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Food & Recipes

‘Walnut Meat’ Is the Newest Swap for Ground Beef — What It Is and Why You Should Try It

Hint: It's an inexpensive, tasty ground meat alternative linked with dramatic health benefits

We all know that a handful of walnuts is the perfect protein-packed snack to curb cravings, and that the delicious nuts add crunchiness and earthiness to any dish, from pesto to side salads. But a new culinary trend is transforming walnuts into a savory, seasoned, crumbly add-in called “walnut meat” that’s quickly becoming a preferred swap ground beef and ground turkey.

If it sounds a little weird, never fear — here, we asked food blogger Yumna Jawad of Feel Good Foodie to share why walnut meat is her tastiest go-to plant-based protein. We also explain what walnut meat is, how to make it, what the health benefits are and, most importantly, what in the world it tastes like. Even if you’re a tough nut to crack, this meat-free “meat” mix is sure to win you over.

What is walnut meat?

Walnut meat is a plant-based protein you can make at home that contains chopped walnuts, spices and sometimes finely diced vegetables. This mixture is combined and then sautéed in olive oil until it’s browned and resembles ground beef.

“I think what’s really cool about walnuts is that they have this crunchy exterior but at the same time can become really meaty and soft to mimic the texture of ground beef—which is hard to do with other types of nuts that either stay crunchy or become more floury, like almonds,” explains Jawad, who uses walnut meat in many of her favorite recipes.

How do I make walnut meat?

Simply crush the nuts in a food processor or blender until they’re roughly chopped, then add your favorite seasonings—like an Italian spices, taco seasonings or garlic salt—as you sauté it in olive oil. When it becomes browned with a crumbly texture that resembles ground beef, it’s ready.

Is walnut meat healthy?

Walnuts are nutritional powerhouse that offer a dose of polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein and soluble fiber with each serving. These nutrients give walnuts the edge over ground red meat, which is associated with containing saturated fat that could increase your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. “Just an ounce of walnuts alone has [approximately] 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and it’s also good for the heart, which is what my cardiologist husband tells me,” Jawad notes.

Indeed, a study published in the scientific journal Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews suggests that people who eat walnuts have roughly half the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in comparison to folks who don’t eat nuts. Among nut eaters in the study, the average walnut intake was about 1.5 Tbsp. per day. But the walnut superfans who doubled that intake to 3 Tbsp. were the ones linked with a 47 percent lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

If you’re woman over 50, the health benefits are likely magnified. According to an epidemiological study of more than 33,000 nurses, women in their late 50s and early 60s who ate two serving of walnuts a week were much more likely to be “healthy agers,” meaning that they had no major chronic physical or mental diseases.

What does walnut meat taste like?

The mild yet tangy taste of walnuts allows them to absorb the flavors and aromas of your favorite seasonings. “It’s such a versatile ingredient,” Jawad enthuses. “They become this blank canvas that you can use to really doctor up with any flavor for any kind of cuisine that you’re looking for, like throwing it on top of a rice pilaf or in my case, having it be a good substitute for a dish that would otherwise use sausage or ground beef.”

In partnership with California Walnuts, Jawad developed a mouthwatering recipe for Walnut Meat Stuffed Shells, which is a spin on the viral “pasta chips” food trend. “I love taking food trends that are all over social media and just trying to give them my own little twist,” she says. “And there was a time where I was like, ‘What if we stuffed the pasta chips and got them to be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with something?’ And so obviously, something like this would work really well with cheese or ground beef, and I wanted to try to think of something that could be vegetarian.”

To infuse the ground walnut mixture with a savory flavor, Jawad uses an all-purpose seasoning called 7 Spice. This warm and earthy spice blend is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine for seasoning meats, rice dishes and stews. The combination of spices in 7 Spice can be suited to a person’s tastes. However, common spices used include cinnamon, pepper, cumin, and allspice. You can make 7 Spice at home, buy it from a specialty Middle Eastern grocery store or order a product like Sahadi 7 Spice Lebanese Seasoning online (Buy from Amazon, $11.25).

Follow the instructions below to whip up Jawad’s Walnut Meat Stuffed Shells recipe, which is guaranteed to become a family favorite dish!

Walnut Meat Stuffed Shells
Courtesy of California Walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 ½ cups walnuts
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon 7 Spice
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze (Buy from Walmart, $4.78)
  • 1 ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Marinara sauce, for serving

Directions:

  • Prep: 20 mins 
  • Cook: 40 mins 
  • Total time: 1 hr
  • Yield: 5 servings (4 stuffed shells + about 2 tablespoons marinara sauce per serving)
  1. Bring large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Separate overlapping shells immediately.
  2. Add walnuts to food processor and process until mixture is roughly chopped. Pulse onions and garlic in food processor until mixture is evenly ground and you create walnut meat.
  3. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add walnut meat, 7 Spice, oregano, salt, pepper, tomato paste and cook until softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add balsamic glaze and continue cooking until mixture deepens in colors, about 5 more minutes.
  4. Use a spoon to fill cooked pasta shells with about one tablespoon of walnut meat mixture. Add about ½ tablespoon of mozzarella cheese inside and then close with second pasta shell.
  5. Place stuffed pasta shells in air fryer making sure not to overlap them and spray with cooking spray. Air fry at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until cheese is melted and golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Serve with marinara, if desired.
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