I went with a group of my friends last night to see a great off-broadway show, Lizzie Borden. It was an off-beat musical that recounted the tale of the alleged nineteenth-century New England murderess, and it was a fabulous production, full of energy, spice, great music and singing. Before the show, we all met at the beautiful apartment of my friend Megan Kent (the branding guru) for wine and appetizers. To lessen the burden on our busy host, we all brought along an appetizer or two. I contributed some white bean dip and crostini and Spicy Caramelized Almonds, one of those unassuming little nibbles which are downright addicting. They're sweet, spicy and crunchy with notes of ginger, cumin and sesame. They can be made several days ahead of time, and keep for at least a week, so they're a good choice for a party, when you have lots of last-minute preparations. And it did cross my mind that they were an appropriate choice for pre-Lizzie Borden fare--sweet, yet with a spicy, dark side.
Spicy Caramelized Almonds
Makes 1 ½ cups
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ cups whole almonds, blanched*
*Note: If you can’t find blanched almonds, buy natural ones with the skin on. Plunge them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain. The nuts should easily slip out of their skins. Once they are blanched, toast them in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes to dry them out.
1. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, ginger, cumin, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar; set aside. Have a nonstick baking sheet ready.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant, but not colored. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup sugar over the nuts. Cook, without stirring, shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning. When the sugar starts to caramelize, stir the nuts so they are evenly browned and caramelized.
3. Immediately add the nuts to the bowl with the spice mixture and toss to coat them evenly. Spread the nuts out onto the nonstick baking sheet. Using a fork, separate the nuts as much as possible. Once cool, transfer to an airtight container. They will keep (if you can prevent yourself from eating them) for at least a week.