I've got pecans on my mind, thanks to Kathleen Purvis' new book, "Pecans" (University of North Carolina Press, $18), which led me to wonder what two recipes land on Minnesota plates that make use of the nut -- beyond the very obvious pecan pie.
The first is specific to the holiday season: Russian tea cakes -- also known as Mexican wedding cakes, pecan sandies or pecan butter balls. If you're not a baker, you may recognize this familiar cookie on the holiday platter as the mound of powdered sugar that looks like a small snowball. It's one of my favorite holiday cookies because it's not overly sweet, made mostly of ground nuts and butter, with plenty of powdered sugar. (Do not inhale while eating; that powdered sugar can be dangerous.)
The first Mexican wedding cake recipe doesn't turn up in cookbooks until the 1950s, though its heritage (ground nuts and butter) extends back generations, perhaps in part because it's a durable cookie that not only can be stored a long time, but travels well.
The cookies likely date back to medieval Arab cuisine. The Moors brought them to Spain, where they are called polvorones (based on the Spanish word for dust, polvo). From there they spread across Europe before crossing the ocean and landing in Mexico. Then it was only a short hop across the New World.
You can make the cookies with any kind of nut -- almonds, hazelnuts, cashews (as in the Philippines) or macadamias (as in Hawaii).
But you can't go wrong using the pecan. As Purvis would say, "You can never go wrong using pecans, darlin'."
A nutty fish
Pecans may be the go-to nut for Southerners; the walleye is the must-have fish for Minnesotans. Pair them up and you have a memorable dish that can be found on many restaurant menus in the form of pecan-crusted walleye. But there's another treatment for the fish that still takes advantage of the rich pecan flavor. That's in a pecan-dill butter that's added on top of the walleye. Of course you could serve it atop another fish, but if you're cooking in Minnesota, why would you?
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