Almonds on my mind

The Israeli variety in particular are regarded as having healing properties.

Eggplant 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Eggplant 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s a month before Tu Bishvat, the almond trees are not yet abloom (at least not in my neighborhood), but just this week I received such a nice package of Israeli-grown almonds, that it got me thinking about a nut so common that we often take it for granted. One of the first things I learned was that Israeli almonds are far larger than imported varieties, contain more protein, calcium and vitamin E than their imported counterparts and are also fresher, more ecological (no fossil fuel wasted on import) and extremely delicious.
It may very well have been the Israelites who first introduced the almond tree to Egypt, since the patriarch Jacob intended his children to bring only the finest and most unusual species there, and had they been commonplace, they certainly would not have fit the bill. Yet by the time the Israelites’ 210-year sojourn in Egypt was over, almonds were known to all. As instructed by God, their form decorated the candlestick of the Tabernacle.
Almonds are traditionally regarded as having special healing properties and are an ideal food for strengthening the body. Although not dietetic (about 589 calories in 100 grams or about 150 calories for the recommended 15 to 20 per day), almonds certainly provide a lot of bang for the buck: High in protein (19.95 grams in 100 grams), they are a good source of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, and are very high in potassium, zinc, copper and manganese. They’re also a rich source of B vitamins, especially niacin (B3) and folic acid (B9), fiber and antioxidants.
The best way to store almonds, according to Reuven Berger, head of the almond division of The Plant Board, is in a hermetically sealed jar in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for months.
Also available are almond butter (at health-food stores), almond milk (imported but can be made at home), food-grade cold pressed almond oil, used therapeutically to treat gastric ulcers, as a laxative, as a skin beautifier and as a massage oil, and almond flour (blanched ground almonds) available in healthfood stores, for gluten-free baking.
Although we have not a drop of Italian blood among us, my family always loved everything Italian, and my dear late mother often made southern Italian specialties.One of them was eggplant Parmigiano, her version made the traditional way with batter-dipped fried eggplant slices. Here’s my gluten-free version – that uses eggplant dipped in almond meal, baked to a crisp in the oven – with even tastier results.
I like to use baladi eggplant – the imperfect ones that come from a heritage strain of seed.
NOTE: For gluten-free pizza, cut a regular eggplant widthwise into discs, prepare the eggplant steaks as in the recipe below, top them with a little tomato sauce and cheese and bake in the oven till just melted.
✔ 750 gr. eggplant (cut into 12 1-1.5 cm. lengthwise✔ 11⁄2 cups blanched almond flour ✔ 1 tsp. salt ✔ Healthy pinch each: thyme, oregano, garlic powder, black pepper ✔ 3 cups homemade tomato sauce ✔ 200 gr. thinly sliced log mozzarella cheese ✔ Salt, pepper, fresh oregano and basil ✔ 4 Tbsp. grated real Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 180º. Line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Place the almond flour in a large dish and mix with the salt, oregano, thyme and garlic powder. In a wide-bottomed bowl, whisk the eggs and oil. Dip the eggplant slices on both sides in the egg and then in the almond flour mixture and place in a baking pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the slices are golden on both sides.
Pour a cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of a large rectangular pan (I use a 23 x 30 cm. Pyrex). Arrange a layer of eggplant slices, another cup of tomato sauce and half the mozzarella slices on top. Cover with another layer of eggplant, sauce and mozzarella. Bake for about 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the eggplant is hot. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, torn basil or oregano leaves and black pepper. Serve hot.
Halva the way our ancestors might have made it.
✔ 1⁄2 cup sesame seeds ✔ 1⁄2 cup untoasted almonds, ground ✔ 1⁄2 cup tehina paste ✔ 4 Tbsp. honey ✔ 2-3 Tbsp. carob powder (optional) ✔ Pistachio nuts for garnish (optional) ✔ Nutmeg, rosewater, ground almond flour
Grind the sesame seeds and almonds separately in a blender. Mix the ground sesame seeds and almonds with the tehina and honey. Knead for a few minutes with fingers. Divide the mixture in half and add the carob powder to one half, if desired. Knead well to blend.
On a piece of waxed paper, spread the white half of the mixture in an oblong or rectangular fashion. Snuggle the carob mixture alongside it in the same way. Press in the chopped pistachio nuts as garnish, if desired. The mixture will be sticky – roll in almond flour or coconut if necessary. Close the waxed paper and chill the halva in the refrigerator till firm. To serve, cut into small squares.
What is your opinion about Neoflam pots and pans? I have quite a collection and now, after the TV show that talked about them, I am afraid to use them.Ricky Hurst
I have had several calls, e-mails and even Facebook requests for answers to the Neoflam issue ever since the Kolbotek program revealed that some Neoflam pots and pans were found to have unacceptable amounts of lead and cadmium. Israel has no regulation for pots and pans. The Neoflam company has responded by stating that it has FDA and various European approvals that its items are safe and that the metals will not migrate into the food.
That’s worth considering, yet at the same time I think that consumers have to ask themselves several questions, such as “Do I want to knowingly purchase products that contain poisonous metals, especially when I know that one day they’ll end up in my city’s dump?” and “Do I want to support companies that use cadmium and lead in production when it also means that their workers are exposed to it?” and “If I scrub the outside of the colored pots to remove stains that discolor the finish, can the company assure me that there is no way that cadmium and lead will be transferred from the scrub pad to my hands and other items in my sink?” You can probably guess my answers.
Why do some eggs have such yellow yolks and others have pale yolks? Do they have the same nutritional value?
Allon Reuven
The color of the yolk is determined by the chicken feed. A hen that eats a wheat-based diet produces eggs with light-yellow yolks. A hen that consumes a corn or alfalfa-based diet produces eggs with dark-yellow yolks. Yolk color is not considered by most sources to be an indicator of nutritional value, but others contend that the deeper rich colors contain more antioxidants.
When grains stick to the inside of jars or there are little “strings” it means that the grains are spoilt and I throw them out. But sometimes I just see a powdery substance at the bottom of the jars but the grains do not stick to the sides. Is this also a sign that the grains have gone bad? Miriam Solovicksky
A powdery substance that sticks to the bottom of the jar even when you turn it upside down is a sign of deterioration and the beginning of infestation. When you transfer grains to glass jars, label the jar with the last day of purchase and the date you put it in a jar.
■ More of Phyllis Glazer’s recipes will be given at a midweek workshop at Amirei Hagalil in March. For info and registration (until January 30), contact [email protected]