Peanut Butter - No Longer Just A Lunch-Box Staple

If the last time you had peanut butter was when your Mom packed you a sandwich in sixth grade, it's high time you revisited it - it ain't just for PB&J.

Peanut butter, in its classic incarnation, is simply ground peanuts, usually with a little salt added. The chunky kind is, of course, ground less than the creamy kind. Many of the commercial varieties available contain added fat and sugar, but most markets also sell brands that are made purely from peanuts.

Although peanuts are a wholesome and nutritious food, peanut butter can be dangerous in terms of calories. A tablespoon has approximately 100 calories, about three-quarters of them from fat. Although there's evidence that peanut oil is one of the "good fats," it's still a fat, and with an open jar in one hand and a spoon in the other, you can eat more of it than is prudent in about three minutes. I've been known to polish off a one pound jar in two days… but that was before my doctor told me that if I kept gaining weight I'd get satellites orbiting me.

It's easier to make less of it go further if you put it in something. Using it for sandwiches is great - and the easiest way to revert to childhood - but peanut butter's place isn't just between bread.

After PB&J, peanut butter's most familiar use is in desserts - brownies, pies, brittle, cookies, fudge, ice cream. But peanuts are also a classic ingredient in soups, curries, sauces, and other savory dishes.

  • Make a simple peanut sauce in the blender with lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and some fresh ginger. Thin it with chicken stock until it's the right consistency. For variety, add hot pepper, cilantro, or honey. Serve over vegetables, noodles, seafood, or grilled meat.
  • Add peanut butter to a curry for chicken or beef.
  • Make a simple peanut soup by sautéing an onion and some garlic then adding 1/2 cup of peanut butter, a few tablespoons of tomato paste, and 3 cups of chicken stock. Finish it with salt, pepper, a dash of tabasco, and some chopped flat-leaf parsley.
  • Incorporate peanut butter into a banana bread or muffin recipe.
  • Peanut butter will thicken and flavor a stew - try it in a lamb or beef stew made with tomatoes and stock.

If you still want to stick to sandwiches, try making your PB&J with something other than jelly. Bananas are a classic addition, but also try dates, apples, or even bacon.

Peanut Soup

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) ready-to-use chicken broth
2 cups creamy peanut butter
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the celery and onion and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in the flour, mix well. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the peanut butter and heavy cream, mix well. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until heated through.

Note: Garnish each serving with a few peanuts for the look and taste of this authentic Colonial Williamsburg dish.

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