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Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—Green almonds, a sure sign of Spring!

posted on: Apr 13, 2016

green almonds (louz ahdar)  © linda dalal sawaya 2016

BY: Linda Dalal Sawaya/Contributing Writer

Another native to the Middle East, this fruit that is typically considered a nut is really a drupe, and when it appears marks a sure sign of the arrival of spring. The green almond, or louz ahdar, is famous in the Middle East and Mediterranean region as a very short-season treat for a month or so in the spring eaten raw and dipped in salt by some. Typically it’s a part of mezza (appetizers) and accompanied by a small glass of arak.

I remember my parents taking my sister Vivian and I to our friends’ the McKenna’s farm out in the then-agricultural San Fernando Valley and we ate green almonds fresh from their orchard tree. As you can see in this photo of me, I was just a toddler, but it was a wonderful early childhood memory, one that made me fall in love with gardens, orchards, and the bounty they provided. The McKennas were not Irish, but Lebanese; just the spelling of their name from Arabic transliterated into English is deceptive.

my illustration from Aramco World magazine 1997 © linda dalal sawaya 2016

This illustration is one I painted for Saudi Aramco World magazine who published an excerpt from my first edition of Alice’s Kitchen in January/February edition in 1997. I used a photographic transfer of a memorable moment from my childhood, when I was about two years old, with my sister Vivian who was four. My father in the photo, was flanked by the two lovely McKenna sisters. The photo transfer was embellished with collage and some additional color to complete the illustration that went around the world, as a very magical way for the launching of my cookbook. Mama and I were on the cover! And the illustration above refers to our eating green almonds.

Aramco World cover illustration 1997 © linda dalal sawaya 2016

If you click on the magazine cover, you can find the archived article which has several recipes from Alice’s Kitchen!

Amonds in the U.S. almonds are primarily produced in California, and if you don’t have your own almond tree, which is a relative of the peach, if you don’t find them in farmers’ markets, you can order fresh, fuzzy, green almonds online to ship wherever you are. They can be pickled, chopped into salads, salsas, and whatever else you can think of where you’d like a crunchy, tart, nutritious and unusual addition to what you’re preparing.

The key to selecting these if you find them in farmers’ markets or on an almond tree, is that their outer skin is tender and unblemished. A quick rinsing of any field dust, and they’re ready to eat.

Since I am not blessed with an almond tree in my garden, I went to my local Middle Eastern grocery which I heard had some green almonds in from California; they had come in last week, so not as fresh as I’d really want, but no other choice at the moment. Right next to them I was surprised to find sour grapes, I assume for making hsroum, sour grape vinegar, which I wrote about last summer when my Oregon grapes were at the right size. No need to buy these, as my organic grapes will be preferable.

Inside the young almond fruit, is a clear, jell which ultimately hardens to become the almond that we most are familiar with. Almonds are eaten by Mediterranean peoples in various stages. After the outer green husk becomes tough, it is cut away to expose a white “nut”, that is tender and tasty.

There are several Lebanese pastries using mature almonds, my favorite being hrist il louz, which is also called nammoura. Another irrisistible Lebanese almond cookie my mother made is nus qamar, which are in the shape of half moons. Both of these pastries are simple to make. Recipes are found in Alice’s Kitchen.

Happy Springtime and happy cooking! Sahtein!

Linda Dalal Sawaya is a Portland artist, cook, Master Gardener, daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and author of Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking   

Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”

story and all photos © linda dalal sawaya 2016