Dried fruit and almond cake.
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
I’m confused. Just a short week after everyone was getting ready to hit the storm shelters, we experience a deliciously warm week, reminiscent of spring. So has spring arrived or hasn’t it? Weather patterns can be deceiving, but one unwavering hallmark that hints of spring in the air is the almond tree in bloom.
The close chronological proximity of Tu Bishvat to the early blossoming of Prunus dulcis, the domesticated almond tree, has made this the official symbol of the festival. And what better candidate than the almond, which was described in Genesis (43:11) as one of the choicest of fruits, so choice in fact that we are only beginning to discover all of its wonders.
Unlike the wild almond that contains amygdalin, a poisonous glycoside that becomes hydrogen cyanide when the nut is crushed or chewed, making it fatal if ingested, the domesticated almond has been cultivated for human consumption since the dawn of time. Not only is the domesticated almond not fatal, on the contrary, it is a superbly healthful food that belongs in the “super food” category.
Almonds are high in fat, but the kind that lowers bad LDL cholesterol and raises the good HDL type in the blood.
Almonds are very rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, and in potassium and magnesium. All these factors combined make almonds the perfect “heart” food, that when eaten in sufficient quantities, according to research, could lower your risk of heart disease by 45 percent or more.
Almonds are a “super-hero” additive that can convert even the highest sugar and carbohydrate meals or snacks into a safer package with a lower glycemic index. When almonds are eaten together with white bread or highsugar foods, they work their magic by slowing down the rate of absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, thus placing less stress on the hormonal system and helping to prevent diabetes.
Worried about those wrinkles and gray hairs? The super-combo of vitamin E and a high level of flavonoids in the almond, especially in the skin, deliver an antioxidant solution that retards aging and makes you look and feel younger.
Having trouble shedding that excess flab? A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders indicates that a low-calorie diet enriched with almonds proves more effective in weight loss than a low-calorie diet without almonds. The almond group lost 62% more weight than the non-almond group! Not only do almonds help shed those unwanted kilos, they stop you regaining the weight. Studies have shown that people who eat almonds twice a week are 31% less likely to gain weight than those who don’t eat the healthy nuts.
Not convinced yet? There’s more. Almonds are a rich source of the trace elements copper and manganese and also vitamin B2 (riboflavin).
These all combine to enhance enzyme action and increase energy production in the digestive system. Eating a 30-gram serving of almonds each week reduces the chance of getting gallstones by 25%. The list just goes on and on.
Almonds may be added to our diet in many forms. In their natural, whole form (with the skin, not blanched nor roasted) they are best.
They may be ground into almond meal that serves as gluten-free substitute for flour in baking. Almond oil is one of the healthiest oils in existence. Almonds may also be made into lactose-free milk or butter, a substitute for those allergic to peanut butter.
Almonds are routinely added to muesli, nougat, French macaroons and many other ethnic dishes, especially in Mediterranean countries.
Almonds are rich in Jewish religious symbolism. Aaron’s staff brought forth almond flowers signifying of the Tribe of Levi’s selection for the priesthood. The structure of the almond blossom served as a model for the construction of the Menorah in the Temple.
Nutrition and religion aside, nothing lifts the hibernating spirit as the sight of pink and white blossoms adorning one of nature’s most blessed trees.
DRIED FRUIT AND ALMOND CAKE
Nothings beats this cake for simplicity, variety of textures, health and taste.
✔ 1 cup almond (or other) oil
✔ 4 eggs
✔ 1 cup fruit juice
✔ 1 tsp. almond (or vanilla) essence
✔ 4 cups flour
✔ 1½ cups sugar
✔ 4 tsp. baking powder
✔ 1 tsp. cinnamon
✔ ½ tsp. ground cloves
✔ ½ cup chopped, natural, whole almonds (with skins)
✔ 1 cup chopped assorted dried fruit (raisins, figs, dates, cranberries, etc.)
✔ Grated rind of an orange Mix all ingredients together in bowl. Pour into greased pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes at 180°, testing with a toothpick if center is done or not.Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (www.saidels.com), that specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread.