Friday, April 17, 2009
Les Amandes Fraîches - Fresh Almonds
Today I was out & about, hitting the pavement, checking out parts of the 15th arrondissement (district) as a potential location for setting up shop. Along the way I came across a little store, an "Epicerie Libanaise" (Lebanese grocery store). It was an inviting store front that lured me in to see what new items it might have to discover. Many of its products I could not understand because of packaging written in arabic. Then there was a display case of prepared foods that I could understand, with my eyes at least, but it was much too early for lunch.
As I was leaving, however, I noticed a box just sitting there. A small crate actually. I asked the shop owner, "How much are those fresh almonds?" I wasn't sure if they were actually for sale, or just part of the store's inventory. He was really pleased with my question, which surprised me. He started talking about how these were the very first almonds of the season. I asked where they were from. He said "Lebanon", and then he continued talking about how fresh these were. (Having walked into a Lebanese grocery store, I kind of assumed they were from Lebanon....and I was hoping for a more specific answer....!) However, he was so caught up in talking about these almonds that I eventually dropped my intended follow-up question, "but where?"!
He quickly explained that these are at the highest price point they will ever be because, simply, they are at their freshest. They were 8€/kg, in case you're wondering (~$5.50/lb). After this, the almonds are less good because they are less fresh, and the price will go down, he explained.
Then, he asked me, "do you know how to eat these?" I said no. I've already worked with fresh almonds in the past, but I wasn't sure where he was going with this. Then he simply took a bite of one, green skin (or should I say fur), and all! It sounded all crispy- crunchy. My knee-jerk reaction was "pas possible!" (no way, I can't believe it!). It really did take me by surprise. He said, "si, si" (yes, yes). And he added, "What's really good is to eat these with a cold beer. But only when they're this fresh. Otherwise, you have to get the nut out." And with that, he ran away & quickly returned, putting me a handful of whole almonds (peeled) in my palm. "Here, take this. You seem to like almonds!"
There was a girl in the middle of paying for something while all this transpired, and without blinking, she reached into the crate, grabbed one & popped it into her mouth. I was a little shocked by her brashness, but I curiously watched her reaction at the same time. She said with a smile, "a little bitter....but yes, a beer would be great with these". And out the door she went.
It was my turn to try one, at the shop owner's insistance. It was surprisingly fresh tasting. Not as "almondy" as I was expecting. Definitely "wet" & moist & slightly bitter. I still couldn't get over eating that green casing. In fact, it's a strange concept to not only eat the green casing, but also, the shell itself. Today, it's all moist, but this is the same shell that eventually dries out & becomes light golden brown, as I had been accustomed to seeing back in the states.
I bought a small sac full to bring home. I wanted to share this almond taste test with Eric. We tried them, as recommended, with a beer. But not just any beer. It was a Belgian specialty brought from Brussels last week by some dear friends..... It was unanimous. Fresh almonds are a unique treat and they make for a very unique aperitif (before-dinner drink and appetizer). We couldn't eat them every day, but we're still glad to have made this discovery.