I spent a day a few weeks ago organizing my cupboards, refrigerator, and most-used
recipes in an effort to streamline my post-holidays kitchen. And as I did, I couldn't
help but notice how many products... and recipes I use every day rely on almonds.
And why not — they're not only delicious, low in carbs and high in fiber, they're
simply terrific for you!
These tasty gems pack quite a nutritional punch, combining tons of essential nutrients in their small, unassuming shape. In a mere one ounce of almonds, you get 12 percent of your daily allowance of protein. You’ll also get a whopping 35 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin E, that valuable antioxidant with so many cancer-fighting qualities. In fact, almonds are the single best whole food source of vitamin E, in the form of alpha-tocopherol.
You know how we always hear low carbers can't get enough calcium? Would it surprise you to learn that 20-25 almonds (approximately one ounce) contain as much calcium as a mere 1/4 cup of milk? And since calcium works best when properly combined with magnesium in the diet, almonds come through again — offering up more magnesium than oatmeal or even spinach! You also need plenty of phosphorus in your diet for strong bones and teeth. You guessed it... almonds supply it. If you’re pregnant, or thinking about it, almonds are a great source of the folic acid you need!
Almonds Play Many Rolls...
One of the most common ways you'll see almonds used in low carb recipes is in the form of Almond Flour. Also referred to as "almond meal" or "finely ground almonds", almond flour can be used as a whole or part substitute for many other (higher carb) flours in baking and cooking. Some commercial nut flours are ground from the cake that remains after oils are pressed from nuts. These are drier and, obviously, contain less oils than those that are ground from whole nuts. You can often find almond flour or meal in health food and specialty stores (like Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and others), or they can be purchased online. (See our recommendations below.)
You can do it yourself!
To make your own almond flour, grind toasted or blanched almonds in a nut mill or burr-style coffee grinder until it has the consistency of cornmeal. You can also use a food processor fitted with a steel blade to do this, but it's hard to keep the nut meal from turning into nut butter, so be careful. It helps to freeze the nuts before grinding, and to use the pulse setting on the processor. Store nut meals in the refrigerator or freezer, and use them soon after you buy or make them.
Depending on your use, almond flour is sometimes best toasted, sometimes natural with skins intact, and sometimes best from fine blanched almonds. A cake or cookie recipe usually benefits from blanched almond flour, as in the case of Almond Flour Pound Cake, or Old Fashioned "Sugar" Cookies. But toasted almond flour lends a rustic taste when added to low carb bread recipes or Homemade Low-Carb Tortillas. And for coating chops, chicken or fish, the natural almond meal is often best and mixes well with savory spices. But most of the time, they can be used pretty interchangeably as your tastes dictate.
If you can't find them locally, and don't feel up to the task of grinding your own, consider buying them online. (I always order mine online — it's a great time saver and the cost is reasonable.) There are plenty of online options, but we've searched out the best for quality, value, or both. Our shopping recommendations for almond flour are as follow:
If you look for it locally, our recommendations are for Wild Oats stores' bulk section for the blanched variety, and Authentic Foods brand for the natural (with skins) variety (the latter is about $5.50 to $6.00 for an 8-oz foil-pak (pictured at left) and is always super-fresh!) They have a site to buy it online, but you can usually always find it locally for less money.
We consider having almond flour onhand at all times to be simply essential to successful low carb cooking and baking. If you haven't discovered it yet, it's time you did!
Almonds In A Glass...
Since most of us can't have the high carbs of milk (11 to 13 per 8-oz glass), and others have problems with the lactose in cream or half-n-half, we make good use of Almond Milk at our house. All the health benefits of almonds and a delicious way to get a rich milk-like taste in foods, puddings, or just to drink. Of course cream is usually a good option for low-carbers at 6 carbs per cup, but because it's so high in butterfat, it can leave some dishes with a too-much-fat mouth feel. The answer is Almond Milk.
It comes in at 6 carbs per cup (the same as cream) and is lightly sweetened with a bit of evaporated cane juice — a low impact sweetener that's never interrupted ketosis in me. It has a mild (very mild) almond flavor and is rich and good. We always use it now when we make hot cocoa, and it's good on low carb cereals as well.
There are a number of brands available, but by far the best is Blue Diamond's Almond Breeze. It comes in convenient resealable aseptic containers. A number of other brands boast "fat free" or low fat versions (like Pacific Foods) which are higher in carbs and are NOT tasty... we don't recommend them. (Note that there are three varieties of Almond Breeze... the first two — Chocolate and Vanilla flavored — are high in carbs and sugars, making them unacceptable choices, so the Original (unflavored) variety is the one we're referencing here.) Add a teeny bit of Splenda and a drop of vanilla if you like. Almond milk will keep for 7 to 10 days after opening. (Obviously refrigerate after opening.) For an extended shelf life and optimal taste, refrigerate overnight before opening. (Click here for the nutrition info for Blue Diamond Almond Breeze.)
Can't find it? You can make your own. Here's how!
This is a basic recipe for Almond Milk that you can play around with as you like. To make it thicker or thinner, adjust the nut to water ratio as appropriate. Never use tap water — use a good spring or mineral water. This is thick and creamy due to its rich mineral and oil content, yet has little or no pesticide residue, a calcium content that exceeds that of dairy milks and there is no need to pasteurize it.
Please remember, however, when adding nut milks to sauces and soups to not boil it intensely, or the milk will likely separate.
Line a colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth and place this over a large bowl. When the almond milk is finished blending, pour it slowly into the colander and allow it to strain naturally. You can stir it a little to try and speed the process, but in order to keep all particulate out of the finished milk, it's best to let it do it on its own.
You can strain the milk a second time, if you want to be sure it's free of all particulate.
Store the finished milk in an airtight container in your fridge for 4 or 5 days.
To Be Continued...
Next issue, we'll cover even more useful, delicious products based on almonds... PLUS, some new, and AMAZINGLY GOOD almond-rich recipes!
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