They’re not just for trail mix anymore. 

Nuts are a nutritional powerhouse of flavor, healthy fat, and protein. They're a staple for fast snacking, amazing for baking, and a tasty garnish. And of course, nut butters are everyone's favorite schmear for bread. 

And while there is nothing at all wrong with these uses for nuts and nut butters, the game changed for me when I started thinking about nuts as the star of a meal.

Embracing the meaty nature of nuts (especially those like peanuts, which are technically a legume) and treating them like beans or other proteins can really make for some exciting cooking. In all cases, unless specified otherwise, look for raw, unsalted nuts to use in your savory cooking: Roasted nuts will not behave the same when cooked, and you want to be able to control the salt in your dishes.

Here are 4 creative, delicious, and budget-friendly ways to put nuts at the center of your next dinner recipe.  

Credit: Getty / AtlasStudio

Braise them!

Braising nuts can create stews and side dishes that are really exciting. Go for nuts like peanuts, pistachios, or pine nuts, and stay away from the more bitter nuts like walnuts and nuts that are more delicate in texture like pecans. To braise nuts, sauté them with aromatics until golden and a bit toasty; cover with stock, wine, or a combo; and simmer gently until tender and the sauce has reduced. Try this braised pine nut dish to get you started!

Put them in soups!

Nuts are amazing in soups. Think about cooking up a traditional African Chicken Peanut Soup, a Sweet Potato Peanut Soup from colonial Virginia, or even a White Gazpacho that uses almonds to flavor and create creamy texture. I love to swap in peanuts or blanched almonds for beans in vegetable soups and use cashew butter instead of cream in soups like butternut squash or carrot.

Stir them into stews and curries!

Cashew curries are seen all over Southeast Asia; in these recipes the cashews are the protein and not just a garnish. You can swap them in for the chickpeas in pretty much any chickpea curry recipe you love or give this Cashew Coconut Squash Curry a try. 

Make them the star in grain salads and pilafs

Nuts are often a garnish or accessory for a lovely side dish of rice or other grains, or a salad. But by upping the amounts to about 1/3-1/2 the volume of the dish, you make it a much more impactful flavor and adding great protein (making these a great option for a vegetarian or vegan main dish). By reducing the amount of rice or other grains, and replacing with a larger amount of nuts, you should be able to keep the rest of your recipe the same.