I really like Trader Joe’s Thai Lime & Chili Cashews, but they are kind of on the expensive side, especially if I bought them as often as I’d like to. I decided to make them for Father’s Day, since my dad really enjoyed eating them last Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any recipes online that include all of the ingredients listed on the package, only some of them, so I’ve looked at several to try to figure out the amounts. Regardless, this recipe creation required repeated taste testing as I mixed ingredients in and adjusted the proportions. The ingredient list is as follows: cashew nuts, Thai lime leaves, chile, lemongrass, lime powder, chili powder, sugar, salt, canola oil, rice bran oil. I often have raw cashews in my pantry, since I frequently buy them at Oliver’s, Community Market or Whole Foods to add extra protein into my diet. It kind of figures that I finally found Thai lime leaves (also commonly known as kaffir lime but kaffir is derogatory) and Thai chilis at the Thai Lao Market after visiting a few other Asian markets in Cotati and Santa Rosa, who really didn’t carry many (if any) Thai food items in stock. I also bought some pandan for making some other exotic dessert recipes later. I bought all of my other dry spices and herbs at Savory Spice Shop, including the lemongrass and California sweet paprika (which I’m using instead of chili powder), which I also use to make herbal tea. I’m going to use lime juice in lieu of lime powder, and I’m not going to worry about the rice bran oil but will substitute it with extra virgin olive oil.
Sometimes in life even though we are warned about potentially harmful or painful things by numerous people, we do not approach those dangers with sufficient caution. I chalk this up to stubbornness and inexperience. Well, this is what happened to me and the chilis. Although they are small, cute and colorful, do not let them fool you! They contain oils in their flesh and seeds that are very irritating to non-calloused skin, like lips and under fingernails, and mucus membranes, such as those in your eyes, mouth and nose. These oils cause burning sensations, itching and tingling, which are no fun. Trust me. I have already rather sensitive skin, and I had an eye itch. Ouch! I was really careful not to touch anything at all while I was cutting up the chilis, too, and also washed my hands at least five times with anti-bacterial soap. Those precautions were not enough! The oils stayed on my fingers, especially under and around my nails.
Before even thinking about handling Thai chili peppers, buy yourself a pair of non-porous gloves made out of latex or silicone or a finger nail brush and some really, really good oil-dissolving or oil-stripping dish soap. If you do touch anything, consider it contaminated with the irritating oils. I touched hand towels with each hand washing, so I’m sure that didn’t help either. Once I realized that the soap I used was not working as much as I needed it to, I set them aside to be washed alone (as if I had touched them after getting poison oak or poison ivy, which both contain common allergens). I tried our cheap dish soap, and dried my hands with a paper towel; that didn’t work. I switched to Castile soap and scrubbed my hands thoroughly with my nail brush, rinsing with hot water. This worked only a little bit with each repeated washing, but at least it worked to get the oils off eventually. Don’t just be careful with the chilis, be overly prepared and overly cautious, otherwise you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation unable eat finger foods without utensils, scratch your nose, rub your eyes, etc. I think you get the idea.
Anyway, just to be on the safe side, I tried to be conservative with the spices. I only added one chili at a time to the mixture before adding in the nuts. Once you have too much any ingredient, you can’t go back and remove it; you can only start over from step one. I even gradually added the garlic, too, which I usually add more of whenever a recipe includes it. Be careful of the citrus-related ingredients, too. You don’t want to only taste lime and hardly anything else. My dad has to closely monitor his sugar and salt intakes due to health reasons, so I eased up on those amounts, too, and used raw blue agave nectar instead of refined sugar.
1 T Chia Seeds
1 tsp Dried Lemongrass Leaves
OR 1 T Fresh Lemongrass Leaves, minced
1/2 – 1 tsp California Sweet Paprika, ground
5 T Filtered Water
2 T Minced Garlic
1/2 tsp Fine Ground Sea Salt, more as needed
1 C Fresh Cilantro, stemmed
3 – 4 Fresh Thai Lime (Double) Leaves, midrib removed
5 – 6 Thai Chili Peppers, stemmed, seeded, chopped*
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T + 1 tsp Lime Juice
2 T Filtered Water
1 – 2 tsp Raw Organic Agave Syrup
3 C Raw Whole Cashews, Soaked & Dehydrated
Fresh Ground Mixed Peppercorns, as needed
*You can grind and add in some some of the excluded chili seeds for extra spiciness but do so with caution and gradually, tasting often. Once the sauce is too spicy, there’s no way to fix it without much difficulty.
In a spice grinder, mix together the chia, lemongrass** and paprika in about 4 5-second intervals or until they are mostly powdered. Empty the contents into a small mixing bowl. Gradually stir in 5 tablespoons of water with a fork. Set aside for 5 minutes. Stir again;set aside. Repeat.
Separately in a food processor, puree the garlic, salt, cilantro, lime leaves and 1 to 2 chili peppers with the oil, lime juice, water and 1 teaspoon of agave. Combine the puree with the chia mixture. Cover the bowl. Chill the sauce for six hours to let the flavors meld together. Adjust the flavors to your preference.
With a large spoon in a large glass bowl, thoroughly coat the cashews with the sauce. Cover the bowl. Chill over night to let the flavors sink in. Adjust the flavors again if necessary.
Transfer the nuts onto parchment paper-lined dehydrator trays. Spread out the nuts on the paper to prevent clumping; this also helps promote faster drying. Set the dehydrator to 105 degrees F. Dehydrate the nuts for about 48 to 60 hours. Yes, I know this is a long time to wait, but it’s worth it. You might want to check on the drying progress as time elapses by feeling how crunchy they are when you taste one. This is also a way to judge spiciness and flavor intensity.
If you decide after dehydrating your cashews that they are still not spicy or salty enough, you can add ground sea salt and ground mixed pepper as needed when the nuts are still hot. Mix the spices in with a large spoon until they are incorporated; don’t worry if some granules will still fall off. When the cashews are completely cool, store them in an airtight container, like a lidded glass mason jar.
**If you use fresh lemongrass leaves, puree them with the other fresh sauce herbs and spices.