Spring almonds: Use them before the summer hardens their shells - Food - Haaretz.com
Stir-fried green almonds on pea "polenta" Matan Choufan

Spring Almonds: Use Them Before the Summer Hardens Their Shells

They have nutritional value and medicinal properties, and are a wonderful addition for various dishes, both cooked and fresh. Three easy recipes based on green almonds

Back in February, on Tu Bishvat (the Jewish Arbor Day), we were amazed at the beauty of almond trees in bloom. Now, in the spring, we can enjoy their fruit: Green almonds are now in season. They are picked when they are still soft and not fully ripe, and can be eaten whole.

But summertime is something else. The shell of the almond hardens and becomes brown and inedible. The nut itself, transparent and moist in early spring, evolves into its familiar solid, dense form. But unlike its cousins in the rose family (the loquat and the peach, for example) the nut of the almond is not poisonous – at least not the cultivated variety. Quite the opposite: The almond is one of the most common nuts in the world and is credited with nutritional value and medicinal properties (including, it is said, enhancement of male potency).

In this week’s column, the green almond adds its tart taste to three recipes, each with its own method of preparation: fresh, as is, in a salad with loquats (shesek in Hebrew); stir-fried with garlic in olive oil and served on a bed of what might be called pea "polenta"; or cooked slowly with chicken, Uzbek dried apricots and Persian dried lemon.

Stir-fried green almonds on pea "polenta"

Matan Choufan

Ingredients (serves 2-4)

2 tbsp olive oil
200 g (approx.) green almonds
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
juice of half a lemon

For pea "polenta" (purée):

400 g fresh (or dried) peas
250 ml cooking cream (10%-15%)
2/3 cup (160 ml) water
30 g butter
pinch of grated nutmeg
pinch of salt and ground black pepper

Served with:

soft-boiled eggs (one per serving)
fresh red chilli pepper, sliced (to taste)
100 g provolone cheese (or mozzarella or kashkaval), grated

Preparation

Cook dry peas until almost ready, at least one hour. (It is recommended to soak dry peas in water for 1.5 hours prior to cooking. With fresh peas, no need to cook beforehand.) Pour the cream and the water into a medium-sized pot and add the peas. Cook uncovered on low to medium heat for about 25 minutes or until the peas are soft, stirring occasionally. Toward the end, add the butter and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, stirring well. Set aside.

Preparing the green almonds

Remove the stalks. Cut each almond into quarters, lengthwise. Sprinkle a little lemon juice onto the almonds to prevent them from blackening. Thinly slice the garlic cloves. Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium to high heat and add the almonds and garlic. Stir and toss. Season with salt and black pepper. Continue tossing until slightly golden; burning the garlic makes it bitter. Remove from heat.

Preparing the eggs

Fill a small pot with enough water to cover the eggs completely; bring to a boil. Make a small hole in the blunter side of each egg using a pin or sharp knife-point. Put the eggs carefully into the boiling water and boil for exactly 7 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, immerse the eggs in very cold water and peel them.

Serving

Spread a bed of pea purée on each plate, add a helping of the stir-fried green almonds and an egg, sprinkle with grated cheese and a few slices of hot chilli pepper. Sprinkle a few drops of olive oil and serve.

Grilled chicken with green almonds, Persian dried lemon and Uzbek dried apricots

Matan Choufan

This dish contains less common ingredients but they are easy to find in spice shops. The Uzbek dried apricots serve as a sweet contrast to the bitterness of the green almonds, while the Persian dried lemons accentuate the tartness. If you prefer a less tart flavor, use the light-colored Persian lemons (the dark ones have a stronger taste). Dried rose petals (from the same family as the almond) add a special fragrance.

Ingredients (serves 2)

200 g (approx.) green almonds
2 chicken thighs and legs
2 Persian dried lemons
15 (approx.) Uzbek dried apricots
10 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup olive oil
juice of one lemon or orange
2-3 dried roses
pinch of Atlantic sea salt
pinch of ground black pepper

Preparation

Heat the oven to 180°C. Wash the green almonds well and remove the stalks. Place the chicken pieces in a baking dish. Scatter the green almonds, the apricots and the garlic cloves around the chicken. Pierce a hole in each lemon and add them to the dish. Add the olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle the rose petals, salt and pepper over everything. Cover the baking dish with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for one hour. Change the oven setting and grill for 25 minutes more. Recommendation: If the apricots start to brown, move the dish down one level in the oven.

Green almond and loquat salad

Matan Choufan

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 small kohlrabi (about 250 g)
4 loquats (Hebrew: shesek)
25 green almonds

Dressing:

2 tsp tamarind
5 tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
pinch of salt and ground black pepper

Preparation

Peel the kohlrabi and cut into ½ cm-thick matchsticks. Wash the loquats, slice them, remove the stalk and pits and cut them into cubes. Wash the green almonds thoroughly and slice them lengthwise into quarters (or thinner if preferred). It is recommended sprinkling a little lemon juice over the almonds to prevent them from blackening. Place the ingredients in a bowl.

Put the dressing ingredients in a lidded jar, close and shake well. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Pour over the salad, mix and serve.

Other recommended recipes can be found on Matan Choufan’s blog, at matanch.blogspot.co.il

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