This article was originally posted on the Daily Californian's Eating Berkeley Blog.
When putting off homework, we tend to look for justifiable distractions or means of procrastination, and when in search for those, some of us turn to the kitchen. This year was no exception, with the discovery of the ultimate study break: the almond. Almonds are relatively cheap and healthy for you, and they are primarily grown in California. They are a rich source of vitamin E, protein and fiber. It is fascinating how many ways this single ingredient can be transformed, and it surely can take up lifetimes, but these few preparations are a great place to start.
1. Toasted almonds
Beyond eating them raw, toasting almonds is likely the most straightforward preparation of almonds. All you really need is a dry heat source — a stove, a toaster oven or a convection oven.
- Turn the chosen heat source to whatever temperature you like, but remember, the higher the heat, the more likely the almonds will burn without careful attention. (About 350°F should be safe.)
- Toss some raw almonds into the chosen heating receptacle (pan, skillet, roasting tray, etc.) and agitate the almonds every once in a while to ensure that they won’t burn.
- Toast them to your pleasure and take them out of the oven. Salt to taste.
There you go — delicious toasted almonds. When toasted, the almond acquires a wonderfully subtle creamy meatiness that you might not expect when thinking of almonds.
2. Candied almonds
Though less healthy than toasted almonds, these are just as delicious. You can put them in salads, cookies or cakes and even just eat them by themselves. They can be lightly candied, turned into almond brittle or made into praline almonds. This may sound intimidating, but luckily, all of these options require very similar, simple steps that are centered around melting sugar to caramel. So let’s grab our saucepan, some sugar and some almonds and get to work making some almond brittle.
- For maximum flavor, toast your almonds.
- Chop up about 3 cups of raw almonds. See the previous section for toasting instructions.
- Put 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan. Once it starts to melt, add 1 more cup of sugar
- Stir to prevent the sugar from burning.
- Let the sugar cook until it turns a rich, golden brown color.
- Whisk in one stick (4 oz.) of chopped-up butter.
- Continue whisking the mixture until it is fully smooth.
- Add toasted almonds and stir to completely coat.
- Pour the molten brittle mixture onto some wax or parchment paper. Spread it out into an even layer and let it cool.
3. Almond milk
This method is surprisingly simple.
- Soak 1 cup of raw almonds in water for up to 48 hours (at a minimum of 6 hours if you are in a pinch).
- After soaking, strain the almonds and discard the soaking liquid.
- At this stage, the almond skin can be pinched off, but it’s not necessary.
- Add soaked almonds into a blender with 3 to 4 of cups of water, depending on how you want the finished product to taste.
- Blend thoroughly and add whatever seasonings you wish: salt, vanilla, maple syrup, honey, cloves or cinnamon (you can really be inventive here, so don’t be scared).
- After adding your flavorings, blend one last time for good measure.
- Strain through muslin or a cheesecloth‐lined strainer.
There you have it: fresh, delicious almond milk.
So now that we have successfully distracted ourselves from our studies, let’s get back to work, but don’t forget to bring the delicious snacks you have made. Perhaps as you reopen your book to resume the odyssey of a student, you can think back to how you can do magic with only a few simple steps and some ingredients from your kitchen — or you can go back and make almond butter with the leftover almonds. For this dauntingly complex task, put your almonds in a food processor and process it for 20 to 30 minutes — or, really, however long it takes to get the almond butter to a consistency you enjoy. Then you have almond butter, which is great on apples or other fruits. You could also start melting chocolate and make almond butter cups instead of peanut butter cups, but then you might run out of time for your assignment.
Happy studying, and happy cooking!