Did you know that in Iran, a ripe pistachio shell, which typically opens halfway to expose the nut inside, is referred to as khandan, or “laughing,” Alan Davidson writes in “The Penguin Companion to Food.”
Pistachio shells are naturally tan; bright red shells have been dyed, and super-white shells have been blanched. All pistachio kernels are green, though the intensity of the hue can vary.
Like all nuts, pistachios have a great nutrition profile. A one-ounce serving (about 49 nuts) delivers 156 calories, 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 300 milligrams of potassium.
Pistachios are sold unshelled and shelled. If you’re buying whole nuts, make sure the pistachio shells are laughing, i.e., partially open. Closed shells are an indication of immaturity, according to “Food Lover’s Companion.”
Because nuts have a high fat content (though it’s the good kind of fat), they can become rancid if improperly stored, said dietitian Constance Geiger, nutrition consultant for the Western Pistachio Association. What’s more, pistachios also take moisture from the air, which makes them lose their crunch. To maintain freshness and crispness, store pistachios in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep about three months. Or, better yet, store them in the freezer, where they’ll keep for up to a year.
When shelling pistachios, you may need to remove some of the outer skin. They are great as is, but toasting further enhances their flavor. Place in a 350-degree oven or a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast, stirring often, until they brown (5 to 7 minutes), but do not overcook; they’ll continue cooking off the heat.
Pistachios have a long history on the dessert table (in ice cream, cookies, cakes and, perhaps most famously, sprinkled on the ends of cannoli). But they also can enhance savory items, such as poultry and roasted vegetables. Geiger suggested sprinkling pistachios over salads and pasta, or letting them star in pesto. “I also use them in a meatloaf to replace some of the meat or bread crumbs,” she said. “I grind them up in the food processor so they’re finer.”