Warning – habit-forming! The rich taste of the molasses-tinged sugars combined with the coarse bite of the sea salt and pungency of the chili paste make for a tongue-tingling appetizer. These nuts evaporate before you have a chance to give them as gifts! I recommend making them when there is no one at home. Then no one can see how many you started out with!
Salty Sweet Chili Nuts
2 C raw almonds (or walnuts)
1 C raw cashews
1 C raw pecans or walnuts
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 – 1 tsp chili paste with garlic (Lan Chi brand is excellent if you can find it.)
1/4 C Dark Moscovado Sugar
1/4 C Demerara Sugar or Evaporated Cane Juice
2 tsp coarse red salt , or coarse sea salt
Preheat over to 300 F
Combine sugars and coarse salt in food processor or blender and blend to break clumps of brown sugar and grind the salt. The salt can remain slightly chunky as it will add a lot of texture to the finished nuts. Place mixture in a large bowl.
Melt butter in small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chili paste with garlic and stir to combine. Add nuts and stir to coat evenly for 2 minutes over low heat. Scrape nuts and melted butter and chili paste into bowl with sugars and salt and stir until nuts are evenly coated with mixture.
Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment and pour nuts onto pan, spreading evenly. Be sure to add remaining bits of sugar and salt. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning nuts with a large spatula every 10 minutes and shaking pan to distribute nuts evenly. Be careful not to scorch the nuts. Allow to cool completely and store in a tin for up to a week, or freeze in airtight container.
Note: We like the coarse bits of sugar and salt and therefore do not melt them into the butter before we add the nuts. It is probably possible to do it this way, but it most likely requires using a lot more sugar to get the mixture to cling to the nuts. This is messier with loose bits, but crunchier and with separate flavors. Therefore, walnuts and pecans with their little nooks and crannies do the best job of trapping the tasty bits. Try to use the richest tasting dark sugar you can find. Your choice!