Green almonds are only in season from late April to mid June, so either I had to do this recipe now or wait until next year. I assumed that they would be hard to find in Chicago and initially tried to find an online distributor. Unfortunately, the leads provided by others working on the Alinea cookbook were outdated and I resigned myself to hunting grocery stores in a vague hope that I would actually find them. Surprisingly, after failing to find them at my local Whole Foods while stopping in there a couple times, I walked into the Treasure Island by the boyfriend’s place to see if I could fine them there. Lo and behold, they were the first thing I saw in the produce section! Very cheap too. Spent about $4 for about a pound of them.
Green almonds are edible in their entirety, but for the purpose of this recipe, only the raw almond in the center is used. Basically, the almond is enmeshed in a cucumber gelee square with salt, sugar, cayenne pepper, and citric acid at each of the four corners.
Aaron and I worked on this together on the first attempt. Aaron cut up the english cucumbers, we juiced them and got this:
I heated up some of the cucumber juice, mixed in the gelatin and added the mixture to the rest of the juice. I then poured a small amount this into a plastic wrap coated dish, just enough to cover the bottom, and set it in the fridge to sit.
Aaron went to work on cutting out the almonds from their shells. The next step was to place the almonds on the cucumber gelee, add a teensy bit more juice and allow it set again. This step is repeated to incrementally add more juice and avoid have the almonds swim away from their spots.
The book says that the gelee should set in the fridge in about 20 minutes, but it took a little over a half hour for mine to set. I think this was the first sign of a problem. Once I had the almonds set in the gelee, I had to get the gelee out of the dish and onto a cutting board. I realized quickly that I couldn’t do this on my own because the gelee was very fragile and was threatening to break on me. This was the second sign of a problem. But with Aaron’s help, we were able to carefully pull the thing out of the dish to cut it up.
Now it was just a matter of cutting the gelee into eight 1 inch squares with an almond in the center of each and adding the spices. I tried to do this as delicately as possible, but within a few seconds, this happened:
Fuck. That was the definitive third sign of a problem. Try as I might, I could barely resurrect any of the almonds. I managed to “save” one “square” and was ultimately “able” to “plate” it, but the rest of it was a disaster. I don’t have an off-set spatula that the book says I should use and discovered that almost every other spatula-like tool in my kitchen made the gelatin squares fall apart even more. Aaron and I tried the mutant green almond squares that resulted from the mess and Aaron concluded “It was good for what it was worth.” I agreed with that sentiment but privately felt like a failure.
Later that night, after being in an overall glum mood, I was able to discuss what the fuck happened. Aaron came up with a bright idea of putting the gelee into the freezer prior to cutting it up, to prevent the entire thing from falling apart at the slightest touch. Genius.
So the next day, sans Aaron’s help, I set myself to trying this again. I have to learn how to work with gelatin if I’m going to make it very far in this book, after all. I ran to the store and bought a couple more cucumbers and a relatively thin spatula that I figure would work better.
This time, after pouring the cucumber juice onto the almonds for the last time, I set the dish in the freezer. I checked on it every 3-5 minutes for the first appearance of an ice crystal and after about 15 minutes, I could see ice starting to form in one corner of the dish. I pulled it out and managed to get the gelee onto the cutting board on my own. Working with the gelee turned out much better this time.
The second time around, I noticed a very small but important instruction in the book. I was supposed to wipe my knife dry after every cut. Maybe that’s why I created such a mess on the first go, but I like to think that the biggest issue was the fragility of the gelee.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture a decent in-focus picture of one of the squares on their own. My camera sucks in that regard. The dish turned out great though. The cucumber gelee melted in my mouth and gave way to the slight crunchiness of the green almond, which in turn gave way to the gelatinous core of the almond. At the same time the texture-play was happening, my tongue experience a wave of hot (cayenne pepper), followed by sour (citric acid) and salt (…salt). Unfortunately, the sugar element didn’t stand out so much but I don’t feel like the dish was any less because of that. Who knew so much could happen with such a small piece of food?
(Note the small spattering of gelee in the corner. I’m not known for being a clean freak.)