Monday, May 25, 2015

My Friend, Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a friend that I once took for granted.  It has always been there for me, but not until recently did I show it the appreciation it deserves.  If you, too, have been neglectful toward this noble condiment, simply using it as a last resort, I-only-have-thirty-seconds-to-make-lunch ingredient, I hope these two recipes will inspire you to spend a little more quality time with this valiant kitchen staple.

My roommate works at a smoothie place with the initials JJ. She once described a peanut butter chocolate banana smoothie that sounded so good, I tried it at home the next day. I still haven’t tasted the “JJ” version, but I’m too happy with this version to care.  This smoothie is thick like a chocolate shake, but it has enough redeeming ingredients in it to call it breakfast.

Picture of actual smoothie is forthcoming.  I was struggling to make a picture of brown sludge (albeit delicious brown sludge) look attractive.

This peanut sauce is good on everything: chicken, raw vegetables, noodles, fingers...  It’s peanut-y, pleasantly spicy (if you want it to be), and perfect.  I highly recommend it.

Fun Fact: Bananas are a climacteric fruit, which means they continue to ripen after picking.  As bananas ripen, one of the changes that occur is that the starches break down into sugars.  When stored in a chilled environment, however, the conversion of starch into sugar can be halted.  In other words, once the bananas reach your preferred level of ripeness, you can throw the whole bunch into the fridge.  They will change color on the outside but still be great on the inside.  On the other hand, if you want to make something sweeter like banana bread (or the chocolate smoothie below), then letting those starches disintegrate is great! And you were expecting something about peanut butter, weren’t you? 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

1/3 cup milk
1 large, very ripe banana, sliced and frozen
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (Dutch process or not Dutch process)
1 generous tablespoon peanut butter (natural or unnatural)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth.  (If using an immersion blender, it’s best to blend the banana a few slices at a time in the milk, scraping the bottom with a spoon between blends.)

Thai Peanut Sauce
Adapted from, in turn adapted from In the Small Kitchen

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
2 gloves garlic, minced
1½ - 2 tablespoons sugar (use less if not using natural peanut butter)
2-3 teaspoons chili paste (sambal oelek or sriracha; both are excellent)
½ cup peanut butter
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (start with less and add to taste)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
¼ cup water

Blend all ingredients together until smooth.  This can be done with a blender or food processor, if desired.  Add additional sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili paste to taste.  Keep refrigerated.

The lettuce wraps pictured above contain the following:
tofu (see two of my favorite recipes here and here)
julienned carrots
julienned red bell pepper
sliced water chestnuts 
ramen noodles tossed with sesame oil and soy sauce 
seeded and sliced cucumbers (sprinkled with a tiny bit of salt and sugar to draw out water and concentrate the flavor) 
peanut sauce
extra sriracha

Other great lettuce wrap fillings include:
grilled chicken
bean sprouts
toasted sesame seeds
other noodles (udon, rice, etc.)