Fresh pistachios: delicious seasonal discovery with a delightful Persian pedigree

Raw Fresh Pistachios landscape.jpg

Hello again – we’ve missed you! Please pardon our two-year hiatus; we are excited to be back with a new outlook, new recipes in the works and an energized sense of discovery.

Have you ever had (or seen) fresh pistachios? When we stopped into our favorite Middle-Eastern grocery to pick up some locally raised grass-fed lamb for a Greek recipe we’re developing, we were stopped in our tracks in the produce department by a bin filled with these beautiful fresh pistachios, $3.99 pound. Immediately we thought of the cover of one of our favorite sources of inspiration, Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, whose cover is a gorgeous still life of nectarines, prosciutto and green almonds, some of them popped out of their thick, fuzzy green husks. We used to find those in the spring at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, but we’d never seen fresh pistachios.

Fresh pistachios in and out of their shells. The top one is  khandan  – smiling.

Fresh pistachios in and out of their shells. The top one is khandan – smiling.

We asked a young woman who was scooping some into a bag how they’re eaten – do you toast them, we asked, or roast them, or . . . ? “I don’t know,” she said, “I have to ask my mom.” Happily Mom was at hand to advise: “We just peel them and eat them raw,” she said. “They’re delicious.”

Actually, getting to the nutmeat is a two-step process: You peel the moist husk off to reveal a pale beige shell, which, more often than not (at least with the batch we bought) is opened a sliver to reveal the kernel. In Iran, pistachios popped a little open in this way are referred to as khandan – laughing.

That adorable detail comes care of Alan Davidson’s trusty tome The Oxford Companion to Food, the only book in our collection that had anything at all on the subject of fresh pistachios. (No mention in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, or Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, or Michael Solomonov’s Zahav, or Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. We haven’t cracked every book, though – maybe there’s a mention somewhere!). And very little is found online.

Fresh pistachios out of their shell. The (edible) papery husk is deep red-to-brown-to-green, and the inside is green.

Fresh pistachios out of their shell. The (edible) papery husk is deep red-to-brown-to-green, and the inside is green.

Davidson’s entry offers plenty of interest, though. Pistachio trees generally produce good crops every other year. “The kernel, which is about 15 mm (0.5”) long in cultivated nuts, is unique among nuts in being green, not just on the surface but all through. The green is due to the presence of chlorophyll.”

So, the $64,000 question: How do they taste? Beautiful! They have a lovely, delicate flavor, like a very gentle version of the dried pistachios we know, but slightly sweet, a little floral and almost milky, with a tender texture almost like a raw English pea, edamame or fresh fava. They’d make a wonderful nibble with a glass of rosé, or maybe chopped roughly and sprinkled over a salad of burrata and (to take a cue from the late Judy Rodgers) sliced nectarines and prosciutto. And something tells us they’d fabulously flavor ice cream or gelato.

Hopefully, when we trek back up again to the Middle-Eastern grocery, we’ll find them again. If you happen to know anything about them (we did read that black or grey moldy ones are toxic!) or have cooked with them, we’d love to hear about it in a comment. In the meantime, rosé here we come!