Always good for a munch when you’re feeling peckish – almonds are without doubt one of my favourite store cupboard ingredients.
Although this delicate, mellow and creamy nut might not seem as exciting lined up against it’s more flavourful cousins; namely the walnut, pecan or brazil varieties, almonds do have their strong points; like providing the foundation for all great baking recipes, exotically flavoured tagines, pilafs and stews.
Not only that, almonds are also extremely nutritious:
- They are rich in vitamin E which promotes healthy skin, bones and acts as an intoxicant which protects cell membranes.
- Compared to other nuts they also contain the second highest amount of magnesium, after Brazil nuts, which is necessary for healthy teeth, muscle, nerve function and great for energy distribution throughout the body.
- They are also high in protein and monounsaturated fats.
- Whole almonds
My favourite almonds are the skin-on whole variety (brown in colour) although blanched almonds (white in colour, skin-off) are also available.
I whole find almonds eaten straight from the packet a little bland; it usually helps to toss them in a little olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper before blasting them in a hot oven for 10 – 15 minutes. Not only does this bring out their flavour but it also gives them a crunchier texture.
- Ground (powdered) almonds
Great for home baking (think lemon, almond and poppy seed cake) – lending a chewy consistency to cakes and excellent for a healthy flour substitute for making pancakes.
- Flaked almonds
These are readily used as a garnish on savoury dishes like Moroccan tagines, pilafs and Indian curries. On the sweet end of the spectrum you’ll find toasted and flaked almonds adorning all manner of cakes and sweet pastries – like Bakewell tarts, nutty florentine biscuits, pralines, creamy trifles and (my favourite) sweet almond croissants filled with marzipan paste.
On that note, feel free to browse my recipe for Macaroons from a previous blog.
If I’m not eating almonds straight from the packet or munching them straight from the oven I’ll often use a food processor to prepare smoothies, milkshakes and thick sauces.
- For a great smoothie recipe – blitz a handful of almonds with 150g blanched kale, 1 banana and 2-3 dates, along with a good splash of almond milk or water. This can be chilled in the refrigerator or served at room temperature.
- For a bright, fiery sauce you can’t go wrong with Romesco – from the Catalonia region in Spain. Romesco is made with almonds, roasted red peppers, garlic, tomatoes and a thick slice of country bread for texture, making it an excellent accompaniment for meat, fish and as a dressing for roasted vegetables. Just take 100g of whole roasted almonds, 4 garlic cloves, 2 diced tomatoes, 3 roasted red peppers (blackened on an open flame or roasted for 20 minutes in a fierce oven) and 1 red chilli. Add this to a food processor with 100ml olive oil, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 1 tbsp smoked paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth.
I’ve focused two recipes below: the first has all the flavours and textures from the Middle East; with the second offering up a healthy non-dairy alternative to milk.
Almond, apricot, pomegranate, quinoa and bulgur Pilaf
Pilaf is a long-standing favourite of mine which usually contains rice, spices and various other grains. I’ve gone with quinoa and bulgar as the two main ingredients which give the dish a fantastically nutty texture.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 100g each of uncooked quinoa and bulgar wheat
- 1 can chickpeas/garbanzos
- 500ml vegetable stock
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 cinnamon stick
- salt and pepper to taste
- 100g mixed almonds
- 75g apricots, chopped
- 75g pomegranates
- a handful of coriander
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan, then fry the onions, coriander seeds and cumin seeds until soft and golden. Add the garlic and chillies and fry for 2 minutes, then add the quinoa, bulgur, stock and cinammon. Season, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes until the stock is absorbed or until the you have fluffy grains. Transfer to a bowl.
- Garnish with the remaining ingredients and serve.
Homemade almond milk
A fresh and tasty vegan alternative to cow’s milk. You will need a blender.
- 200g whole almonds
- 570ml/1 pint water
- 6-7 good quality pitted dates (Medjool variety are good) OR 3-4 tbsp maple syrup
- In a container, soak the almonds in just enough water to cover.
- Cover with a towel and let it sit in a cool place for about 8 – 12 hours.
- Pour off the water from the almonds and rinse well.
- Place the rinsed almonds into a blender, add the water with the dates or maple syrup, blending for a few minutes on high speed until well mixed.
- Strain the almond milk through a very fine sieve or a bag strainer and serve. You will be left with some almond meal residue in the sieve or bag strainer (you can use this for macaroons, cookies, almond but butter or other baking recipes).
Alternative flavour suggestions
Add these extra ingredients at the blending stage
- Chocolate almond milk: add 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- Cinnamon milk: add 1 tsp cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg
- Vanilla almond milk: add 1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod