For many years, one of my favorite places to meet someone for a cocktail was the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
I loved the moodiness of the dark-paneled room, the whimsy of the Maxfield Parrish mural behind the bar.
I also adored the salted bar nuts that appeared on the table with my Manhattan cocktail. They were roasted deeply and completely, until toasted through and through.
As all cocktail snacks do, the nuts served a dual purpose, priming my stomach for the onset of the alcohol while encouraging thirst (and possibly a second round).
In between sips, I had a special method for nibbling those nuts, perhaps to the annoyance of my tablemates.
First, Id pick out the almonds, then focus on the cashews before consuming the walnuts and pecans. The few peanuts there were would get left in the bottom of the bowl.
Its those King Cole Bar nuts I think of whenever I make cocktail snacks for parties. And I skip peanuts, the bulk nut of the cocktail snack world, entirely.
To ensure the most even toasting, I bake the nuts at a low temperature, stirring often.
I usually add some kind of herb or spice along with the salt to mix things up a bit.
And sometimes Ill stir in a little bit of sugar, just enough to make them shiny and lightly sweet without veering into candied nut territory.
In this recipe, I chose cashews as the only nut, mostly because there are never enough of them in the bowl. Then I added some large, unsweetened coconut chips, the same kind I use in my granola. They get particularly crisp in the oven, adding a brittle crunch to the buttery nuts.
Then, for a more complex sweetness, I use both brown sugar and honey, rounding them out with savory tomato paste, a pinch of fiery cayenne and a good dose of fragrant garam masala.
I could have stopped here and had a perfectly lovely batch of nuts.
But the combination of cashews and coconut reminded me of a jar of tamarind concentrate I had been neglecting far too long. Just a bit added an unusual fruity tartness to the nuts that played nicely against the spice.
Finally, I sprinkled the nuts with mint leaves, which made a fresh, colorful garnish. At this point my rather ornate nut mix had swerved far away from the simplicity of those at the King Cole Bar.
Happily, in the cocktail universe, there is room for both.
For a printable version of this recipe, click on the link below:
HEAT oven to 300 degrees.
MELT butter, honey, brown sugar, tomato paste and tamarind in a medium pot. Add nuts, coconut, cayenne, garam masala and salt and toss until coated. Spread on baking sheet.
BAKE for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is toasted and sugars have begun to caramelize. Sprinkle nuts lightly with salt and let cool completely. Before serving, break up nuts and sprinkle with mint. (Nuts can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 weeks, but don’t add mint until serving.) Yield: 4 cups