor running, drizzle in the remaining olive oil. Taste, and add extra lemon juice or salt, to taste.

Transfer to a serving bowl. If you're not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap pressed down on the surface of the muhammara and refrigerate. (Can be made up to 3 days in advance.) Garnish with pomegranate seeds when you serve.

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Penne with roasted red pepper pesto
Maple nut cookies
Armenian brioche filled with dates, honey and walnuts
Lemon walnut yogurt dessert
Classic pecan pie

Thanks to Cousin Martin for his photo of the cashew fruits.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Lydia, you always surprise me .... for the food I eat almost everyday and have been assuming it a nut for life... I really admire of your passion in looking up the detail. and this muhammara likes divine!

Lydia-yesterday I made Finnish Pulla Bread using the bread machine; cardamom recipe you shared a few months back. I am not a baker--but I did it! It was easy and tasted almost like my Swedish Aunt Elly's Bulla.
Thanks so much for the inspiration.

Oh wow! I'd love to taste this.


I had no idea cashews weren't a nut!!

Once again I have learned something form you! I always thought almonds were the healthy nut of choice but am delighted to see that cashew is at least its its equal. You suprised me as well that they belong to the family of one of my favorite foods--mangoes!

pomegranate molasses -- now that sounds delicious. I'm on the hunt for the ingredients. Thanks for the inspiration.

I love that photo of the cashew fruits! This sounds so tasty and I have all the ingredients except the pomegranate molasses (and I'm thinking agave nectar might work, even though it's not traditional for the recipe.) Love the sound of it.

Funny that the stem of the cashew fruit looks like a cashew! Thanks for the info.

Oops...now I get it! The seeds are not inside the fruit! They are on the bottom of the fruit...no wonder they resembled cashews. :-)

This sounds yummy! We have a Lebanese deli nearby, but I have never seen this on the menu. I prefer cashews to walnuts, so this version sounds better than the classic one to me.

Is the apple part eaten as well??? If so, does it taste like any apple that we would know? You certainly are a font of information and I learn something new each time I read your articles. Thanks.

Thanks for a very informative post! I didn't know all that stuff about cashews but I find the information you shared fascinating. :) The dish looks delicious.

My first thought after reading this post was how very imformative it is; my second - what about those apples? Can one eat them?
This is a great post, Lydia.

Oh, and of course, the recipe! I've already saved it. :))

Cashews are my favorite...I get them unsalted and we fry in oil with salt in the wok. Usually the others (here in China) already salted... have salt, sugar and MSG. My body does not tolerate MSG very well which can be a pain in the land of MSG.

How strange to think of cashews belonging to the mango and poison ivy families! I guess the cashew is the wacky third cousin ...

Gattina, Daryl, TW, Raluca: it's really fun for me to research and learn about the things in my pantry. I'm glad it's fun for you, too.

Wendy, you're quite welcome!

Paz, if you like nuts, you'll like this.

Pam, even though they're not nuts, I still love them.

Satonahat, you can find pomegranate molasses at Middle Eastern markets (like the Syrian Grocery in Boston). Or you can make your own by reducing pomegranate juice to one-fourth of its original volume over medium heat on the stovetop.

Kalyn, you might try the dark agave, which is a bit more molasses-like.

Judy, that's it!

Janel, I'm the same way. I like cashews better than walnuts, too.

Babs, Christine: In Brazil we had cashew juice (made from the fruit) for breakfast every morning. It doesn't taste like apples, though; it's quite mild and bland.

Tai-Tai, I know just what you mean about MSG. It makes my face turn red.

I had no idea it wasn't a nut. So interesting. You always enlighten me!

These looks quite yummy and different.

Thanks for the info about cashews. I learned something new today :) And your recipe sounds just amazing, with the pomegranate and all. Hmmm perfect fall food.

Wow, I love the look of the spread! I can't wait to try it.

That's so interesting ... maybe that's why I've never had a problem with cashews even though other nuts give me an allergic reaction. I've always been intrigued by this dip, but never bothered because of the nuts. Maybe I'll give it a trip!

Peabody, I love the milder flavor of cashews in this dish.

Ben, the colors are pretty for Fall, too. One should always eat food that coordinates with the leaves on the trees -- at least here in New England!

Natashya, pomegranates are available in the markets now, and I love to take advantage of that.

Julia, I know that some people are allergic to tree nuts but not ground nuts. Try this with all cashews -- but you'll probably have to add some hot sauce to perk up the flavor a bit.

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