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Nut butters

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

"The peanut butter I prefer is the one whose ingredient list contains two words. Peanuts. Salt. Anything else doesn't get a place in my shopping basket." Nigel Slater

I feel I am going through a somewhat uninspired phase, so please bear with me whilst I get through it.

Today the post derives from the letter N in the Coles Magazine How to Waste Less A-Z section. It had a few little interesting things in there, and this was one of them - how to make your own nut butters. For today, of course, thanks to all the health food pushers, there are so many more nut butters than just peanut butter. If you want a rundown on the nutritional benefits of each you could read this article by Sara Faye Green and Korin Miller from Women's Health called The 9 Best Healthy Nut Butters To Spread On Everything, According To Nutritionists. One would hope that men would find them nutritional too. Women can be sexist as well as men.

And yes it is pretty simple, if requiring patience to make nut butters, as this very brief video from the Jamie Oliver crew demonstrates.

If you feel like a bit more explanation then Felicity Cloake does her thing.

Mostly you will find 'how to make' recipes and 'what to do with' recipes for peanut butter of course, but just substitute your favourite nut - or seed. It's the same principle. Bear in mind, of course, that peanuts are not actually nuts anyway - they are a legume. And tahini was an example that was lumped in with these nut butters, although it is of course made from seeds. Below is a selection - cashew, pistachio, peanut and almond.

There are others, and you can have a go at home anyway. You could even mix one nut with another. If you are buying them in a shop though, just go with Nigel Slater's dictum at the top of the page - the fewer the ingredients the better - and definitely avoid those with the dreaded palm oil in them. Too much salt, too much sugar ...

Of the various 'how to make' recipes that I checked out it was interesting to see that some were pretty pure - as in the Jamie video, and some added oil - mostly a mild tasteless kind of oil such as canola or sunflower, and quite a few added honey or maple syrup and even chocolate was frequently suggested. Well peanut butter and chocolate are apparently naturals - see this very decadent Chocolate peanut butter cheesecake from Nigel Slater and of which he says:

"It is possibly the richest thing you could ever eat, so serve it in small amounts" Nigel Slater

And what about this completely over the top creation from The Minimalist Baker - a Grilled almond butter, dark chocolate and pomegranate sandwich. And this is one of the things that really got to me about these nut butters. When you go looking for recipes for using them the vast majority are for sweet things, often very sweet things, often combined with oodles of chocolate and sugar. And yet they are the darlings of the health brigade. Also note that almonds - along with coconut (yes you can make coconut butter too) - have several black marks against them, not the least of which is the amount of water that almonds require to grow, and for coconut the amount of saturated fat that it contains. Indeed a few of these nuts do also have a lot of saturated fat. Yes lots of vitamins, minerals and things, and protein too, but really not great. It's like the gluten free aisles of the supermarket filled with sweet things. Even when it comes to dips they tend to be sweet:

"Sweet almond butter dip Put 250g full-fat Greek yogurt into a medium mixing bowl with 2 tbsp almond butter and 1 tbsp clear honey. Whisk until well combined. Use as a sweet dip for sliced apple"

But you can do other, healthier things with nut butters. And here are a few.

I first thought of satay sauce, because I vaguely remembered having made satay sauce with peanut butter from Charmaine Solomon's massive tome on Asian food - The Complete Asian Cookbook (and it is - complete I mean). She has three recipes in there and you can find them online: Saus kacang (1), Saus kacang (2) and Saus kacang pedis. Mind you I notice that in her revised edition - and I think these recipes are from that, she has actually used real peanuts sometimes.

But yes, this is a very delicious way of using peanut butter. I also found this brief recipe somewhere for a satay sauce with a Thai, rather than Malaysian slant:

Satay sauce - To make a dipping sauce for chicken satay or to mix in a creamy Thai style curry, mix 2 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter with a good splash of coconut milk to make a paste. Gently heat a small saucepan with 1 teaspoon smoked chilli paste. Take off the heat, leave to cool then stir in a splash of rice wine vinegar.

The other most common recipe that cropped up was from West Africa and varied between a soup and a stew. Mostly they were vegetarian but occasionally with meat. Vegetarian peanut soup from Cookie and Kate is the vegetarian version and SBS has a very authentic and somewhat complicated West African peanut stew (Mafé) - which I'm sure could be simplified. It looks delicious anyway. Interesting that even though peanuts seem to have begun in Central America, that it is Asia and Africa that have made most use of them in cooking. The Americans in general, of course, are pretty addicted to the peanut butter and jelly (i.e. jam) sandwiches, though I read that the UK now sells more peanut butter than jam. It's supposed to be healthier. Well sugar is the villain these days - and rightly so - not saturated fat.

Sticking with soup but changing to almond butter here are two recipes that look tempting, particularly the leek one: Chicken soup with sweet potato and collard greens and Leek and almond soup from Nina Olsson in delicious Magazine.

You'd have to like almonds though wouldn't you?

Jamie also gets in on the act with two recipes for chicken that I am absolutely going to try in the near future - one with peanut butter and the other with cashew butter: Gnarly peanut chicken and My kinda butter chicken, which almost looks like the real thing. And sticking with the Indian theme I found a recipe using almond butter on a website called Season with Spice - Tandoori roasted cauliflower with almond butter. Middle-Eastern recipes not so much, or Mexican but then the Middle-East has tahini and Mexico has avocado.

I guess nut butters are yet another flavour booster like all those trendy things such as miso, that you can add to your food. If you are into making cookies and cakes there are literally thousands of recipes out there for them, and if you are into more savoury things, then there are still quite a few, from which you can get ideas to experiment. Or just experiment anyway. Starting with making your own. You just need a good food processor and you can take the shortcut of buying already roasted peanuts or almonds rather than roasting them yourself.


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