- Nutrition -

Almond Joy

This ubiquitous nut offers a happy combination of versatility and nutrition.

Almonds

The almond is no ordinary nut. And thanks to its flavor, nutritional power, and culinary flexibility, appreciation for almonds may be at an all-time high.

Once confined to hors d’oeuvre trays and trail mixes, almonds are now available in many forms, including almond flour, butter, and milk. The result? An array of delectable edibles brimming with health benefits.

Due to California’s drought, almonds are currently a bit pricey. So we’ve come up with a variety of recipes that use almonds judiciously and won’t break the bank.

Get Your Almonds

Nuts:  When possible, choose whole almonds over chopped or sliced (more exposed surface area makes for a shorter shelf life).  For a deep, nutty flavor, try roasting raw nuts alone or with some olive oil and herbs.

Flour:  Also called almond meal, almond flour is ground from whole almonds. Traditionally used in baked goods, it is also perfect for thickening savory sauces or as a substitute for bread crumbs.

Butter:  A creamy paste made from ground nuts, almond butter can be used just like peanut butter. You can grind your own at many natural-food markets or purchase convenient no-stir versions at most stores.

Oil: When pressed, almonds make a smooth, vitamin-rich oil that’s as good for moisturizing your skin as it is for high-heat cooking — its smoke point is 420 degrees F.

Milk: Made from finely ground almonds and water, almond milk has a mild taste and a creamy texture, making it a nice substitute for cow’s milk. Looking to avoid the additives in commercial almond milk? Try making your own at home. (For a recipe, see below).

Cheese: Almonds make a slightly grainy, clean-tasting cheese that’s similar to ricotta. When fermented, almond cheese has a tangy flavor akin to feta.

Nutritional Know-How

  • Thanks to their rich stores of magnesium and vitamins B and E, almonds are strong immune-system boosters.
  • Like avocados and extra-virgin olive oil, almonds are an abundant source of mono-unsaturated fat.
  • The phytonutrients in almond skins double the antioxidant power of the vitamin E in the meat of the nut.
  • Like all nuts and seeds, almonds contain phytic acids, which can limit your body’s ability to digest proteins and break down starch into sugar. Since most of the phytic acid is found in the skin of almonds, some experts recommend removing the skins if you are having digestive difficulties (although remember that you’ll be removing key phytonutrients as well).
  • Almonds naturally have enzyme inhibitors that can strain your digestive system. Soaking almonds in water for at least 18 hours decreases these enzyme inhibitors, making the nuts easier to digest and encouraging the production of other beneficial enzymes that help with nutrient absorption. The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends purchasing nut butters and flours made only from nuts that have been soaked.

Almond-Crusted Tilapia

Use seasoned almond flour instead of bread crumbs to crust fish or chicken. Make a large batch of any of these seasoned flours and store in the refrigerator. 

Fish

Makes two servings

Preparation time: 10 to 20 minutes

  • ½ cup seasoned almond crumbs (see variations below)
  • 2 tilapia fillets

Italian Almond Crumbs

Makes ½ cup

  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ tsp. dried basil
  • ½ tsp. dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. salt

Cajun Almond Crumbs 

Makes ½ cup

  • ½ cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Lemon-Pepper Almond Crumbs

Makes ½ cup

  • ½ cup almond flour
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Curry Almond Crumbs

Makes 3/4 cup

  • ½ cup almond flour
  • 1 tbs. curry powder
  • 1/4 cup grated unsweetened coconut
  • ½ tsp. salt

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Mix the almond-crumb ingredients together in a pie plate or a large shallow dish. Press the fish into the seasoning, turning it over to coat both sides. Bake the tilapia for 12 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Alternatively, sauté the fillets in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil, cooking them for about two to three minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

Cauliflower-Manchego Gratin

This creamy, comforting gratin is a cinch to make. If crème fraîche is not available, sub heavy whipping cream or sour cream.

Gratin

Makes four to six servings

Preparation time: 60 to 70 minutes

  • 1 large head of cauliflower, about 1½ pounds, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 8-ounce container of crème fraîche
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions or chives
  • 1 cup finely grated Manchego cheese, about 2 ounces
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In an 8-x-8-inch baking pan, toss the cauliflower with the oil, salt, and pepper. Roast the cauliflower for about 20 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Meanwhile, mix together the crème fraîche, green onions, and cheese. When the cauliflower is finished roasting, stir in the crème-fraîche mixture. Sprinkle with the almonds, and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the gratin is golden brown and bubbly.

Moroccan Spiced Pumpkin-Almond Soup

Almond butter lends this hearty autumnal soup a velvety, creamy texture. Add chicken, lamb, beef, or pork, if you like. Or, for a vegan soup, use vegetable stock as a base.

Moroccan-Soup

Makes four to six servings

Preparation time: 50 minutes

  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion, about 1 medium onion
  • ½ cup diced celery, about 2 stalks
  • 1 cup diced carrot, about 1 large carrot
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper, about 1 pepper
  • 4 cups cubed pumpkin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • Chopped fresh cilantro (optional garnish)

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook the onions until they are slightly caramelized, about five minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and seasonings, and sauté for about 10 minutes until the vegetables begin to brown. Stir in the almond butter and stock until the mixture is smooth. Cover and allow the soup to simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste and top the soup, if desired, with the cilantro.

Shopping, Storage & Kitchen Tips

  • Unshelled almonds have the longest shelf life. Look for shells that are firm and have no signs of mold, stains, or splitting.
  • Shelled almonds should be stored whole in a tightly sealed container in a cool place, such as the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Almonds, which naturally contain high amounts of oil, should smell slightly sweet. If the nuts have a scent that is sharp or bitter, it means the oils within have turned rancid and the nuts must be discarded.
  • When purchasing roasted almonds, choose “dry roasted” — which means they weren’t cooked in oil. This will help you avoid industrial vegetable oils and preservatives.
  • Need to chop whole almonds? Use a chef’s knife or a food processor (a few pulses should do it — more than that, and you might end up with almond butter).
  • Not a fan of almond skins? Simply blanch the nuts in boiling water for one minute, rinse under cold water, and squeeze the almonds out of their newly shriveled skin.
WEB EXTRA!

Coconut-Cherry Almond Cookies

These yummy cookies are both gluten-free and vegan. If you’re hankering for a gooey chocolate version, substitute dark chocolate chips for the cacao nibs.

Almond-Milk-and-cookies

 

Makes 24 cookies

Preparation time: 30 minutes

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/4 cup tart dried cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slowly whisk the maple syrup into the coconut oil until the mixture emulsifies. Fold in the remaining ingredients until smooth. Use a tablespoon to scoop the cookie dough and place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Press the balls to flatten slightly. Bake for seven to nine minutes, until the cookies are golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

WEB EXTRA!

Almond Milk

Making your own almond milk is a breeze in the blender. Pitted dates add a subtle flavor and sweetness but are not necessary. For variety, try adding cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla to your milk.

Makes three cups

Total preparation time: 12 hours (mostly soaking time)

  • 1 cup whole raw almonds
  • Dash of sea salt
  • 4 cups filtered room-temperature water for soaking
  • 4 cups chilled filtered water for blending
  • 6 to 8 pitted dates (optional)
  • Pinch of sea salt

Soak the almonds for 8 to 12 hours in the room-temperature water with a dash of sea salt. After soaking, drain and rinse the almonds in a colander and squeeze them out of their newly shriveled skins. Put the skinned almonds, 4 cups chilled water, and dates, if using, in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the almond milk through a fine sieve or a nut-milk bag (a muslin bag used to strain out the ground nuts). Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Karen Olson is a Minneapolis-based writer and a frequent contributor to Experience Life. All recipes were created by Betsy Nelson (a.k.a. “That Food Girl”), a Minneapolis-based food stylist and recipe developer.

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