Summer has arrived in Spain in full force. Gone are the heavy stews and warm pastries from the restaurants. Almonds are considered one of the most nutritious of all nuts and make its presence known in many recipes.
Originating from the Middle East and North Africa, these sweet, tasty nuts, have been cultivated since biblical times. Almonds were a favorite to the Greeks and Romans for years, but it wasn´t until the arrival of Moors to Spain that the almond tree was cultivated in the hills and valleys of the Spanish terrain. The uses of the distinctive almond became commonplace in the Spanish kitchen.
Recipe and photos contributed to Hispanic Kitchen by Veronica Shine
No matter the season, almonds remain an important component for cooking in Spain. Specialties such as the Christmas holiday treat “turron,” to the cool and refreshing warmer weather beverage, “horchata,” are just some of the culinary delights from the Spanish kitchen. The Spanish and Catalan cuisine still closely reflects their ancient origins. Under the rule of the Moors for over 800 years, the Moorish influences integrated into the culture and remained in the Spanish cooking as well.
During the summer months, as the days become longer and the temperatures rise, “Menjar Blanc” (almond pudding) is a dessert that is sure to please. This refreshing pudding is establish in virtually all of Spain but may be found under different names. For example, menjar blanc is the accurate word for ordering this dessert in Catalonia.
However, in Andalusia it is known as “Blancmange” and in the Canary Islands you must ask for “Bienmesabe” to be served this dessert. In general, during the festivals of summer and especially the so-called “festes la calle” (street parties), menjar blanc is plentiful.
This ancient recipe, which is said to date back to the Middle Ages, has roots that may be even older than that. The truth is that this recipe is made with the same procedure as over 1000 years ago but today´s households always add a hint of their own personality to it.
Presently cherries are in season and since Spain is the second largest producer of cherries, it makes for the perfect companion to this dessert from the mountains to along the coastal regions in restaurants, cafes and homes. Add your persona to the recipe with blueberries, peaches, raspberries, strawberries or even ice cream, and jell-o. It is the type of dessert recipe that can be unique every time no matter whether it is served plain with cinnamon or with more elaborate toppings.
Ingredients for the pudding:
1 lb. almonds (blanched and skinned)
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1 quart boiling water
¼ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cornstarch
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 piece lemon peel
1. Grind or finely chop the almonds and place them in a bowl. Pour in the boiling water and allow them to soak for 10 minutes.
2. Strain the almonds and water through a cheese cloth or sieve, pressing well to extract the almond milk.
3. Place the almond milk in a saucepan and add the cinnamon stick, lemon peel and ¾ cups of the sugar and salt.
4. Bring the contents in the saucepan to a boil and allow it to then simmer for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
5. Add a little cold water to the cornstarch and allow it to dissolve. Place the cornstarch in the heated mixture and stir with a spoon until the pudding has thickened.
6. Pour the pudding into 6 or 8 individual dessert dishes or a mold and place into the refrigerator. Chill well before serving.
Ingredients for the topping:
1 cup cherries (pitted)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
½ cup sugar
¾ cup water
½ tsp. brandy
1. In saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 3 minutes.
2. Add the pitted cherries and continue to simmer.
3. Stir cornstarch with 2 tbsp cold water and the brandy.
4. Add to the cherry mixture and cook, stirring, for an additional minute or until thickened.
5. Transfer to a container or bowl and refrigerate until chilled.
Hint: When serving place the cherry sauce directly over on the pudding and add some whip cream and fresh cherries to complete.
Other variations can incorporated to the basic recipe. Use your imagination and come up with a hit dessert.