Pardon me as I go on a brief tangent unrelated to food. I would like to discuss sleeper cars. A sleeper car by definition is one that looks like a normal sedan or average car, but possesses a huge amount of power and performance. Sleeper cars became popular in the 1960’s at the height of American muscle car popularity. Car manufacturers competed to see how much power they could cram into an unassuming car, and the result was cars like the Oldsmobile 442. On the outside it looked like a regular old Oldsmobile Cutlass, but underneath the bonnet was a 455 cubic inch, monster of an engine, that produced almost 400 horsepower. Besides the fact that sleeper cars were great for drag racing, they also played an essential role in the development of automotive engineering. Horsepower is a critical asset for car performance and when used efficiently can actually help improve gas mileage. In fact, today it is not unusual for cars to have over 300 horsepower and also get great gas mileage. Accomplishments like these would have never occurred without the help of sleeper cars.
So, why all of this car talk? The reason is- I believe that almonds are the sleeper car of the Jewish diet. They are unassuming and common for most Jewish tables, but their power and influence in the development of Jewish cuisine is unparalleled. Almonds are prolific throughout the Middle East. They thrive in the climate in Israel and surrounding countries, and are an ideal crop because they blossom early in the season and have a high yield. Like a muscle car, under the shell, almonds pack a lot of power in the form of protein and fat which was critical for nourishment in ancient Middle Eastern communities. There is no arguing that almonds are nothing short of a gift from the heavens. Gil Marks makes it clear in Encyclopedia of Jewish Food the importance of almonds simply by dedicating 3 separate entries and 5 full pages to almond related ingredients. The point is, Jews were able to survive in the harsh conditions of the Middle East for thousands of years thanks, in part, to almonds. Like sleeper cars, they pack an unexpected punch.
In order to showcase the powerful flavor of almonds, I have decided to make an Almond Gazpacho. Soup is a great vehicle for highlighting a specific flavor. I chose to make a chilled soup in order to avoid cooking the almonds, which preserves the natural oils in the nut and creates more intense flavor. Also, almonds become very creamy when puréed, which is why almond milk has become so popular. In this case I am not adding any dairy because the creaminess of the almonds provides the richness in the soup. The resulting gazpacho, much like a sleeper car, looks like any other creamy soup, but the powerful flavor reveals the magnificence of almonds.
Regardless of how much horsepower your car has, I invite you to come to my pop-up restaurant, Fress, at the Wine Expo in Santa Monica this Thursday night to enjoy the unassumingly powerful flavor of almonds.
1 ½ C Almonds, Blanched
2 ea Garlic Cloves
2 C Seedless Cucumber, peeled & diced
2 C Seedless Green Grapes
1 T Fresh Dill
1 ½ C White Grape Juice
½ C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T White Wine Vinegar
To taste Kosher Salt
To taste White Pepper
1. In batches, place an equal amount of each ingredient in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.
2. Chill and serve.
3. I recommend garnishing the soup with dill, sliced grape and crushed almonds.