At first glance, I thought they were olives! Isn’t that extremely unlikely for my green grocer in Mumbai to sell fresh green olives, I thought to myself? Curiosity made me go in for a closer look and I was right…but then I was in for a bigger surprise. They were fresh green almonds, straight from a farm – I had never seen them before, what joy! The joy quickly turned to a question mark, what would I make from these…the only reference point I had was that green almonds were turned into a delicious spicy curry by the Marwaris – the community which hails from the beautiful desert state of Rajasthan. And that was it.
Casting aside any apprehensions, I picked up a box of the green almonds like a christmas gift and drove home, overjoyed at my newfound discovery…the only thing left for me was to figure out what to do with these little green babies. Thinking about it, I can safely say that this was the first time that I brought home an ingredient that I have never used before. Except for knowing that this is the green fruit that holds the most wonderful sweet almonds, loved the world over, I had no clue of its taste, texture, flavour and most importantly how to cook it. So what is a green almond? They are essentially raw almonds, picked before they had the chance to ripen and the inner kernels, the almond nut as we know it, has been pitted and dried. On doing some further research with help from our good old friend, Google, I found its mention in one of David Lebovitz’ blog, on how the inner soft kernels are served as aperitifs by classy Parisiens to go with their fruity wines or sprinkled on preserves and tarts. But none that spoke about the use of the actual fruit until I touched upon this wonderful recipe for poached green almonds by Saveur.
So I must say that while the poached green almonds are great on their own to be served as a cocktail starter in place of olives, they are clearly not the most convenient nor appropriate for parties… The fleshy green fruit, once poached, cannot be pitted like olives keeping the outer intact. Between the soft flesh and the inner kernel, is a hard covering, following by another layer of the soft skin that protect the innermost nut. You can only imagine how much guests would struggle once these are popped inside the mouth! But I wasn’t going to let that thought discourage me. After a few experiments, I can safely say that this recipe will surely figure as one of my ‘greatest’ invention tests! And you have to give it to me guys, having created the most delicious tapenade using the entire green almond, the fruit, the nut and a couple of other ingredients to balance the bitter sweet flavours.
This is actually two recipes in one – first the poached green almonds which is fantastic on its own ( with caution) and the second which is the tapenade. To create the tapenade, you have to poach the green almonds first to lend it the much desired creamy consistency of tapenades and spreads. Green almonds are usually found in summer in India and for a few short weeks over spring in Europe, unless you live close to one of the almond growing regions of America or elsewhere…if you do come across them, make sure they are bright green with a fuzzy skin and no brown spots. When you are ready to use them, and I am thinking you are doing this to re-create my recipe… 🙂 , wash and dry them well, brushing off any stubborn dirt or marks and cut off the top ends.
The almonds do take some time to cook but be patient with them – they took about 45 minutes to go really tender which is what you want and that may differ slightly depending on their freshness and variety. The other thing you want to keep an eye out for is to ensure that there is a sufficient liquid for the almonds to poach in – if the liquid evaporates, they will start braising which isn’t what you are looking for. Hence, I have used equal quantities of orange juice and olive oil and may be a little more if required. I have used orange juice as its sweetness with help from the sugar cuts through the bitterness, inherent in the green almond and helps to balance out the flavours. The tapenade with its slight bitterness from the poached fruit and sweetness from the raw almonds combining with the salty capers and piquant peppers to create a really unusual mix of flavours and texture. This one, I really urge you to give a shot – its not a difficult recipe, all it needs is a little love like all goods things in the world!
For poached green almonds
- Green almonds – 400 grams
- Fresh orange juice – 150 ml
- Extra virgin olive oil – 150 ml
- Garlic cloves – 3, minced
- Coriander / Dill – 2 tbsp, chopped
- Sugar – 2 tsp
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Poached green almonds – 1 cup, sliced and de-seeded with almonds reserved
- Tender almonds – reserved from the fruit ( see instructions below)
- Capers – 1 tbsp, drained and rinsed
- Mild peppadews / peppers – 5-6
- Juice of lemons – 2 small or 1 large lemon
- Extra virgin Olive oil – 100 ml
- Salt to season
- Begin by washing and rinsing the almonds in clean water. Dry well with a clean tea towel and cut off the top twigs if any. Place them in a pan with the orange juice, olive oil, sugar, salt, minced garlic and chopped coriander or dill. Bring to a boil on a medium heat, then cover and simmer on a low flame for about 40-45 minutes till the almonds are tender. Let them cool and store them in a jar. You can serve these as a cocktail starter on their own;
- Now this is a very important step: once the poached almonds have cooled, using a sharp knife with care, cutting through the centre of the fruit and peel back the flesh to reveal the inner hard skin. Discard the hard skin between the flesh and the almond nut. You will then get to the inner core which cocoons the nut. Repeat with all the almonds saving the flesh and the nuts;
- To make the tapenade, place all ingredients for the tapenade with half the oil in a food processor and pulse to coarse purée. Pour the remaining oil in a thin stream and pulse till you get the desired consistency. Adjust lemon juice and salt if necessary.
- Goes amazingly with grilled tortilla triangles, on crostinis, bruschettas, crudités or anything else you fancy!!