What would a Southern-style dessert be without their beloved pecans? This tree nut is prolific in the Southern states and is one of the few species indigenous to North America. The word “pecan” derives from a Native American word meaning “to crack open with a rock”. European explorers who discovered North America enjoyed these tasty nuts and introduced pecans to their respective countries.

As more Europeans colonized the New World, they learned to cultivate wild pecan trees. Pecans were favored by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who raised them on their plantations. These hearty nuts were also a vital staple in many Native American diets. Today, pecans are a major export product from the South-central region of the United States, where an estimated 252 million pounds are grown annually.

According to nutritionists, pecans are good for us, in moderation. They are chock-full of vitamins and minerals, and heart-healthy omega3 fats. Their natural nutty sweetness is not only perfect for desserts, but also complement savory dishes from various international cuisines. A small handful of pecans can also make a quick and healthy snack.

One of the earliest American pecan treats was pralines; these iconic Southern snacks took advantage of the pecans and sugarcane in the area. According to some food historians, French settlers in New Orleans integrated native pecans into their custard pie recipe, and the classic pecan pie was born. Although it may have French origins, pecan pie is deeply ingrained in Southern American cuisine; it is ranked among the top favorite pies in the United States.

Pecans have such an elevated status in America, that in 2001, Congress declared each April as National Pecan Month. Help your family celebrate this year with some of these scrumptious pecan recipes.

Native American Toasted-Pecan Soup

Native Americans demonstrated the versatility of pecans, like this creamy pecan soup. It gets its mouthwatering sweet and savory flavor profile from pungent garlic, onions, chili powder, and a generous dollop of maple syrup. After the soup is pureed to a velvety consistency, serve it steaming hot with a sprinkle of cheese and crushed pecans.

Spaghetti & Vegetarian Pecan Meatballs

Are you searching for new ways to create vegetarian dishes? Try these tasty “meatless” meatballs, featuring crushed pecans; instead of meat, these meatballs get their hardy texture with pecan meal, breadcrumbs, cheese, and plenty of savory spices. Try them with your usual spaghetti recipe and see if your family misses the meat.

Pecan Pilaf

Take the nutty goodness of rice, and mix it with crunchy pecans, and you have a dish that your whole family will enjoy. The rice is cooked in a flavorful chicken broth, with butter, onions, and aromatic spices. Make this recipe as a side dish for a pork roast, or a stand-alone dish for a simple supper. To make this pilaf vegetarian/vegan-friendly, opt for margarine and veggie broth.

Chocolate-Pecan Mousse Tart

No celebration of National Pecan Month would be complete without a tempting pecan dessert, such as this tart. It is a decadent mixture of heavenly chocolate mousse, layered in a baked crust, and covered with chopped pecans. If you want to up the sweet factor, serve your pecan tart warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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