Friends of ours have planted on their property several thousand daylilies, in almost as many varieties. Each year for the last 6 or 7, they've had a cocktail party in late July to showcase the lilies at their peak. Last night was showtime.
Because so many of their friends are excellent cooks – some professional but most just very talented (as is the hostess) – their party has become a collaborative affair with the hosts providing beverages, scenery, and infrastructure, fireworks and some food, and the guests (over 100 this year, I think) contributing hors d’oeuvres, finger food, and inspired snacks. I had intended to rise to the occasion; in the past I've made miniature lemon tarts, one year made cucumber & blue cheese canapés with candied walnuts on top, and last year baked a heaping platterful of coconut cookies. But I had a busy week, culminating in a Saturday that started at 6:30 in the morning and included 5 hours at the farmers' market and several more of yard and garden maintenance. I needed to make something quick and painless. I showed up with a huge basket full of warm, spiced nuts.
I like to make these when I have friends over for dinner. They're easy enough to make while I'm busy doing something else, they play nicely with wine, beer, or harder stuff, and they're not so filling as to put anyone off their appetite (unless you inhale them, which is not hard to do). You can use any combination of nuts, or go with a single type – I particularly like cashews. The spicing welcomes improvisation.
For 3 cups of nuts:
2 – 3 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp each: ground cumin, ground ginger
1/2 – 1 tsp ground cayenne (or more if you want them very spicy)
Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the nuts on a baking and sheet and toast them in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes (depending on the type of nuts; if you're using a combination, it's best to toast each variety separately, as some take longer than others) until lightly browned and fragrant.
Let the nuts cool slightly; while still fairly warm, transfer them to a large glass or metal bowl. Pour in the oil, sprinkle in the sugar and salt, and mix well, using a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula. Then add the spices and continue mixing until everything is very well blended. Don't be tempted to skimp on the oil – it helps the spices adhere to the nuts. Besides, if you're looking for a low-fat snack...well, you already sort of blew it with the nuts.
Taste and add more of any seasoning as you like. Some of the other spices you might consider using are powdered onion or garlic, ground coriander, dried mango powder (amchur), even a pinch of asafoetida. If possible, serve the nuts while still warm.
The lilies, by the way, were spectacular: