Recipe and photos by Brandon Matzek
For my summertime adventures - a picnic in Coronado, glamping ("glam" plus camping, it's a thing) along the coast in Carlsbad or making a quick run to Mexico - I like to pack an equally adventurous snack. Substantial and satisfying, a Mason jar filled with roasted nuts, seeds and dried fruit rises to the challenge every time.
Homemade trail mix is easy to prepare and can be infinitely tweaked to suit anyone's taste. Pair honey and cinnamon roasted almonds with dried apple slices, or curry dusted cashews with flaked coconut and dried apricots. There's also my on-the-go grub of choice: Tamarind Trail Mix.
Sweet, salty and wonderfully complex, Tamarind Trail Mix is flavored with cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, honey, brown sugar, tomato and tamarind. Roasted nuts, seeds and coconut are then tossed with sweet dried mango and citrusy chopped cilantro. This finished mix is addictive.
Dark and sticky, tamarind is a fruit common in Asia and Mexico that can be purchased in a paste or concentrate form. Tamarind lends a fruity tartness to the mix that works well with the richness of the nuts and seeds. I purchased my tamarind paste at Specialty Produce near Mission Hills. It's also available at a number of other markets around town, including 99 Ranch Market in Kearny Mesa, Bombay Bazaar near Miramar and North Park Produce in Normal Heights.
Tamarind Trail Mix
1 pound mixed nuts and seeds (I used walnut halves, cashews, pepitas and sunflower seeds)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Large pinch ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons tamarind paste*
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried mango
Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
Be prepared. Preheat oven to 300 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place nuts, coconut, cayenne, cumin, coriander and kosher salt in a large bowl and have a medium-mesh strainer ready.
Flavor the nuts. In a medium saucepan, warm butter, honey, brown sugar, tomato paste and tamarind paste over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Don't worry about any seed particles from the tamarind; they will be strained out. Pour the butter-tamarind mixture through the medium-mesh strainer and into the bowl with the nuts. Toss until everything is evenly coated.
Bake and mix. Spread nuts on the prepared baking sheet. Bake the nuts for 25 - 27 minutes, stirring occasionally. The nuts will gradually get darker in color as the sugar caramelizes. Take the nuts from the oven and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Let cool completely, then toss with dried mango and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro.
*If your tamarind paste has seed particles in it, be sure to strain them out before adding to the nut mixture. You can also use tamarind concentrate here. Simply substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons of tamarind concentrate for the tamarind paste.