28 Nov 2011

How To Blanch Almonds And The Almond Blossom Festival of Tafraout! / Blanchir des Amandes Entières et Festival Annuel à Tafraout!

Moroccans are famously hospitable and their love for their country and for its stunningly beautiful nature is reflected in the celebration of several Annual Festivals in the country such as : The Rose Festival, Gnawa Festival  Of Essaouira , Popular Arts Festival Of Marrakech , The Imichil Marriage Festival, The Erfoud Date Festival, The Almond Blossom Festival of Tafraout etc.....

The Almond Blossom Festival is one of those special annual events in the Kingdom, celebrated in the second week of February, at The Tafraout Valley (تفراوت ), where almond-trees grow in abundance in the wild there, and reign supremely.  Tafrouat is known as the Morocco's Almond Capital, and it is an Amazigh Village, located in the South of Morocco (Souss-Chlouh of the South-Swassa).  It is a great friendly picturesque place, with its spectacular rock formation, typical buildings, and prolific almond blossoms to be seen all around the place.  Tafraout is such a place, where the most attractive nature spots are to be found, combining a fascinating South-Amazigh culture with a range of outdoor activities, well suited to the more adventurous tourists.  This beautiful place has recently attracted a great number of tourists from all around the world, offering many fascinating travel opportunities to the wild Nature/Sahara loving tourists.

The almond trees are native to the Mediterranean region, especially, in Morocco, Spain, Italy, etc... and although almonds are available  throughout the year, yet the most fresh almonds are to be found during the period between mid and late spring, which is the height of their season.  There are two varieties of almonds : Sweet and Bitter ones.  The sweet almonds (Especially the  traditional organic ones, which are smaller but they are famous for their unusual and unique flavour, called in Moroccan Language "Louz Lbaldi" = "اللوز البلدي "), are used extensively in Moroccan cuisine, in various pastries, cookies, biscuits, Amlou, almond paste etc... and are consumed plain, fried, or roasted etc.... while the bitter almonds are cultivated purely for their valuable cosmetics purposes.

Many Moroccan specialities call for blanched almonds, which means simply almonds without the skin, nothing else!  Blanching almonds is not a complex process and it does not take very long.  All you need is to blanch almonds with boiling water, but make sure not to cook them.  Time is very crucial, stay with the pot. It seems that toasting almonds before using in recipes intensifies their flavour and adds crunch and they are best stored in the freezer in airtight plastic bags or containers.

Almonds, as other nuts, appear to be cardio-protective, so if you love your heart, go Almonds!  However, it is recommended to remove the skin of almonds before eating. Several Scientific Researches have indicated that almond skins have a high concentration of tannic acid, which may interfere with the body's uptake of iron.  However, if you want to eat just a handful, then you do not really need to skin them.

Method / Preparation:
1-Bring some water to a boil, no need to measure exactly how many milliliters of water, but just make sure the water covers all the almonds. / Dans une casserole ou autres, faire bouillir de l’eau. Pas besoin de mesurer la quantité de l'eau, il faut juste s'assurer que les amandes soient bien couvertes de l'eau.

2-Once the water starts to boil, add  almonds and allow to boil for 1 minute, no longer. If you leave them longer in the water, almonds will be cooked, then get soggy and lose all their crispness. / Dès que l'eau commence à bouillir, y jeter les amandes, et laisser bouillir pendant 1 minute, pas plus. Surtout ne pas laisser cuire trop longtemps, sinon les amandes risquent de devenir du caoutchouc et moins croustillantes.
3-Remove from heat and immediately drain the almonds in a  colander/strainer. / Retirer immédiatement du feu et les égoutter.

4-Plunge the almonds into cold water or ice water to stop the process of cooking. / Placez dans l'eau de glace ou tout simplement dans l'eau froide pour arrêter la cuisson .

5-Drain and remove the skin by pinching each almond between your thumb and index finger.  You will notice the skin sliding right off the almond. / Egoutter de nouveau, puis presser chacune des amandes entre le pouce et l'index pour faire glisser la peau.
6-Dry the almonds in an oven at low heat, turning the almonds occasionally until they are dry and crisp.  Use according to the recipe.  Note: In some recipes, you'll have to dry the blanched almonds without browning them as on the first picture below but in other recipes, you'll have to use them lightly browned as on the second picture below./ Sécher les amandes au four à température minimum et remuer-les de temps en temps.  Utiliser selon les directives de la recette.  Attention: Quelques recettes exigent que les amandes blanchies soient séchées mais toujours en gardant leur couleur blanche comme sur la 1ere photo ci-dessous, par contre d'autres recettes exigents qu'elles soient légèrement dorées comme sur la 2eme photo ci-dessous.

White dried blanched almonds / Amandes blanchies blanches, séchées 
Blanched dried, lightly browned almonds / Amandes blanchies légèrement dorées 

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