Saturday, July 20, 2024

Peanuts have been in Mexico for centuries, but mostly at snack time

Whatever you call them — groundnuts, monkey nuts, goobers — peanuts have been loved the world over for centuries. In Mexico, the word cacahuate originates from tlālcacahuatl (the Náhuatl name), which Spanish conquistadors found in the Tenochtitlán markets in the mid-1500s.

While there are a few traditional Mexican dishes that include peanuts (most notably encacahuatado, chicken in peanut sauce, and some moles), they’re used mostly in snacks, as evidenced by the shelves at any Oxxo or grocery store checkout aisle. One of my favorites and perhaps the most popular of these are cacahuates japonés, which were invented in 1945 by a Japanese immigrant named Yoshigei Nakatani.

Nakatani sold his secret-recipe peanuts with the brand name “Nipon” at La Merced Market in Mexico City until the family expanded in the 1970s and opened their first factory. The rest, as they say, is history, and the crunchy, sweet-and-savory, hard-shelled peanut snack is now found everywhere.

I’ve often wondered why peanut snacks are so popular in Mexico, but peanut butter isn’t. Quién sabe?! But it’s true — peanut butter is hard to find, especially natural peanut butter, and industry statistics say only about 10% of Mexican households contain a jar of it. No worries! You can make it yourself. (Recipe below.)

In the mercado, you’ll see different kinds of peanuts. All are good sources of protein, fiber, B vitamins and healthy fats. Usually, peanuts in the shell are the Virginia variety, with larger nuts and a more attractive shell. The aptly named Spanish peanuts are what’s commonly used in candy, peanut butter, snacks and mixed nuts, and are smaller, with a higher oil content.

These peanuts you get at your local Oxxo are so easy to recreate.
These peanuts you get at your local Oxxo are so easy to recreate.

Cacahuates Oaxaqueños con Chile y Ajo (Oaxacan-Style Peanuts w/ Chile & Garlic)

The classic snack, so easy and so delicious!

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4-5 chiles de árbol, stemmed
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 24 oz. toasted Spanish peanuts (skin on)
  • Coarse salt

Rip chiles into 1-inch pieces, cut garlic cloves in half lengthwise and sauté in oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until garlic is softened, about three minutes.

Add peanuts to skillet. Lower temperature to medium-low; cook, stirring, until peanuts are golden and aromatic, about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with salt.

DIY Peanut Butter

A bit of coconut oil will help keep the peanut oil from separating.

  • 16 oz. roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • ½ tsp. salt or to taste

Place nuts, oil and salt in food processor or blender. Pulse and process until nuts break down, scraping sides as needed until peanut butter reaches desired smoothness. Peanut butter will firm as it cools.

Store covered in refrigerator.

Quick Thai Peanut Chicken Ramen

If you like, omit the ramen and serve with white rice (cooked separately) instead.

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. red curry paste
  • ¾ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 square ramen noodles
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil or cilantro, chopped
  • Garnish: chopped peanuts, toasted sesame oil

In a large pot, combine broth, coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce, honey, peanut butter and curry paste.

Add chicken, mushrooms, red peppers, ginger and garlic. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce to low and cook 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Remove and shred chicken, return to pot and bring to boil over high heat. Turn off heat, stir in noodles, lime juice, spinach and cilantro.

Let sit 5 minutes or until noodles are soft. Ladle into bowls, top with peanuts and sesame oil.

If you're craving a more substantial treat, try this Thai recipe.
If you’re craving a more substantial treat, try this Thai recipe.

Peanut Butter Fondue

Not just for kids!

  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • ¾ cup smooth natural peanut butter
  • For dipping: bananas, sliced into 1-inch chunks; marshmallows, strawberries, apples, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • For toppings: mini chocolate chips, crushed honey roasted peanuts, Maria cookie crumbs

In a saucepan, combine cream and honey. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce to low and stir in peanut butter until completely smooth.

Add mixture to a warm fondue pot or serve immediately in a deep bowl and eat quickly!

Dip skewered marshmallows, apple or banana chunks, strawberries or whatever dippable snack you like. Use small bowls of toppings to add crunch. —

Peanut-Tamarind Dipping Sauce 

Use as a dip for satay or spring rolls. 

  • ½ cup toasted peanuts
  • 1 Tbsp. grated piloncillo
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. red curry paste
  • 1 Tbsp. tamarind concentrate
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Dry chile flakes, to taste

Combine sugar and garlic in a mortar and pound into smooth paste.

Add peanuts, continue mixing to make a chunky paste.

Add soy sauce, curry paste and tamarind; stir till combined to a chunky mixture. Mix in oil and chile. Add a little water if needed to adjust consistency.

You probably know atole with corn, but how about with peanuts?
You probably know atole with corn, but how about with peanuts?

Peanut Atole

The consistency of this traditional Mexican cold-weather drink is a matter of personal taste.

  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup masa harina
  • 3¼ cups water, plus more as needed
  • 3 Tbsp. grated piloncillo or brown sugar
  • Salt

Using a blender, mix peanut butter and milk until combined. Place masa in saucepan over medium heat. Immediately add water in a slow, thin stream while whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Bring to a simmer; whisk in peanut-milk, brown sugar and pinch of salt.

Return to a simmer, lower heat, then simmer gently, whisking, for 3 minutes. Thin with additional water as needed to create a thick-yet-drinkable hot beverage. Add more sugar or salt if desired.

Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is her first book.

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