It’s not like John Mangelos doesn’t have a plentiful supply of almonds to cook with.
He can’t drive in any direction without running into an orchard chocked full of the healthy tree nuts, and one of the biggest almond sorting and shipping plants in the world is less than 10 minutes away.
That gives the chef the freedom to experiment – finding new ways to incorporate them into dishes while refining classic staples that have graced the menu for years.
“When almonds are cooked they bring a crunch to the dish and they have a fairly distinct flavor,” Mangelos said. “They add a carmelly, deep level of flavor – that rustic kind of flavor.
“It’s a background flavor to most dishes, and most are used because of the textural aspect. It adds a crunch that you might not be able to get with a soft protein.”
Several years ago Mangelos and one of his almond-based dishes was featured on a Sacramento-based news station. He prepared calamari almandine live on air during the lunch hour broadcast – showing foodies throughout the region how to incorporate Ripon’s biggest crop into their recipes and add something healthy that provides flavor and texture.
Dishes like filet of sole that almost need the panko almond crust that its prepared with, Mangelos said, and the lemon caper chicken dish that he prepares with slivered almonds shows how diverse chicken dishes can actually be.
While pistachios, a popular groundnut, are also used in many dishes because they have a similar texture, they don’t add the crunch. And the crunch, Mangelos said, is what matters when you’re talking about a crust or accenting something that might have a much softer composition.
Very rarely, he said, are whole almonds used in dishes because they’re too hard on the teeth and don’t go very well with what they’re being served with. When they’re sliced or diced in the kitchen the deep flavor is released and transfers to whatever it is being cooked with – providing that trademark taste that people are looking for.
“Dishes that we prepare with almonds are always a popular choice,” he said. “People enjoy them because of the taste, and they enjoy them because they’re healthy – almonds are a nut that adds that flavor while still being something that’s extremely good for you.
“It adds that nutritious aspect to any dish.”