Green Almonds

On the cover of the Zuni Cafe Cookbook you will see three nectarines, several slices of prosciutto, and there, at 9 o’clock on the plate, a handful of green almonds, two of them split open, their kernels separated on to the black plate. This image, to me, has always evoked a precious, inaccessible other world–a world where a person might harvest green almonds as easily as one might buy peanut M&Ms from one of those machines you crank in diners or movie theaters. It’s a world I thought I’d never know and, frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know: I kind of liked my almonds aged and musty in their plastic containers from Key Food. When would I ever get to experience a green almond? Probably never. That is, until, last week when I stumbled upon them at Fairway in Red Hook.

There they were: green almonds. Just like on the cover of The Zuni Cookbook, only these were labeled “fresh almonds” which, I’m pretty sure, are the same thing.

Now you should know something about me: when it comes to flavors that I love, I’m pretty ambivalent about the almond itself, but as far as all the wonderful things we get from the almond? Almond paste? Amond cake? Almond liquor? Toasted almond gelato (which I had at Franny’s two months ago and it blew me away)? These are among my favorite things: I love all the sweet things that can be derived from the almond.

But what would I think about the almond at the opposite end: if all those examples are where the almond winds up at the end of its life, what is it like as a baby? It was time to find out. Here are the green almonds on a plate:


Aren’t they pretty? Zuni Cafe cookbook pretty? Like should Judy Rogers hire me to shoot the cover of her next book?

Here’s one split open:


It almost looks like an avocado on the inside, except instead of a pit there’s a white seed–a seed that you eat.

So I plucked that seed/kernel/baby almond out from the shell and popped it into my mouth.

How was it?

It was surprisingly juicy: like a cross between a seed and a grape. The flavor wasn’t almondy at all, just bright and tangy–again, like a grape. Here’s the kernel bit in half:


Did I love it? I’m sorry to say, no. Maybe it’d taste better with a nectarine and some prosciutto; by itself, it was rather underwhelming. It was a lot of peeling and extracting for a teensy little bite, a bite that, I suppose, is special because of all that peeling and extracting, but it just wasn’t a flavor that spoke to me the way that almond cake speaks to me or toasted almond gelato.

Which is to say: I like old people almonds better than little baby almonds. The little almonds are cute and fun to put on cookbooks, but old people almonds know what they’re doing–they have a lifetime of experience to speak from and they taste better for it. Old people almonds remain my almonds of choice.

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