Ingredient SpotLight

When you think of almonds, you probably either think of them in sweet baked goods or roasted and salted in a can with other mixed nuts. Well, this month, I'm hoping to expand your thoughts on this versatile nut with two recipes that cover both the sweet and the savory side of almonds.

Almonds have a long history and are believed to be among the world's first cultivated foods. Both almonds and dates are mentioned in the Old Testament and ancient Romans offered sugared almonds as a means of greeting one another. That tradition has lived on to become a wedding tradition in which guests are offered almond "bonbonieres" to symbolize children, happiness, romance, good health and fortune.

Today, California is by far the biggest producer of almonds. It supplies 100% of the US supply and about 80% of the world's supply! This is truly amazing when you consider that almonds were first introduced to California in the mid 1700s.

Almonds are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber -- with no cholesterol at all and good amounts of healthy fats. Doctors are recommending that such healthy nuts become a regular part of our diets. So, in that spirit, I'm offering two recipes from different ends of the spectrum. The first recipe is for all those out there with a sweet tooth. Now, with all the chocolate, butter and sugar in this recipe, it's really meant to be an occasional treat. However, it really is one of my favorites and I hope that you enjoy it.

Almond Roca

  • 1 lb. butter
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. whole almonds
  • 16 oz. chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, ground in blender

Melt butter over high heat. Add sugar stirring until it foams up well. Continue over high heat, adding almonds. Continue to cook, stirring constantly until mixture is color of mahogany and all sugar is melted. Take off the heat for a moment if it starts to smoke. Stir as you take it off the heat permanently and pour quickly into your biggest flat pan with sides. Tilt to spread evenly. After 5 minutes pour on chocolate chips. When they are melted a bit, spread them over the top of the hot mixture with a rubber scraper. Scatter ground walnuts over the top, shaking to distribute evenly. Candy is thoroughly cooled when chocolate is dull looking, about 3 hours.

  • Yields: 2 lbs. of candy
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

The second recipe is a spicy ethnic dish from Figi that features shrimp and almonds. Enjoy it with hot rice on a cold day.

Shrimp With Cardamom & Almonds

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 3-inch piece cinnamon
  • seeds from 5 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1.5 pounds large uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 one-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2.5 cups coconut milk
  • 3 small hot green chiles (serranos), seeds & stems removed, chopped
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
  • cilantro leaves, slivered almonds for garnish

Heat the oil in a skillet. Sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the shrimp and set aside.

Add the ginger, onion, and garlic, and sauté until the onion is sort, about 3 minutes. Add the flour, almonds, and turmeric, and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stiffing constantly. Add the coconut milk, chiles, and sugar, and simmer for 10 minutes. Return the shrimp to the curry, add salt to taste, and simmer for about 8 minutes.

Add the lemon or lime juice, stir, and remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaves and the cinnamon. Serve over rice garnished with the cilantro leaves and the almonds.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes