Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Almonds

It’s common to reach for nuts, especially almonds, for a quick, nutritious mid-day snack.  As a snack, almonds are a good choice because they are good source of fiber, protein, and heart-healthy unsaturated fat.  In addition, they only have one gram of heart-unhealthy saturated fat per serving.  They’re also full of the antioxidant Vitamin E, as well as manganese and magnesium.  Given their high nutritional content, it makes sense that, ounce-for-ounce, almonds are one of the most nutrient-dense tree nuts.  Since almonds (and all nuts) do have a high fat content (even though most of their fat is the “healthy” kind), they are fairly high in calories, so they should have eaten in moderation.  One handful at a time is all you need to satisfy your hunger in between meals.  Almonds are not just for snacks, however; they can be used in a variety of ways for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or desserts.  Until recently, I had never really considered using almonds as the base for a sauce, but this recipe, which I made for dinner a few weeks ago, totally changed my mind.  The sauce was so good that I saved leftovers to use as a topping for fish and other proteins later in the week.

Garlic and Herb Chicken with Romesco Sauce on Spicy Greens

Ingredients
5 garlic cloves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
a palmful of dried parsley flakes (or a handful of fresh parsley)
black pepper, to taste
4 6-8 ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup sliced almonds
1 slice sandwich bread (whole wheat is best!)
1 large red bell pepper
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 plum tomato, cut into quarters
1 8-9 oz. bagged spinach

Instructions
1.  In food processor or blender, combine 3 of the garlic cloves, about ¼ cup olive oil, the parsley, and black pepper.  Process the ingredients to a somewhat smooth paste.
2.  Scrape the contents of the processor over the chicken breasts to coat.
3.  Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, then add the seasoned chicken breasts and cook on each side for 5-6 minutes. 
4.  Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
5.  While the chicken is cooking, toast the almonds in a medium skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.
6.  To make the Romesco sauce:  Toast the slice of bread until golden brown.  With your hands, rip the toast into a few pieces and add to the food processor or blender (there is no need to clean it out after making the chicken coating).  Add the toasted almonds, red pepper, 2 garlic cloves, red wine vinegar, plum tomato, and black pepper.  Start processing and while the machine is running, pour the remaining ¼ cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream.  Process until all the ingredients are ground and the mixture is fairly smooth.
7.  Drizzle some olive oil along the bottom of a medium saucepan on medium heat.  Add the spinach and black pepper, to taste, and cook down until wilted.
8.  Arrange the spinach on the center of each plate, place the chicken breast on top, and top with a large dollop of Romesco sauce.  Serves 4.

Adapted from the cookbook Rachel Ray 365:  No Repeats.  New York:  Clarkson Potter/Publishers. November 2005.

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