Consider the humble peanut

Otherwise known as goobers, ground peas, manila nuts and pinders, peanuts are a homely staple in much of our country.

Native to South America, peanuts were taken by Spanish explorers back to Spain, and from there they apparently spread to Africa and Asia. In North America, they may have been cultivated by Native Americans, but we know for sure that European settlers grew them … to feed to their hogs.

The peanut really took off after the Civil War, due in large part to the efforts of George Washington Carver.

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, he developed more than 300 uses for the peanut, including a milk substitute, face powder, printer’s ink and soap … but

NOT peanut butter.

Currently, about half the peanuts grown in the United States are consumed as peanut butter, and a fourth are sold as roasted peanuts. Globally, more than 60 percent of peanut production is used for peanut oil, an excellent oil for frying as it has a high smoking temperature.

Beyond the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and peanut butter cookies, I wanted to introduce a couple of other tasty ways to enjoy this versatile and nutritious legume.

When I lived in the Netherlands, I learned to enjoy “pinda saus,” or Indonesian-inspired peanut sauce, served on everything from satay to French fries. I found it funny that the same friends who enjoyed peanut sauce, gagged at the idea of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I’m not sure this first suggestion would seem any more palatable to them. It could be the star feature in a “Weird Combinations that Work” column.

But I enjoy it when I need something super quick but not as sweet as a PB&J.

Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich

2 slices sandwich bread – I prefer whole wheat

mayonnaise

peanut butter – I prefer crunchy

crisp dill pickle

Step 1: Spread one piece of bread with a thin layer of mayonnaise and the other with a slightly thicker layer of peanut butter.

Step 2: Slice the pickle lengthwise into 1/8″ slices and arrange over the peanut butter.

Step 3:Slap the two slices of bread together and cut on the diagonal for the most appetizing presentation.

This next recipe is adapted from Cross Creek Cookery, by Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings, author of “The Yearling.” It is perfect for a winter dinner party, but equally at home (without the sherry or whipped cream) in a kid’s lunch thermos.

Chef Huston’s Cream of Peanut Soup

8 servings

2 T flour

1 T butter

1 quart (4 cups) whole milk, heated (You can heat it in a glass measuring cup in the microwave; it should not boil)

1 cup creamy peanut butter

salt to taste

1 jigger dry sherry

1/2 cup softly whipped cream

Step 1: Make a roux of the flour and butter by mixing together over medium heat in a saucepan. Stir constantly for a few minutes to cook the flour slightly. I like to use a springy conical whisk (like a tiny hoop skirt with a handle) for this and the next step. The roux doesn’t need to brown.

Step 2: Slowly stir in the hot milk and blend until smooth.

Step 3: Stir in the peanut butter and blend.

Step 4: When ready to serve, stir in the sherry and top each serving with a gentle dollop of whipped cream.

This version of “pinda saus” or satay sauce, adapted from Cooks.com, has the advantage of not requiring exotic ingredients. It will last, refrigerated, up to one week, then can be brought back to room temperature at serving time.

Traditionally, it would be served over skewered strips of grilled chicken, beef or pork, but can also be used as a dipping sauce with spring rolls, pot stickers or raw vegetables.

Satay Sauce

four servings

4 tsp. peanut or corn oil

2 tsp. sesame oil (for flavor)

1/2 cup minced red onion

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 T. red wine vinegar

1 T. brown sugar

1/3 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

3 T. ketchup

3 T. soy sauce

1 T. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. pepper

Optional: 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint

Step 1: Heat the peanut and sesame oils in a skillet over medium-low heat.

Step 2: Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Do not brown.

Step 3: Add the sugar and vinegar, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

Step 4: Remove from heat, add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Step 5: Sprinkle with cilantro or mint, if using.

Finally, no discussion of the peanut would be complete without …

Peanut Butter Cookies (adapted from the Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition)

about 3 dozen 2 1/2 inch cookies

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup corn or canola oil

2/3 cup smooth peanut butter

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted to remove lumps if

necessary

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease your cookie sheets.

Step 2: Whisk together thoroughly the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Step 3: In a large bowl, combine the oil, peanut butter, butter, powdered sugar and brown sugar.

Step 4: Beat these ingredients on medium speed until very well blended and fluffy.

Step 5: Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and beat until well-combined.

Step 6: Stir the flour mixture into the peanut butter mixture until well-blended and smooth.

Step 7:. Let the dough stand for about 5 minutes to firm slightly.

Step 8: Pull off pieces of the dough to make 1-inch rounds, or use a 1-inch scoop.

Step 9: Space the balls of dough about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Using a fork, make a cross-hatch pattern and press each cookie into a 1 1/2 inch round.

Step 10: Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are just tinged with brown: about 9 to 12 minutes. Rotate each sheet halfway through for even baking.

Step 12: Remove the sheet to a rack and let cool until cookies firm slightly. Transfer cookies to racks covered with paper towels or opened-up brown paper grocery bags to finish cooling.

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