An edible nut mentioned in the Old
Testament, the almond is probably native to the eastern Mediterranean. It
is much prized in the Moghul style cooking of northern India with its
Persian influence. Almonds are eaten fresh, used as a base for fudge-like
candies, ground into a nourishing beverage and used to thicken sauces in
braised meat dishes like korma. They are also made into rich, creamy
desserts such as creamed almonds.
Since they do not grow well in the tropics
and prefer the cold climate of Kashmir and Afghanistan, their lavish use
is confined to northern India. In other parts of Asia, cashews and other
nuts take their place.
Purchasing and storing : Make sure
almonds are fresh by purchasing from a vendor whole stock moves quickly.
If buying more than you will use fairly soon, store in the freezer to keep
them sweet and fresh, because nuts, being high in oil content, are likely
to go rancid if left at room temperature through summer months. Almonds
are available in their shells, natural (shelled but with the brown inner
skin left on), blanched (skin removed) either whole or in halves,
slivered, flaked (sliced), chopped or ground. Never has a nut been easier
to purchase in whatever form you may wish to use.
Preparation : Natural almonds have
more flavor than blanched ones, but when blanching is necessary it is
quite easily done by dropping the almonds into a small pan of boiling
water for 1 minute, then draining and plunging into cold water. Press
firmly on the skins and the almonds will pop out. If not using at once,
dry thoroughly, but it is recommended to blanch almonds only as you need
Freshly ground almonds are nicest, but this
depends on your having the time and the requisite appliance to grind nuts.
High-speed electric blenders are not very successful as they make the
almonds oily. There are small, quite inexpensive nut graters which do a
good job, and some of the larger appliances have fine graters which work
Medicinal : High in protein, almonds
are looked upon as nourishment, not merely a treat. During hot weather in
India, a cool almond drink is considered as sustaining as a meal, and
mothers with school children who are sitting for examinations make it a
point to serve this drink to them, for it is supposed to nourish the
brain. The traditional way of making it involves much pounding using
mortar and pestle.