Here we are in the supposed dead of winter, though it doesn’t really feel like it in California. However, if my local farmer’s market is any indication of what’s going on around the country, the pickings are predictably slim. Now, there are plenty of root vegetables, but one’s blood sugar can only handle so many of those starchy carbohydrates. What’s a girl with a penchant for a balanced diet to do?
During the winter months, my salads turn from a colorful plate of abundance to a simple selection of treasured, winter greens and Dijon vinaigrette. The farm’s egg supply drops and my breakfasts turn to homemade sausages and braised greens. Instead of lively pool parties with friends, my weekends turn to quiet afternoons spent indoors. I look to foods with staying power: beans, lentils, alliums, seeds, almonds.
An ancient seed, almonds are thought to have origins in western Asia and North Africa. They are now grown in many Mediterranean countries – and California. Interesting fact: California is the only U.S. state that produces almonds and the trees were originally brought by the Spanish during the creation of the missions.
Benefits of Almonds:
- High in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats that are found in olive oil, which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease
- Contain beneficial amounts of the antioxidant, vitamin E, which has been shown to reduce heart disease risk
- Almonds contain the important mineral, magnesium, which improves blood and oxygen flow and has a calming effect on muscles
- When combined with a balanced meal, the healthy fats in almonds help slow carbohydrate digestion, protecting against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and the all-too-common “sugar crash”
Almonds are an extremely nutritious food when properly prepared. Almonds, as well as many nuts and seeds, are best soaked or partially sprouted before eaten. This is because nuts contain numerous enzyme inhibitors that can put a real strain on the digestive system if consumed in excess (or in combination with all the other hard-to-digest foods we eat). Nuts are easier to digest, and their nutrients more readily available, if they are first soaked in saltwater overnight, then dried in a warm oven or dehydrator. Salt in soaking water activates enzymes that neutralize enzyme inhibitors (see Crispy Almond recipe below). Another thing to be aware of is though almonds are filled with wonderful, monounsaturated fats, these fats are very delicate and can easily become rancid if not stored properly.
Tips for selecting and storing almonds:
- Look for almonds that are uniform in color and not limp or shriveled. In addition, smell the almonds. They should smell sweet and nutty; if their odor is sharp or bitter, they are rancid.
- Almonds stored in a sealed container will last longer than those sold in bulk bins since they are less exposed to heat, air and humidity.
- If purchasing almonds in bulk bins, make sure that the store has a quick turnover of inventory and that the bulk containers are sealed well in order to ensure maximum freshness.
- Store almonds in a tightly sealed container, in a cool dry place away from exposure to sunlight (like the refrigerator).
- Refrigerated almonds will keep for several months, and stored in the freezer, almonds can be kept for up to a year.
- Although packaged almonds are available year around, they are the freshest in mid-summer, which is when they are at the height of their season. If purchasing almonds during the winter or spring, buy smaller amounts that will be consumed quickly. Save bulk purchases for summer and store in the freezer for the remainder of the year.
Crispy Almonds (from Nourishing Traditions)
- 4 cups almonds
- 1 Tbsp. sea salt
- filtered water
- Mix almonds with salt and filtered water (enough to cover almonds) and leave in a warm place (your kitchen should be fine) for at least 7 hours or overnight.
- Drain liquid
- Spread on a stainless steel baking pan and place in a warm oven (no more than 150 degrees) for 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally, until completely dry and crisp. Store in an airtight container.
- 1 cup almonds
- 4 cups water, plus more
- sea salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract, optional
- 2 pitted Medjool dates, optional
- pinch of cinnamon, optional
- Place almonds in a bowl and cover with warm water. Add a few dashes of salt and soak at room temperature for about 8 hours or overnight. Drain the almonds and rinse well.
- Place the almonds with 4 cups of water and optional vanilla, dates, and/or cinnamon in a blender. Blend for about 1 minute, until the almonds are crushed well. Taste and sweeten accordingly. Strain using cheesecloth and transfer milk into a glass jar. Almond milk will keep in the fridge for about a week. (The remaining pulp can be used for all sorts of yummy things – see below!)
More Almond Recipes From my Favorite Websites
Almond Pulp Crackers (make these after making almond milk with your leftover pulp)
“I said to the almond tree, Friend, speak to me of God, and the almond tree blossomed.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis