Posts Tagged With: Middle East

57/365: National Pistachio Day

Today’s holiday honors a food that appears to be smiling back at us: the pistachio. Aww. I almost feel guilty eating the poor little fella.

Key word: “almost.”

Aww. They're smiling!

Aww. They’re smiling!

Pistachios have been around since at least 6750 BC. They grow on trees and are related to mangoes, sumac, and poison ivy…so if you’re itching for a handful of pistachios, now you know why! They are native to the Middle East, and are believed to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Like almonds, pistachios are the seed of a fruit rather than a genuine nut, like Charlie Sheen. Pistachio trees were introduced to the U.S. in 1854, and grown commercially beginning in the early 20th century.

In the Middle East, pistachios are referred to as “the smiling nut” and in Iran they are called “the happy nut.” In America, those nicknames belong to Lindsey Lohan and Gary Busey, accordingly. (These “crazy celebrity” jokes never get old!). They are very healthy for you (the nuts, not the celebrities), containing more antioxidants per serving than green tea. They are a great source of fiber, copper, manganese, and vitamin B6. The shells are recyclable, too: you can use them as kindling with crumpled paper to start a fire, line the bottom of houseplant pots with them to provide drainage and soil retention, and use them as mulch for plants and shrubs. The shells are sometimes dyed red or green because holiday colors are festive and pretty!! Actually, it was to hide the stains from the grubby farmhands who used to pick the fruit by hand, but nowadays pistachios are machine-harvested, so dyeing is rarely performed anymore.

For today’s challenge, we wanted to do a little bit more than just open a bag of pistachios and eat a handful. So, we opened a bag of pistachios and ate a handful…AND we made pistachio-flavored instant pudding. Double pistachio whammy, people!

Pistachios

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47/365: National Almond Day

Some of these food holidays are downright nutty. Take, for instance, today: it’s National Almond Day!

Actually, I should strike that joke from the blog, because it turns out almonds aren’t true nuts at all – they are actually a fruit, more closely related to cherries and plums than to cashews or walnuts. The almond “nut” is the seed of the green, fleshy fruit. I guess the folks at Almond Joy never got the memo; their candy bar slogan – “Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t” – is just plain wrong (not to mention grammatically clunky to begin with). In truth, Almond Joy’s got fruit, Mounds don’t.

Almonds are native to the Middle East, where they grew like weeds in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, and were one of the first trees domesticated by man. Most ancient civilizations relied on almonds as a food source; they date back to 4000 B.C. They are mentioned numerous times in the Bible, where they were revered as symbols of divine approval and hope. The Book of Genesis calls almonds “among the best of fruits,” and almond branches were a symbol of the virgin birth of Jesus. In fact, many paintings depict almonds circling the baby Jesus (though it could be that the artists had merely worked up hearty appetites while slapping oil on canvas). King Tut was buried with several handfuls of almonds when he died, in order to nourish him on his journey to the afterlife. I’d have preferred a pizza myself, but maybe all their Round Tables were closed for the night.

Cultivated almonds are delicious and nutritious, but wild almonds are another story. Their kernels contain prussic acid, a fancy name for cyanide, and are deadly if eaten raw. Domesticated almonds are safe due to a genetic mutation that eliminated the toxic substance.Today, nearly 80% of all almonds in the world are grown in California. Earlier attempts to grow the fruit in southern states were unsuccessful due to killing frosts and high humidity, but the Golden State’s climate proved to be ideal for these little suckers.

We could have just eaten a handful of almonds to celebrate today’s holiday, but it’s the weekend and we wanted to get creative, so we decided on a chicken teriyaki stir-fry topped with slivered almonds. It was a delicious combination!

Stir-fry with slivered almonds

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