A Conversation with Yuval Zaliouk of Almondina

Yuval and his grandmother Dina - AlmondinaI had the great pleasure of talking last week with Yuval Zaliouk, the owner of Almondina Cookies. His company bakes up some great, wafer-thin cookies that are a versatile snack and healthy, too. Almondina started as a secret recipe from his grandmother, Dina. So, what a perfect tribute right before Mother’s Day than hearing from Yuval about his grandmother’s influence and the story behind how her secret cookie recipe became a cookie sensation.

CR: Tell me how the Almondina company and cookie began.
YZ: The whole idea really started in grandma Dina’s kitchen about 80 years ago in Israel.  She was a fantastic cook and invented this cookie about 80 years ahead of its time. It has no cholesterol, no fat, and is all natural, and she created it 80 years ago. As a tribute to my grandmother, Dina, and because the cookies are made mostly of almonds, we decided to combine the words for our company name. Today, our company has a slogan: “The delicious cookie without the guilt.” And, our mission is: “To put a delicious healthful cookie on every American table.”

CR: Where does the inspiration for the flavors come from? What is your favorite?
YZ: There are 10 flavors. The most popular is “The Original” cookie. This is the one that I recommend that everyone starts with. When you start with that one, you will taste the beautiful cookie that my grandmother Dina invented so many years ago. All of the other flavors are just a derivation of “The Original.” I would say its my grandmother’s inspiration, but my doing.

My favorite is “The Original.” But, I’m a symphony conductor, too. People always ask, “What is your favorite piece?” And I say, “The one that I’m currently conducting.” It’s the same with these cookies. My favorite is the one I’m crunching on at the moment.

CR: What makes these cookies different from other snacks out there?
YZ: They are different. First, they are deliciously addictive. In addition, they are healthy. It’s a unique product that’s addictive and healthy. There are so many health bars and cookies out there that aren’t addictively delicious. This one you can’t stop eating. That’s what’s really unique about them. It’s an all-natural snack with no-added fats, salts, food colorings or cholesterol. It also is Kosher, non-dairy and Pareve.

The other reason these cookies are so different is because they are versatile. It’s not just a gourmet, almond cookie which goes with coffee, tea, wine or sherry. It’s also a snack on its own that is a healthy snack. You can also eat it like a cracker. It goes wonderfully with cream cheeses. They are wonderful crumbled on top of ice cream. We have a chocolate-cherry flavor, which goes very well on top of chocolate ice cream.

CR: How are the cookies made?
YZ: The cookie is twice-baked. It’s baked in loaves, and then thinly sliced and toasted. It’s very similar to melba toast. The toasting brings out the almond flavor. The cookie is about 25 to 30 percent whole, all-natural almonds with no preservatives, no food coloring, and only about 30 calories.

The Original - AlmondinaCR: How did your Grandmother influence this cookie and the start of the company?
YZ: She’s my maternal grandmother. She was a superb cook, a professional. She worked at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. But, she was also dedicated to charity. She built up one of Israel’s convalescent homes for the poor, called Dina’s House, in Haifa. But, then when she was about 50, she needed an eye operation. It left her blind, but she continued to cook and decorate things without seeing. She did it all by feeling and touch.

She was so famous for her “little dried cookies,” or Petit Gateau Sec. Every visitor who came to her house asked for these cookies. She only taught the women in our family how to make them, like my mother.  It was secret for the rest of the world. But, I somehow managed to get the recipe. That’s what inspired me to introduce it here. I knew how popular it was and what an amazing flavor it was.

CR: What do you think she would think of the company and the product you have created if she were here today?Yuval Zaliouk of Almondina Cookies in NYC.
YZ: Oh my! She would go nuts. My grandmother would have gone bonkers to see what happened with her cooking. We’re convinced that she is still with us. There is no question, she guides us from above.

CR: Now, you also have a background in music. What are some of the similarities between music and food?
YZ: Cooking is a form of art not only because how it looks. It’s like how a painter uses a canvas. Your eyes, your senses are all involved. They are interchangeable. You need nourishment for the body and you need nourishment for the soul. Food is food for mind and food for soul, it all comes together. I think if you’re close to the arts, you have an aptitude for cooking.

CR: Are there some fun recipes that you could share with our readers?
YZ: We do have some recipes on our website at www.almondina.com. But, I would love to hear from your readers.

CR: Where can you buy Almondina cookies?
YZ: Almondina is available across the nation at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Fresh Market. (Editor’s Note: You can find Almondina in Milwaukee at: Sendik’s, Woodman’s and Glorioso Bros. Italian Foods. In Massachusetts: Price Chopper, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Wilson’s Farms and Donelen’s Supermarket and Big Y.)

CR: Can we find Almondina cookies online? If so, where?
YZ: Of course! Visit us as www.almondina.com. You can buy any quantity online. Mother’s Day is the perfect time to buy. We will be coming out with a chocolate-dipped version soon, as well. It’s a little bit of a guilt-edged cookie. In November and December, you can buy Pumpkin Spice. It is absolutely yum-yum. But, Almondina really is good for every moment.

Yuval was nice enough to share some packs of Almondina with us. I have a 3-pack of cookies that I will giveaway to the recipe I think is most creative. Also, if you share a recipe with us, Yuval and the Almondina team will post them on their website. So, think about some of those creative ways you can use these crunchy nuggets of healthy, almond goodness and send them our way. Post your recipe in the comment section or e-mail me at christina.relacion@gmail.com. Deadline to enter is June 1. Good luck!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mamas out there who inspire daughters, sons and grandchildren to do something spectacular every day!

P.S. Miss you Mom!

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