Not too long ago, I hosted a get together for our local Weston A. Price Foundation in our home, which is an invaluable resource for education, community connections and finding sustainable farms in your area (you can see if there’s a chapter in your area here). Pressed for time, I had little to offer the potluck table and put a bowl of seasoned almonds together in under ten minutes. Since that time, I’ve made these toasted almonds several times. I enjoy the way their flavor is at once salty, and fragrant with herbs and lemon, and I keep them for impromptu nibbles and little snacks.
The trick to making these almonds so very fragrant is to toast them in a bit of lard infused with fresh herbs. Culinary herbs release their volatile oils easily in fat – whether over a prolonged period of time as called of in making herbed olive oil, or in only a few moments in a hot pan. Once plucked from the pan, their flavor remains in the hot fat, infusing these almonds with their resonant aroma and taste. It’s a technique I use often, in braising meats, or in making soups and sauces, too.
Why I Blanch My Almonds
Almonds make lovely little snacks. Rich in vitamin E, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium and monounsaturated fat, almonds are thought to support cardiovascular health. Further, regular consumption of nuts like almonds is associated with longevity, a topic discussed at length in the book the Blue Zones which takes a look at the lifestyle and dietary patterns of some of the world’s longest lived peoples.
Beyond their clear benefits, almonds also suffer from a few detractions. Just as they’re rich in nutrients, they are likewise rich in antinutrients, namely food phytate and enzyme inhibitors. Phytates lock up minerals in certain foods like nuts, beans, grains and seeds, preventing you from absorbing the full complement of minerals they offer. Enzyme inhibitors can make nuts, like almonds, difficult to digest. Most of these antinutrients rest within the papery brown skin that surrounds the almond, and while you can mitigate the effect of these antinutrients through soaking and drying them, you can also remove them simply by removing that papery skin through blanching the almonds.
I favor blanching almonds because it improves their flavor and removes their bitterness. You can blanch almonds easily by slipping them into boiling water for a few minutes, then transferring them to an ice bath. Their skins will pucker with the change in temperature, and the nut itself slips from the papery skin that surrounds it when you pinch it between your thumb and forefinger. You can use them immediately, or dry them for later use in recipes like the one below.
In Praise of Lard
In making these almonds, I typically infuse hot lard with fresh herbs, remove them from the skillet, and toss in the almonds – stirring them in the hot fat until they release their fragrance and brown a bit (they’re easy to overcook, so be mindful and watch your pan). Lard is a beautiful fat and, unfortunately, very deeply maligned – and maligned without reason. Lard from pasture-raised pigs – that is pigs raised outdoors under the bright sunshine – is extraordinarily rich in vitamin D, a nutrient severely lacking in both adults and children.
Vitamin D supports bone health and immune system function. While you can, theoretically, manufacture vitamin D in your skin through exposure to the sun, it is very difficult to do so depending on your latitude and how much time you spend out of doors, making food sources of vitamin D like lard and cod liver oil (which you can find here) more and more critical to health.
Lard is also an excellent source of monounsaturated fat – the same heart-healthy fat found in avocados and olive oil. In fact, monounsaturated fat comprises about 45% of the fat in lard, and are though to promote weight loss, decrease cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. Fortunately, lard is beginning to make a bit of a comeback, and you can learn to make it yourself here.
- 1 tablespoon pasture-raised lard (learn how to render lard here)
- 1 branch rosemary
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 cups blanched almonds
- ½ tsp fresh lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon unrefined sea salt
- Melt the lard in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Drop in rosemary and thyme, and allow them to sizzle in the hot fat until they crisp. Then remove and discard the herbs.
- Toss the blanched almonds into the seasoned fat, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown and they release a deep nutty aroma.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the almonds from the pan and spoon them into a bowl. Toss them gently, while still hot, with salt and lemon zest. Allow them to cool, and then serve.