Sunday, May 23, 2010

Farmer's market discovery: green almonds!

I love this time of the year. The weather is mild and the Farmers’ Market is teeming with life. I’m not talking about the big crowds with families enjoying their morning shopping at the market, or the joy of watching young children tasting fruits and learning about real food. I’m referring to the incredible varieties of produce and rare seasonal treats that appear at farmer's markets and which you will never see at the supermarket. What really caught my eye today were the beautiful freshly cut, right off the tree, green almonds.

The almond is native to, and was first domesticated in, the Mediterranean Middle East -- present day Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan and nearby countries. However, almond trees spread throughout the region, and have been a major food in Greece for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, almonds were eaten in a wide variety of states, from dried and roasted, as we eat them, or green and right off the tree. Green almonds are still eaten in Greece. The Greek word for green almond is tsagala.

The fuzzy green shell is still very soft and can easily be cut with a paring knife all around like an avocado. Inside you’ll find the kernel, which is surrounded by a thin skin, the one that becomes brown once matured. The inner kernel is translucent and soft to the bite. It tastes like it has tannins (slightly astringent), which makes sense as it's still young and green. It's hard to describe the flavor, but think of an un-sweet cross between grape and cucumber.

The farmer I bought these from told me that green almonds can be eaten whole with fuzzy shell and all or shelled -- just the tender kernels by themselves. They can be steamed or sautéed with olive oil, garlic and herbs to enjoy them by themselves or put into salads or throw them into soups.

Almond season starts late April and lasts through mid June. - Amira