As I write this, it is Easter Sunday in Budapest and the church bells are ringing. I’ve been away from Israel for 10 days so I donâ€™t honestly know whether fresh almonds are even still at the market. Two weeks ago, they were there. Not in Beâ€™er Sheva, of course, but in Jerusalem (and I hear Tel Aviv). They were in such abundance it was easy to forget that their season typically lasts a few short weeks (the Almond Board claims they are available April through June). Somehow, fresh almonds seem appropriate for Easter. Rebirth and all that.
Although I had heard of fresh almonds, and even had them once before (the chef at Castagna in Portland, OR puts them to good use), I didnâ€™t immediately recognize them at the market. I noticed them while on Tali Friedmanâ€™s culinary tour of Mahane Yehuda (more on that later) and asked what they were. â€œFresh almonds,â€ she said, and handed me one to try. I looked at it quizzically, not quite sure what to do with it. â€œJust eat it,â€ Tali explained, taking a bite out of one.
The outside is pale green and fuzzy like a peach (they are actually related!), but surprisingly crunchy to bite into. Within the shell, only a hint of the almond that is to come is visible. The taste is pure freshness, the essence of springtime in one small package. Evan put it best when he apprehensively tried a fresh almond – also known as green almonds – and reported back, â€œtastes very green.â€
So, when preparing fresh almonds itâ€™s important not to overwhelm this fresh, clean flavor. Lemon, used in moderation, is a lovely complement that brightens the almondâ€™s flavor. The simplest preparation is the best: slice the fresh almonds thin and toss with a little lemon juice, high quality olive oil (preferably one that is slightly fruity but not too strong in flavor), and salt. I tried adding Parmesan and found it to completely overwhelm the fresh almonds. Their flavor is easily overpowered. Tali included thinly sliced shallots in her rendition, which were lovely as well. When I made the salad most recently, it served as the perfect, refreshing foil to a heavy, comforting bowl of macaroni and cheese.