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Pine Nuts - The Delightful King of Nuts

posted on: Jun 13, 2018

By: Habeeb Salloum/ Arab America Contributing Writer

Pine nuts, white rice-shaped nuts, also known as pignolia, cedar nuts, chilgoza, pinyon or pinon are the product of a certain species of pine trees, which grow on the shores of the Mediterranean and in parts of the Far East.  Even though these nuts come in several varieties, only two types are retailed in North America.  

China, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey are the world’s main producers of the Chinese and Mediterranean varieties that have a mild and nutty flavour and a soft texture.

Chewy and buttery in taste, they are pleasantly a little sweet and unbelievably delightful to the palate,  a healthy and enticing addition to the diet.

About 1/2-inch long, pine nuts are at their best when the nuts are lightly toasted to bring out a richer taste and crunchier texture. They go very well with salads, as well as meats, fish, cheese, vegetables and fruit.  However, pine nuts reach their epitome as an ingredient in food when used in stuffings and in desserts.

Pine nuts make a fine culinary ingredient that not only enhance the look of a dish but also add taste appeal to almost all types of foods. Widely used in the decoration of dishes as well as in the confectionery industry they are a great addition to the larder of humankind.

Also, besides their culinary attributes, they contain essential minerals and are high in protein as well as an excellent source of vitamins.  Their health benefits are many. Pine nuts are gluten free and help in reducing cholesterol levels. Like most other nuts, pine nuts are cholesterol-free and full of healthful nutrients, including protein, fiber and minerals such as copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and Zinc.

Known as snober in in the Middle East where pine nuts have been on the daily menu since before Greek and Roman times, they are the king of nuts used in cooking. From this great storehouse of pine nut dishes, I have chosen these few, most of which were often prepared by my mother on our South Saskatchewan farm.

In all the following recipes, slivered almonds, not quite as tasty, can be substituted.


Taboulat Snober – Pine Nut Taboula

Serves about 8

Pine nuts served as ingredients in medieval Arab recipes.  Dishes which included them continued from that time forward and when salads became part of the Arab dining table, pine nuts came to be an added feature to give a nutty and richer flavour to them.  Taboula is ‘the mother of all salads’ in the Eastern Arab world. This is my version of this very popular and tasty salad.


1 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

1 small bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro), thoroughly washed,

stemmed then finely chopped

1 large bunch of parsley, thoroughly washed, stemmed then

finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place pine nuts, coriander, parsley and green onions in a bowl then thoroughly combine.

Mix remaining ingredients, then stir into the ingredients in the salad bowl and serve.

Kufta Mabrouma – Ground Meat with Pine Nuts

Serves 6 to 8

This is a specialty of Aleppo where it is baked and served in a round platter, with the ground meat rolls arranged in diminishing circles.

2 medium onions, very finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 egg, beaten

2 pounds finely ground lean lamb

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

4 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley leaves

1 lemon, sliced

Place onions, garlic, egg, meat, salt, pepper, allspice and cayenne in a mixing bowl and thoroughly combine.

Preheat oven to 300° F.

Flatten mixture to about 1/4 inch thickness, then cut into 6 rectangular pieces.  Press pine nuts into the longer side of each piece, then roll into crescent sausage shape.  Tightly fit into a round casserole, then brush with butter and sprinkle with water. Cover and bake for 1 hour, uncovered for the last 20 minutes, or until rolls are well-cooked.

Place on a hot serving platter, then garnish with parsley and lemon slices.  Serve with cooked rice or fried potatoes.

Dajaj Mahshi bil Burghul – Burghul Stuffed Chicken

Serves about 6

Stuffed chicken with burghul is one of my most favourite dishes.  Even though the most common way of stuffing chicken in the Middle East is with rice, I believe that burghul stuffing has the edge.

1 whole chicken, about 4 to 5 pounds

3 tablespoons flour mixed with 2 teaspoons salt

6 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons pine nuts

3/4 cup coarse burghul

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 1/2 cups boiling water

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon sage

Pinch of saffron

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Thoroughly clean chicken then rub with the flour-salt mixture, both inside and out, and set aside.

Heat oil in saucepan then sauté meat over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Stir in onion and sauté for a further 5 minutes.  Stir in pine nuts then sauté for a further 3 minutes. Stir in burghul, salt and a 1/4-teaspoon of each of the pepper, allspice, cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon of the cloves as well as 2 cups of the water.  Bring to boil then cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, adding a little water if needed, then allow to cool for use as a stuffing.

In a small bowl combine the remaining pepper, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves as well as the rosemary, sage, saffron and remainder of the boiling water to make a basting and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Stuff chicken, including neck opening, then sew closed and rub with butter.  Bake covered in a casserole for 2 hours or until chicken is well cooked, basting every 20 minutes with the baste mix.  Uncover the last 15 minutes to allow it to brown. Serve chicken with its stuffing while hot.

Curried Shrimp with Rice

Serves 6 to 9

In the Persian Gulf countries, pine nuts are often used as ingredients or for decorative purposes in fish dishes.

3 tablespoons butter

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved in 1/4 cup water

1 cup chicken stock

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup 10% (or light) cream

2 pounds fresh shrimp, shelled, de-veined and cooked

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1 1/2 cups Basmati or any other long-grain rice, soaked for 15 minutes and drained

3 cups boiling water

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

In a large-sized frying pan melt the butter then add the onion and the garlic then sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Stir in the curry powder, cayenne, ginger, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, diluted tomato paste and the chicken stock then cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and slowly stir in the lemon juice, cream and the shrimp then return to heat for a few minutes, stirring continually. Place in a serving platter and set aside but keep warm.

In another large-sized frying pam, heat the oil then stir-fry the rice over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 3/4 teaspoon of the salt and the boiling water then cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure rice does not stick to bottom of the skillet.  Stir in the peas and allow to cook for a further 5 minutes then place on a platter. Garnish with the pine nuts and serve along with the shrimp.

Sayadiah – Fish and Rice

Serves 4 to 6

This is a dish my mother often made when we could get hold of any type of fish.  Enveloped with an aroma of butter, it still makes my mouth water when I think of it coming out of the oven.

1 pound fish fillet, any kind but preferably firm flesh, cut into

medium-size pieces

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 cup Basmati or any other long-grain rice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 1/4 cups water

Sprinkle fish with the pepper, cumin and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt then set aside.

Melt butter in a frying pan then sauté fish over medium heat for 4 minutes, turning over once.  Remove the fish with a slotted spoon then set aside.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In the same butter, adding more if necessary, sauté onion, garlic and pine nuts over medium-low heat for 6 minutes.  Add the rice, then stir-fry for a minute. Stir in remaining ingredients including the remaining salt and bring to boil then transfer into a greased casserole and arrange fish evenly over the top.  Cover then bake for 40 minutes or until rice is cooked. Remove cover for the last 10 minutes of baking. Serve hot from casserole.

‘Asoorah – Fried Spinach

Serves about 4

A healthy and tasty simple dish ‘Asoorah can be served as a side dish or for a light evening snack.

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 pound spinach, thoroughly washed and chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

4 tablespoons pine nuts

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, then sauté onion and garlic over medium heat until they begin to brown. Add spinach, salt, pepper and cayenne, then cover. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, in another frying pan, heat the remaining oil, then sauté the pine nuts until they begin to brown.  Stir in the nuts and lemon juice into the spinach, then place on a platter and serve.

Fattat Hummus – Chickpea and Yogurt Platter

Serves 6

In Damascus, this dish is usually served as a part of a hearty breakfast.

2 medium loaves Arabic bread (pita), toasted; then broken into

small pieces

1 can chickpeas (540 ml – 19 oz), drained

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Seeds of one pomegranate

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon tahini

2 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Spread bread evenly on a platter, then spread chickpeas evenly over top and set aside.

Thoroughly combine yogurt, garlic, salt, pepper, pomegranate seeds, lemon juice and tahini, then spread over chickpeas.

Melt butter in a frying pan, then sauté pine nuts until they begin to brown.  Spread nuts over yogurt mixture then decorate with parsley and serve.

Ma’caruna bi Laban – Macaroni ln Yogurt

Serves 4 – 6

Veggie lovers will enjoy this dish made with pasta, tahini and yogurt.  Garlic adds that special taste to the dish as do the toasted pine nuts. Quick to prepare and healthy, it is a diner’s delight.  The spice mixture baharat is available at any Middle Eastern grocery and in the International Food section of some supermarkets.

1 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons tahini diluted in 2 tablespoons 18% cream

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon dried mint

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon baharat

8 ounces elbow macaroni

3/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

In a bowl, mix together the yogurt, diluted tahini, garlic, lemon juice, mint and salt.  Set aside.

In a frying pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat then add the onions and fry for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden.  Stir in the baharat and set aside.

Cook the macaroni according to package directions.  Drain then gently stir in the remaining butter. Place macaroni in a serving bowl, stir in the onion and pour the yogurt sauce over the macaroni, mixing gently but well.  Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and serve immediately.

Pomegranate and Pine Nut Delight

Serves about 6

To help in keeping pine nuts from becoming rancid, keep them tightly covered and refrigerate.

Seeds of 4 medium-size pomegranates

1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

4 tablespoons liquid honey

2 teaspoons rose water

Thoroughly combine all ingredients until the honey coats all pomegranate seeds and pine nuts, then place in a serving bowl.  Chill then serve.

Tamr bil Snobar – Pine Nut Stuffed Dates

Makes about 24 pieces

This Arabian sweet of dates and pine nuts is great as an afternoon snack with tea.  I recommend using packaged date paste, a product readily available in supermarkets.

4 tablespoons butter

1 pound date paste

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted until golden

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Melt butter in a frying pan then cook over low heat the dates in the butter until somewhat soft then mix in cardamom and cloves then set aside to cool.

Spread sesame seeds on a plate and set aside.

Take approximately 1 tablespoon of the date mixture, then flatten in palm of hand.  Place 1 level teaspoon of the pine nuts in the centre then fold over sides to cover and form in the shape of a date.  Roll in the sesame seeds then place on a serving platter continuing the same process until all the date mixture is finished.