Smooth has its devoted fans and so does crunchy – and peanut butter is one of the world's most popular spreads. Here, Leanne Kitchen shows how versatile it can be as an ingredient too.
Leanne Kitchen

4 Sep 2015 - 9:51 AM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2015 - 4:47 PM

Aaah, peanut butter. What would sandwiches and toast be without it? Apparently, even the Aztecs ate a version of mashed-up roasted peanuts but the product we know today wasn't created until the late nineteenth century. A handful of folk lay claim to its development, not least of all Dr J. H. Kellogg, of the famed cereal empire. Back in 1895, the good doctor made his nut butter using raw peanuts and marketed the paste as a protein substitute to people who’d lost their teeth. Yikes. Roasting the nuts (actually, peanuts are legumes, strictly speaking, not nuts) came later in the piece. As did the process that prevents the oil from separating out; once upon a time you needed to stir before you spread.

America is the world’s third largest producer of peanuts, after China and India, but undoubtedly its largest consumer of peanut butter. Over 300 million kilos of the stuff are eaten there each year, with the average child downing 1500 peanut butter sandwiches before graduating from high school. While peanut butter, including more natural options that are organic or free of additives, is widely available, it’s also a cinch to make your own. Homemade peanut butter won’t have quite the same texture as industrially made stuff, but it’s delicious all the same.

 1.  Homemade peanut butter

Roast whole blanched peanuts in a 180°C oven for 15 minutes, stirring often, or until deep golden. Cool, then process with 2 tbsp of peanut oil for each cup peanuts, until a smooth (or chunky) paste forms. Add more oil if needed.  Add salt to taste and a little honey, if you want it slightly sweet. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

2. Peanut and apple slaw

Whisk together 1 cup whole-egg mayonnaise, ½ cup crunchy peanut butter and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar until smooth. Use to dress coleslaw made using finely shredded cabbage, celery, apple and kohlrabi. Add flat leaf parsley leaves and some chopped roasted peanuts, to taste. 

3. Peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich

Fry 2-3 bacon rashers until light golden. Butter one side of two slices of bread and place one in a heavy-based pan over medium heat. Plaster the top of the bread with peanut butter, scatter over banana slices and add the bacon. Top with the remaining bread. Fry until golden on both sides then serve doused in maple syrup

4. Peanut, soy and honey marinade

Combine ¼ cup crunchy peanut butter, 3 cloves crushed garlic, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 2 tbsp honey,  1 tbsp dark soy and ½ cup orange juice in a bowl and whisk to combine well. Add 1 kg lamb or pork leg steaks, turn to coat then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Drain well then BBQ or grill, brushing with reserved marinade.

5. Deep-fried tofu with peanut sauce (tahu goreng)

In Indonesia, they have a particular ‘thing’ for tofu and versions of this dish abound. “Goreng” simply means “fried’ and fried tofu can be sauced in many different ways. This sweet-tangy peanut-based concoction is particularly delicious; by using peanut butter and a food processor (in Indonesia they’d traditionally start by deep-frying peanuts then pound everything in a mortar), this dish becomes incredibly quick to make. 

Deep-fried tofu with peanut sauce

6. Spicy peanut noodles

Whisk together ½ cup smooth peanut butter, 2 ½ tbsp each light soy, peanut oil and rice vinegar, 1 ½ tbsp each sugar and Sichuan chilli bean paste and ⅓ cup boiling water, until smooth. Toss with 400 g cold, cooked egg noodles, plenty of cooked shredded chicken, coriander sprigs, sliced green onions and bean sprouts. Serve scattered with ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns and chopped peanuts.

7. West African peanut stew (mafé)

Ubiquitous across West Africa in countries such as Senegal, Gambia and Mali, this stew takes on many guises. The meat, vegetable and spice components are all variable so feel free to experiment, using sweet potatoes, cabbage, beef, fish, eggplant or a dash of cayenne, as the mood strikes you – the dish can also be entirely meat free. Some versions are soupy with ingredients cut small and others, as here, are more chunky. Although peanuts originated in the New World (it’s thought Peru is their native country), West Africa has its own indigenous species of ‘ground nut’, which pre-dates the introduction of the peanut.

8. Salted caramel and peanut ice-cream sundae

Combine 1 cup caster sugar and ¼ cup water in a saucepan and cook for about 10 minutes or until caramelised. Remove from the heat and carefully add 1 cup pouring cream and ½ cup smooth peanut butter. Stir until smooth. Add chopped salted peanuts to taste and serve warm over vanilla ice cream and sliced banana, sprinkled with extra chopped peanuts.

 9. Peanut mochi

Mochi, delightfully chewy, mellow little pillows of rice-based dough often filled with nut, seed or sweet bean mixtures, get their name from mochigome, a particular strain of glutinous rice. Traditionally, the cooked rice is pounded to make the dough but glutinous rice flour (easily purchased from Asian grocers) mixed with water can be used instead.  Although they are made year-round, in Japan mochi are traditionally associated with New Year. They’re simple (but sticky!) to make – have plenty of cornflour on hand. 

10. Chocolate peanut butter cookies

These are inspired by “turtles”, a popular American candy invented in the 1930s. A chewy mess of caramel, pecans and chocolate, they've lent their famous flavour-profile to a whole host of cookie spin-offs. Peanuts stand in admirably for pecans. Peanut butter in the mix makes them even more rich – but if you want to really go whole hog, add a cup of chopped dark chocolate to the dough as well. 

Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.

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