Friday, August 25, 2006

Bitter Gourd

Bitter gourd is a member of the family cucurbitaceae which include the other vine crops; Oriental pumpkin, hairy melon, Oriental cucumbers, wax gourd, and luffa.

Bitter gourds are native to Southeast Asia and are sometimes called bitter cucumber, bitter melon, karalla, or balsam pear and have only recently found their way into Western kitchens. They are usually pale green in color and resemble a warty cucumber.

Bitter gourd gets its name from the extreme bitter flavor due to the presence of quinine and consuming bitter melon is often an acquired taste.

What to Look for When Purchasing

Choose fruit that are firm. They will be dark green, bright green or white, depending on the variety.

Storage Tips

Bitter gourds will last for up to a week in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Almonds - Healthy Food for Life


Almonds are an ancient food that has been written about in historical texts, including the Bible. Almonds were thought to have originated in regions in western Asia and North Africa. The Romans referred to almonds as the "Greek nut" in reference to the civilization suggested to have first cultivated them.

Almonds are now grown in many of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Morocco, as well as in California. The cultivation of almonds in California, the only state that produces them, has an interesting history. Almond trees were originally brought to California centuries ago when missions were created by the Spanish, but cultivation of the trees was abandoned when the missions were closed. Almond trees found their way back to California in the 19th century via the eastern United States. In 1840, almond trees were brought over from Europe and were first planted in New England. Because the climate on the Eastern seaboard did not support their cultivation, the trees were brought to California where they thrived and continue to do so.

How to Select and Store

Almonds that are still in their shells have the longest shelf life. If purchasing these, look for shells that are not split, moldy or stained. Shelled almonds that are stored in an hermetically sealed container will last longer than those that are sold in bulk bins since they are less exposed to heat, air and humidity. If purchasing almonds in bulk bins, make sure that the store has a quick turnover of inventory and that the bulk containers are sealed well in order to ensure maximum freshness. Look for almonds that are uniform in color and not limp or shriveled. In addition, smell the almonds. They should smell sweet and nutty; if their odor is sharp or bitter, they are rancid.

If you want almonds with a roasted flavor and texture, choose those that have been "dry roasted" as they are not cooked in oil like their regular roasted counterparts. Yet, even when purchasing "dry roasted" almonds, it is important to read the label to be sure that no additional ingredients such as sugar, corn syrup or preservatives have been added.

Since almonds have a high fat content, it is important to store them properly in order to protect them from becoming rancid. Store shelled almonds in a tightly sealed container, in a cool dry place away from exposure to sunlight. Keeping them cold will further protect them from rancidity and prolong their freshness. Refrigerated almonds will keep for several months, while if stored in the freezer, almonds can be kept for up to a year. Shelled almond pieces will become rancid more quickly than whole shelled almonds. Almonds still in the shell have the longest shelf life.

How to Enjoy

In addition to being eaten raw, almonds are a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes from salads to baked goods