The almond is a curious little oval nut. It was highly prized by Egyptian pharaohs and Thomas Jefferson made sure almond trees were in his gardens at Monticello. Almonds make delicious appetizers, salads, entrees and confections. Plus, they’re great for you!
The earliest almonds were found in China and carried by traders down the ancient silk road to Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East. Many beliefs are attached to the almond in different cultures. In classical times, the Romans distributed sugared almonds as gifts to great men at public and private events. In India the humble almond is considered a “brain food” once they are crushed and mixed with water. They drank this potion before crucial business meetings. Still others have believed a few almonds taken before drinking will reduce the severity of a hangover. Distributing sugared almonds wrapped in small sacks as a wedding favor is a tradition that dates back to early European history. These almond “bonbonieres” symbolized children, happiness, romance, good health and fortune.
Almonds were introduced to California in the mid 1700s. They are California’s largest nut-tree crop in total dollar value and acreage; seventh largest food export market. The state’s 6,000 almond growers produce 100 percent of the commercial domestic supply and 80 percent of the world’s supply. Over 90 nations import California almonds, with Germany and Japan at the top of the list.
The most significant health finding is the almond’s role in the prevention of heart disease. A recent study conducted in Modesto, California suggests that regular almond consumption lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. Most of the fat in almonds is mono-unsaturated. These “nuggets of health” are an excellent source of protein and calcium, so much so Japanese teenagers enjoy snacking on a mixture of dried sardines and slivered almonds. Almonds have more dietary fiber and calcium than any other nut. They are also rich in vitamin E and Magnesium, as well as dietary fiber, calcium, iron, phosphorus, iodine, folic acid, zinc, copper and potassium.
Purchase almonds whole, shelled, in their natural state with brown skin on each. Slivered or chopped are the choices for white or blanched almonds. Because of their high fat content, store almonds in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Make a crust for baked fish with crushed, slivered almonds
- Mix with green beans for an “Almandine” effect.
- Stuff green olives with whole almonds.
- Use ground almonds as a thickening agent in soups or sauces.
- The almond is very easy to incorporate into the diet as it has a mild flavor that complements many dishes, sweet or savory.
- Add crushed almonds to your breakfast cereal, sliced almonds to your salad or sandwich at lunch or toasted almonds to your main meal.
- Their flavor is particularly suited to Asian dishes such as Indian curries or Chinese stir fries.
ALMOND MACAROON RECIPE:
(Recipe adapted from Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book by Marie Kimball)
1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
- In a food processor grind fine the whole almonds with the sugar and salt.
- In a bowl beat the whites until they are foamy (just before they hold soft peaks).
- Fold in the almond mixture gently but thoroughly.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and butter the parchment.
- Spoon the batter onto the parchment, 2 inches apart.
- Bake the macaroons in the middle of a preheated 300 degrees F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden around the edges.
- Let them cool on the parchment.
- Peel the macaroons from the parchment and store them in an airtight container.