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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut at the Local Market

During the weekend I undertook my regular exercise in encouraging the growth of capitalism in the new Russia by shopping at my local rynok. I find it a therapeutic way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. The local traders have a good laugh at my Russian language; I learn some humility and get to contribute mightily to the redistribution of wealth (unfortunately mine) in a less than socialist society.

The markets seem to have picked up in the last few weeks. Maybe it's something to do with babye leto (Indian summer) but there's a good array of fresh fruits and vegetables. The small, sweet grapes from Azerbaijan called "kish-mish" were attracting an appropriate swarm of bees and wasps -- their sugary scent proving more attractive than the large vinograd imports. Both red and white varieties abound, and they are good eating at around 15,000 rubles ($2.50) per kilogram.

I headed inside the rynok. This is the bullfighter's ring for me. The traders here are the most aggressive -- they have to recover the high rents -- and only the bravest shoppers confront the sights and smells of the meat market.

There are some benefits to shopping inside, though. The crowds are thinner and there are some interesting stalls. This week I spent some time at the nut stand.

We tend to apply the term "nut" to any dry, hard-shelled fruit or seed with an internal, edible kernel. Acorns and hazelnuts are true nuts. Examples of fruits or seeds that are popularly but incorrectly termed nuts include almonds and walnuts, which are actually drupes; peanuts, which are the seeds of a legume; and horse chestnuts and Brazil nuts, which are seeds in hard capsules.

The variety of nuts available is quite good. Peanuts, originally from South America, probably Brazil, but now grown mainly in the southern United States and many warm-season areas of South America, Africa, and Asia, are available both shelled and in their shells for around 25,000 rubles per kilogram. Peanuts are nutritious and high in energy. The seeds contain 40 to 50 percent oil and 20 to 30 percent protein. Peanuts are a great snack food but are also used in both sweet and savory dishes, including African peanut stew and Asian satays (where peanuts are ground into a sauce with coconut milk and chilies). These nuts are suitable for cooking, unlike the salted variety as it's their flavor, not extra salt, that's wanted. The markets (and many street stalls in Moscow) also sell walnuts either shelled or unshelled at around 20,000 rubles per kilogram for the shelled variety. Unshelled walnuts keep longer than shelled. The English, or Persian, walnut is native to areas from Italy to China, but is now widely grown in many other temperate areas. The black walnut is native to the eastern United States and wood from the trees is used in the production of fine furniture. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that walnuts cured headaches, which probably explains the demise of both civilizations. Walnuts are, however certainly versatile in the kitchen. They are good tossed in salads, mixed into stuffing, or used in oil pasta sauces, dressings, breads and cookies.

Almonds are also available shelled and unshelled at 20,000 to 30,000 rubles per kilogram. Yet another member of the rose family, the almond is a native of western Asia, but now grows wild throughout southern Europe and is cultivated in most other countries. My marketer claims his almonds are from the Caucasus. Almonds are good to snack on but better used in sweets and baked goods and also appear in savory dishes (anything called almandine on a French menu). The thin brown skin is somewhat bitter, so the nuts are often blanched to get rid of it. You can blanche the shelled almonds yourself: Pour boiling water over the nuts, let them sit for a while, and then drain. The skins will easily rub off. Use blanched almonds chopped, whole, or even pureed. Toasting brings out their flavor.

A final tip: As the oil in nuts causes them to go rancid very quickly store any leftover shelled nuts in the freezer.