Time ran away from me in these past two weeks. Two major family events, happening almost simultaneously, have kept me away from the kitchen and the computer. One was joyful: the Little One’s bat-mitzvah. The other was bittersweet: a few days after the bat-mitzvah, my Mom moved to another country in order to live closer to her other children and extended family. I’ve been too stretched to cook much (and my scale tells me it knows all about the meals eaten out recently), or to blog, but now I’m happy to be back in my Israeli Kitchen.
And now green almonds have been in the markets for almost three weeks. Hopefully this post is still timely for most readers, but here in Israel, the almonds are ripening even as I speak.I don’t expect to see those net bags full of fuzzy green almonds in the markets for too many more days.
Late into spring every year, I’ve looked at those green almonds in the shuk and wondered how to eat them. An elderly gentleman assured me that when very fresh off the tree, the husk is tender and edible while inside there is a delicately flavored, milky jelly. A teenager said to crack the husk with my teeth and maneuver the gel out with my tongue. I was never compelled to try them, until my sister said she’d like to see what the fuss was about. I bought a bagful and brought it home.
The almonds in the photo above were harvested at least two weeks ago. Comparing with the first photo, you can see how they were more green and fuzzy when I first bought them. The kernels have been maturing and the hull is now bitter, astringent, inedible. Maybe next spring I’ll manage to get them really fresh, so I can taste it and maybe pickle the whole thing as the Greeks do. Apparently, the kernel keeps maturing even if refrigerated, so if you give up on the fresh green fruit, just let them sit around till the hull dries and cracks open, when the mature nut can be extracted. Spread them apart, though: if stuck together for very long, the hulls grow moldy.
One or two of the almonds I had still had traces of their gel stage. It looks like the flesh of lemons, transparent. It did leave a milky feeling in the mouth and a faintly sweet, almondish savor. See that little wisp of gel next to the kernel in the lower almond half ?
Most were more mature, though. Their flesh is firm enough to resist the tooth a little, pleasantly – not quite crunchy, a bit rubbery. While I found some interesting recipes around the Web, I thought I’d like to try my nuts only slightly heated and flavored lightly with herb salt, to see if that will bring out hidden flavor.
The first step is cutting the hulls open. Cut off the pointed tip, look for the natural division on the ridged side and apply your knife to that. Have at hand some salted water in a bowl to drop the almonds into right away. That prevents discoloration, seasons them, and helps get rid of the yellowish skin that’s on them.
The skin is unpleasant to eat, so either peel it off the white kernel or drop the whole thing into the bowl of salted water. After a few minutes of soaking, this skin will slip right off between the fingers.
Not much to show for my efforts after all that cutting and peeling: 1 kg. of green almonds yields one cup of edible nuts.
I had an intuition that heating the almonds wasn’t going to do them much good. They were quite tasty just as they were, drained of the salt water and eaten out of hand. In fact, it was hard to stop munching on them and leave some for the sake of the experiment.But I went ahead and heated a little olive oil. I allowed the drained nuts to toast till golden in color and sprinkled a little paprika and black pepper over them. I was sorry I had. The nuts picked up the flavor of the olive oil and herbs and there was almost no taste of the fresh, sweetish raw kernel.Which I realized that I really liked.
Oh well, next year.
Conclusion? It’s a peaceful, meditative thing to do at a time when you don’t have pressing issues. Maybe a nice thing to do together with the kids (not letting them handle the knife, of course – maybe just squishing the skins off the kernels). The results are pleasing, but not worth the trouble unless you want to impress guests or make a family project out of it. I understand that green almonds are the new “in” thing with up-to-date chefs: I just feel for the kitchen worker who has to sit and peel zillions of them for scattering casually over ice cream or garnishing a soup. I guess you have to get them really fresh and soft, so you can eat the whole thing.