Almonds – good for the heart, good for a tart

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 6, 2010

We try to eat a handful of almonds daily since eating almonds regularly may promote cardiovascular health and help regulate blood sugar levels. Studies also show that eating a handful of almonds each day promotes weight loss. So, eating them is not a bad thing.

We call almonds nuts, but almonds are the seeds from the almond tree, a close botanical relative of plums, peaches, apricots and cherries. California, the only state in the U.S. that produces almonds, is the world’s largest supplier, followed by Spain and Australia.

Eaten raw, almonds have a satisfying milky sweetness. When roasted, they develop an intense nuttiness. Either way, these nuts play well with a wide range of ingredients, bringing a roasty flavor, crunch and body to salads, pastas, pastries and more. Marcona almonds, a Spanish variety that’s more buttery-tasting than American almonds, are usually sold blanched, sautéed in oil and salted. They are expensive, but wonderful with cocktails.

Shop for almonds in a store with a brisk turnover. The shells should be smooth, never shriveled. Shelled nuts should be plump, as well as uniform in size and color. Sealed in plastic, raw almonds that have been shelled will keep in the freezer for more than six months, and those in the shell will keep even longer. Toasted almonds will last for about half that time.

Try these easy things with almonds:

• Smoothies: Grind blanched almonds to use in a smoothie with bananas, yogurt, blueberries or blackberries. That should give you a boost.

• Trout Amandine: Toast sliced almonds with melted butter until golden. Dredge a trout fillet lightly in all-purpose flour: sear two minutes per side in a bit more melted butter. Top trout with nuts; serve on a bed of arugula.

• Salads: Toss slivered almonds with chunks of watermelon and feta cheese; season with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I love using almonds in my baklava. Almonds just seem to go great with honey. I also use them in making a praline cream; I think they just do better than pecans. Try these recipes and get some of the benefits of almonds.

Cabbage and Red Pepper Slaw with Sweet-Hot Almonds

8 servings

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 cup whole raw almonds

¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons honey, divided

3 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 small head of Napa cabbage, quartered, cored, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)

1 large red bell pepper, very thinly sliced

2 green onions, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)

½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line small rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and coarse salt. Cook until almonds are lightly toasted, stirring frequently, about three minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cayenne. Drizzle 1 tablespoon honey over; stir to coat. Spread almonds on prepared sheet, spacing apart. Bake 10 minutes; stir almonds. Bake until coating is almost dry, about 10 minutes longer. Cool completely, stirring almonds occasionally.

(Do-ahead tip: This portion can be made four hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Whisk remaining 1 tablespoon honey, vinegar, soy sauce and lemon juice in small bowl. Gradually whisk in 5 tablespoons oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Mix cabbage, bell pepper, green onions and cilantro in large bowl. Pour dressing over and toss. Add almonds and toss to coat.

Peach and Almond Galette

8 servings

(Can use store-bought pastry dough tomake it easier.)

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted

¼ cup almond paste (available in the baking aisle of most grocery stores)

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided

¼ cup (packed) golden brown sugar

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ -inch cubes

1 refrigerated piecrust (half of a 15-ounce package)

1 large egg, beaten to blend

1 ½ pounds peaches, halved, pitted, cut into ½ -inch wedges

Sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line large baking sheet with parchment. Combine ¼ cup almonds, almond paste, 5 tablespoons flour, sugar and salt in processor until almonds are ground. Add butter; pulse until almond topping begins to clump together. Transfer topping to medium bowl.

If necessary, roll pastry to 11-inch round. Transfer to prepared sheet. Brush crust with some beaten egg. Sprinkle with ¼ cup almond topping. Toss peaches with 1 tablespoon flour in large bowl. Add 1/3 cup topping, and toss again. Spoon peaches onto crust, leaving 1¼ border and mounding in center. Sprinkle remaining topping over peaches. Fold crust up at edges, pleating as needed. Brush crust edges with beaten egg.

Bake galette until crust is golden brown; peaches are tender, and juices are bubbling thickly, for about 50 minutes. Transfer galette on paper to rack to cool. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon of almonds over top. Cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.