This Minnesota hazelnut can pump up your favorite recipe and the environment

Hazelnut bushes
Hazelnut bushes grown by the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota.
Courtesy of Forever Green Initiative

Whether it’s the kind of cooktop you use or how much meat you eat, what you do in the kitchen is connected to the health of our environment. And here’s something easy you can do to help the climate this holiday season: swap the hazelnuts you might find at large grocers — they’re typically from Oregon and Turkey — with hazelnuts that are native to Minnesota when you bake.

Don Wyse stumbled upon them while hiking and began breeding them through the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative. Unlike most hazelnuts that grow on trees, they grow lower to the ground on perennial bushes. That means shelter for wildlife and pollinators, better water and fertilizer retention, and ground cover that doesn’t need tilling.

For James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and Minneapolis chef Beth Dooley, the variety also means intense flavor. The nuts are smaller than most hazelnuts, so the flavor is concentrated. She uses them in granola and salads. You can find recipes for both below.

The American Hazelnut Company, which sells its products through local co-ops and online, also makes oil — Dooley calls it the olive oil of the Midwest — and flour from the hazelnuts.

Dooley joined MPR News Host on Tom Crann on Appetites this week. You can hear their conversation below. And here her and Wyse on Climate Cast here.

squash and apple salad on a plate
Beth Dooley suggests trying hazelnut oil in your vinaigrette. It packs a flavor punch, meaning you can use less oil.
Beth Dooley

Squash, Apple and Hazelnut Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

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1 small winter squash

¼ cup hazelnut oil

Coarse salt

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons chopped shallots

4 green onions, trimmed and sliced

1 medium tart apple, cored and cut into ½ inch pieces

¼ cup dried cranberries

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 to 6 ounces torn spinach

3 cups cooked whole grain farro

½ cup toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scatter the squash on a sheet pan and drizzle with the oil then sprinkle with the salt. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, turning once, until tender and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup, mustard and shallots. Slowly add the hazelnut oil, whisking until fully blended.

Add the onions, apple, cranberries and roasted squash to a large salad bowl, then toss in enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Arrange the greens on a large platter or individual plates. Then add a layer of cooked grains and the squash mixture over the greens and top with nuts.

three bowls of yogurt and granola
For her hazelnut granola, Beth Dooley recommends using native Minnesotan hazelnuts and hazelnut oil from the American Hazelnut Company. They add extra flavor and help the environment through regenerative agriculture.
Beth Dooley

Hazelnut Granola

Makes about 7 cups

3 cups mixed rolled oats, rye, barley, wheat

2 cups hazelnuts

¼ cup hazelnut oil

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup maple or brown sugar

½ teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large (13 by 18 inch) baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together the grains, cereals, nuts, oil and syrup. Transfer the mixture to the baking sheet and spread out in an even layer.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes, stirring and rotating the pan a couple of time. Remove and stir in the dried fruit. Allow to cool before storing in airtight containers.