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Middle Eastern style Almonds – you’d be nuts not to try them

As a dietitian and food lover I fully expect to be excited by new foods and recipes.  Quiet frankly, for the rest of my eating days.  But  it’s rare that I am bowled over by a new way to prepare or eat a basic food.  How about you?  Have you ever had a light bulb moment when someone has shown you something so wonderful, yet so simple with food preparation?  Let me tell you about my ‘aha’ moment and show you how to reap the health and weight loss rewards from enjoying almonds, Middle Eastern style.

Over the fence

The logical place to start my  multicultural, foodie tour was with our fabulous Lebanese next-door neighbours.  It’s the easiest way to absorb another culture from the comfort of your own living room….just live next door to a large family that’s life is deeply rooted in traditional food.  Via coffee on the front deck, edible gifts off their grill and date filled pastry treats, I’ve already learnt a lot about Lebanese cuisine.  I’ve got amazing continental parsley self seeded all over my garden.  And watched with Abdul as the fruit on their fig tree slowly ripened…. “no not ready yet, best to wait”.  So it’s no surprise to see that Slow Food Beirut are profiling traditional fig propagation.  But by far the best cultural experience has been Fatima’s and then Leila’s wedding.

Leila’s Wedding

Sitting at the wedding table we enjoyed the usual pre-dinner nibbles including the essential garlicky hummus dip, pita bread and     tabbouleh…but then I spotted these beautiful plump almonds.  Several people around us were peeling the skins to eat, but others just nibbled whole.  What made their texture so enjoyable?  I had to ask Ali (several times over the beat of the drum).  His reply.  Simply soak overnight (well with a few Arabic words in between).  So of course I had to try.

Kitchen Klinic

Buy a large bag of almonds and if you’re in Australia you may be lucky to receive this snack size carry tin courtesy of Australian Almonds.  For my experiment I took a snack size 30g (well 29g) of raw almonds and simply soaked them overnight covered by water in the fridge. Next morning I woke up to see gorgeous plump almonds just like above, that now weigh around 45g.  Well, I don’t know about you, but my appetite is already more satisfied by the sound of that. 

Nuts for healthy weight

For a longtime nuts were a dieters foe, but they are now growing a powerful health story.  Dietitians like me encourage a portion-controlled serve of nuts as a great mid-meal snack.  Packed with essential nutrients like vitamin E, along with protein and dietary fibre, they will keep you satisfied for longer than many other options.  And if you increase their volume with  kilojoule free water, you’ll extend your snack time enjoyment and your satisfaction even further.  You can read more on Nuts and weight management (Australian Almonds) and a whole lot more on nuts and health at Nuts for Life (Australian Industry Body).   I hope my colleague Dietitian Lisa Yates APD from Nuts for Life leaves a comment.  Love to know if it’s true that nuts were traditionally soaked to remove arsenic (no longer a problem in modern cultivars)?  Or aid digestion?  Perhaps you know?

Moreish to come

In Melbourne we are so lucky to have acclaimed chef Greg Malouf of Lebanese heritage and MoMo fame,  plus a range of restaurants from local cafes to the high end, like the new Spice Market at the Hyatt (left).  And the great thing about starting to research and document my culinary adventures are the tangents I take along the way.  Like finding Fouad Kassab, Sydney-sider and blogger of all food, glorious, Middle Eastern food –  The Food Blog.

So that’s just a little taste of Cultured Cuisine to whet your appetite.  Love to hear comments below on your Middle Eastern Favourites?  Got a recipe to share?  Are you nuts about nuts?  How do you spice them up?  Oh and most importantly, a huge congratulations and thanks to Leila and Abdul, the bride and groom.

  • Hi Emma

    Thanks for the mention, and the opportunity to be introduced to your blog. Refreshing to see some useful blogging 🙂 Lebanese food has very unique position in that it is both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, which means it has the best of both worlds.

    How good are soaked almonds!! Try soaking carrots in water and lemon juice. Walnuts work really well soaked too. If you want to use almonds or walnuts as toppings for desserts, try adding a teaspoon of rosewater and orange blossom water to the soaking water. Adds a bit of an exotic flavour… Oh and soaking almonds helps making almond milk easier.

  • Hey Emma, thanks for the shout out! Love the look and feel of Scoop Nutrition especially so since you mention my favourite topic nuts! As Program Manager and Dieitian for Nuts for Life – a health education initiative of the Australian Tree Nut Industry – my role is to live, breathe and talk nut nutrition.

    Soaking nuts is an interesting one – a cultural practice steeped (pardon the pun) in history and by piecing together some science I think I now know why it was done traditionally and perhaps why it’s no longer necessary.

    You are correct nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors which protect the nut or seed from going rancid. Also known as antioxidants they include flavonoids and resveratrol (similar to red wine) they protect the fats in nuts from oxidising (like rusting) before the seeds are germinated to grow a new tree or plant. Soaking nuts and seeds long enough causes germination where the nutrient content changes and for instance some proteins present are converted to carbohydrates and used as energy for the tiny growing shoot. The changes in nutrient levels of soaked nuts may have been important traditionally to ensure people absorbed a maxiumum amount of nutrients from the nuts especially in vegetarian cultures or where meat was scarce.

    Unsoaked nuts are still rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, fibre and antioxidants. I like to think of them as nature’s own vitamin pill since they have in excess fo 28 nutrients. Antioxidants can protect us from “rusting” too so enzyme inhibitors are not necessarily a bad thing. Researchers have found powerful antioxidants in the skins of nuts so consume them whole some of the time too. It seems these enzyme inihibitors may also explain a couple of interesting facts about nuts.

    There are many many enzymes in our bodies from those that help us digest food to those that help breakdown potential cancer causing chemicals. Some antioxidants/enzyme inhibitors in chestnuts can affect carbohydrate breakdown and may help to explain why chestnuts have a low glycemic index (GI). That is they don’t cause as rapid a rise in blood glucose after eating them because we may not be breaking down all the carbohydrate in them – important for people with diabetes. Add nuts in general to carbohydrate rich meals and the nuts will help lower the GI of the overall meal. Think Asian stir fries with cashews and rice.

    Nut eaters also tend to have more fat in their stools so we don’t necessarily absorb all the fat and calories in nuts as they pass through the intestine. This may help explain why you can eat nuts on a weight management diet and still lose weight or at least not regain. The healthy fats in nuts also boost the levels of gut hormones signally satiety or fullness. Keeping you satisfied for longer. Nuts as mid afternoon snack will tie you over until dinner.

    Almond skins also contain antioxidants and the almonds we eat today are “sweet” almonds as opposed to “bitter” almonds which contain prussic acid or hydrogen cyanide. I’m not sure how soaking bitter almonds helps reduce this but since the almonds we buy in Australia are sweet almonds we don’t have to worry about prussic acid.

    As you can see – like Emma – I’m nuts about nuts and could go on all day! Remember to enjoy a handful of nuts each day as a snack or in cooking to protect your heart, lower cholesterol and manage weight.

    Go to for loads of tasty recipes including my current favourite pistachio pumpkin salad.
    Cheers – a very nutty
    Lisa Yates

  • Fleur Harvey

    Hi Emma
    Congratulations on an inspiring blog.
    I have a six year old with a very small repertoire of foods he will eat. Can you imagine his delight when one of his favourites, almonds, were served up in a different way (soaked). You could say he went “nuts”. Thanks for the idea.
    The rest of my more adventurous family are all looking forward to your forthcoming ideas.

  • Thanks for all the comments. There’s a beautiful new Lebanese cookbook out too “Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen”. Created by Abla Amad of Abla’s in Carlton (Melbourne, Australia). You can get her recipe for tabouli here:

  • Karen Fittall

    Hi Emma! Congrats on your new blog.. looks great, and reads even better. Particularly enjoyed this article about a new way to eat almonds – will definitely have a bash as I’m up for trying new styles of foods, and new preparation methods at the minute, having just been introduced to the world of tagine cooking and LOVING it. It seems pretty healthy (would love to hear your thoughts?) given that there’s no ‘added’ fat, apart from olive oil. And you have to love cooking practically a whole, relatively inexpensive meal in one dish on the stovetop….and the end result is yummy.

    Look forward to reading more new foodie stuff here in the coming months.

  • Thanks Emma and sorry it took a while to see this. This is great! To be honest with you, in my family (in Jordan–3 hours away from Lebanon), we never ate soaked almonds, but maybe other people did. My mom soaks them so she can peel and fry them to decorate rice and meat dishes. I love almonds, and as a dietitian too, I fully support them!

    There’s a dessert dish that is made with dried fruit and soaked nuts, which usually has rose water too…

  • We too like to soak the almonds overnight and eat the next day when they turn soft. Almonds pack so many nutrients, it is crazy not to eat them!
    Thanks for your article and great comments! Your blog looks amazing by the way.

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