While we may think that peanut butter— the “paté of childhood”— is a distinctly North American food, the Incas were making and using it hundreds of years before John Harvey Kellogg introduced it at his famed U.S. sanitarium in the late 1800s. Peanut butter must have been on the world food radar though; at about the same time, Québécois chemist Marcellus Gilmore Edson filed a patent for peanut paste, basically the same as what we know (and love) as peanut butter.
As long as we’re discussing surprising things, here’s another: Who do you think is the biggest producer, and user, of peanut butter? China. That’s where almost half the world’s total production of peanut butter happens, and you can bet they’re not using it for PB&J sandwiches.
The truth is that peanuts are a powerhouse food, loaded with easily digestible proteins, fiber, vitamins like E and B and nine essential amino acids. They’re inexpensive and easy to grow and have been shown to help lower cholesterol too. Peanut butter in its purest form is simply ground roasted peanuts with a little salt, and while our go-to form of eating it may be paired with strawberry jelly and spread between two slices of bread, other cultures have developed much more interesting (and delicious) ways of incorporating it into their diets, like the Spicy Peanut Sauce below. Versatile, easy and delicious, you can use it with all kinds of shrimp, veggie, chicken, beef and noodle or rice dishes. Atole — which you may know — takes on a rich flavor with peanut butter added; and the Chicken & Mango Soba Salad, while Thai in origin, translates perfectly to Mexican ingredients.
I can’t find natural peanut butter where I live, and so I’ve learned to make it myself, thanks to a friend’s suggestion. She uses a blender; I use a food processor. It’s not quite as smooth and creamy as I’d like, but still does the trick.
If you have a source for raw or fresh-roasted peanuts, by all means use those, but commercially roasted, easily available cacahuates salados or dry-roasted peanuts will work too. The only caveat is that packaged peanuts for snacking often have more salt than you’d want in peanut butter, so taste them before using. If you can find unsalted ones, that’s best. (Raw peanuts should be roasted before using to make peanut butter, at 177 C/350 F for about 25 minutes, stirring once. Cool completely before using.)
Homemade Peanut Butter
- About 2 cups roasted or dry-roasted peanuts, preferably unsalted
- 1 tsp. coconut oil
Place peanuts in food processor or blender. Process on high 4-5 minutes; peanuts will go in stages from being crushed, to crumbs, to a dry paste, and then suddenly to a fairly smooth and creamy peanut butter. Add coconut oil and process another minute to blend. If peanuts were unsalted, add salt to taste.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter
- ¼ cup hot water
- 2 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar or grated piloncillo
- 2 Tbsp. Sriracha
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- Salt to taste
In medium bowl, whisk peanut butter and hot water. Stir in curry paste, sugar, Sriracha, soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice, garlic, red pepper and scallions. Season with salt. Use immediately or store refrigerated up to two weeks. –www.seriouseats.com
Iced Peanutty Coffee
- 1 cup ice
- 2 tsp. smooth peanut butter
- 2 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup cold coffee
- Optional: 1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup
Blend together and serve.
Chicken & Mango Soba Salad with Peanut Dressing
- ½ cup smooth peanut butter, natural or regular
- ¼ cup hot water
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
- 1 Tbsp. lime juice
- ½ tsp. Sriracha
- Salt & pepper
- ½ tsp. sugar
- 2 cups string beans or sugar snap peas, fresh or frozen
- 8 ounces soba noodles*
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- ½ large mango, thinly sliced
- ½ Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 cup cilantro
- 1-2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
In medium bowl, whisk peanut butter, hot water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, lime juice, Sriracha and sugar until smooth. Season with salt. Set aside. Steam or parboil peas/green beans till crisp-tender. Rinse with cold water; set aside. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.
In large serving bowl, toss noodles with chicken, mango and dressing. Add two-thirds of peas/string beans, cucumber, cilantro and chiles. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, top with remaining veggies, cilantro and chiles.
* Substitute another rice noodle or even capellini if you can’t find soba noodles in the Asian section of your grocery store.
- ½ cup natural smooth peanut butter
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup masa harina
- 3¼ cups water, plus more as needed
- 3 Tbsp. brown sugar or grated piloncillo
Combine peanut butter and milk in a blender until combined. Pour masa into large saucepan; set over medium heat. Immediately add water in slow, thin stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring to a simmer; whisk in peanut-milk, sugar and pinch of salt. Return to simmer, lower heat to low and simmer gently, whisking, for 3 minutes. Thin with additional water as needed to create a thick-yet-drinkable beverage. Add more sugar or salt if desired.
No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
- Pinch salt
- ½ cup cookie crumbs or shredded coconut
- About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 cup chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
- ½ Tbsp. coconut oil or butter
- Toppings: Flaky sea salt, shredded coconut, sliced almonds, crushed pretzels
Heat butter in skillet until bubbly and brownish but not burned. Add peanut butter; turn off heat. Stir until peanut butter melts, then stir in crumbs/coconut. Sweeten to taste with confectioners’ sugar. Spread mixture into parchment-lined 8-by-8-inch pan.
Add chocolate chips and coconut oil to a small pot; melt on stovetop over low, stirring constantly. (Alternatively, microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring between each one.) Spread melted chocolate over peanut butter layer. Sprinkle on any other toppings. Refrigerate until layers set, about 1 hour. Cut into bars or squares. Store in refrigerator.
Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.