A small part of my brain was recently reactivated and the lyrics to Joe Scruggs’s children’s song “Peanut Butter” was brought forward from the recesses of my memory (I was unable to find a suitable video or audio link except on iTunes! Let me know if you find one). As amusing as it is (I love the line “you better spread my bread with good ol’ peanut butter” and then the background choir: “smooth and crunchyyyy oooo…”), it got me thinking about school lunches, as I’m sure the amount of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches being made on any given day in this country will be increasing over the next couple of weeks as kids head back to school.
So, being a peanut butter fan (and one who used to eat peanut butter right off a spoon – yikes), for Part 1 of my Back-to-School food series, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite ways to enjoy peanut butter – off the sandwich – to hopefully inspire some new lunch or snack ideas for you. After all, assuming you’re not allergic to nuts, peanut butter and other nut butters are a good source of omega-6 essential fatty acids, monounsaturated fat (that’s a good kind), and natural fibers. While peanut butter can also be a source of protein, there are other nut butters that are better (see below). Whatever nut butter you prefer, be sure to read the label before you buy. Avoid butters with hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup as these will contain unnecessary fats to stabilize the butter at room temperature, as well as unnecessary sugars. Some smaller grocery stores have nut butters that you can grind yourself in the store for the freshest and least ingredient butters around. But if you don’t have those, I recommend a “natural” (I know, loaded word) butter–one that separates at room temperature necessitating a good stir and refrigeration. Anyway, here are some favorite uses for peanut butter:
1. Ants on a Log Ah, another childhood classic: Load up your celery pieces with peanut butter and top with a couple raisins if you’d like. Celery is supposedly one of those neat “negative calorie” foods which require more energy to digest than they contain calories. I love the crisp, clean crunch they provide which contrasts nicely with the smooth stick peanut butter.
2. Graham Cracker Sandwich Out of bread for the week? No problem! Substitute some graham crackers instead! My personal favorite are the traditional honey grahams, but I’ve also used cinnamon and chocolate with equally good results. A friend suggests topping the peanut butter with chocolate chips, and though I’ve yet to try it, I’m sure it would add just the right sweet touch for a dessert.
3. Peanut Butter Cookies complete with marks from your fork tines, of course. To be honest, I don’t yet have a favorite peanut butter cookie recipe, and they weren’t one of the cookie recipes that got passed down from my grandmother, so whenever I want to make them, I usually just search for a recipe online, though I am partial to using crunchy peanut butter for just the right amount of crunch.
4. Add Thai flair to sauces/salad dressings/marinades It may sound strange if you don’t eat a lot of Asian foods, but adding a tablespoon or two of peanut butter to any Asian-y sauce (i.e., ones that usually contain soy sauce and/or toasted sesame oil) can yield some excellent results. I’ve also heard that it will add a nice twist to your BBQ recipes. A couple weeks ago I made some turkey lettuce wraps by sauteeing ground turkey in a wok and then mixing together a sauce of chopped onions and garlic, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon of our feature ingredient. You can also add chopped bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, carrots, or peppers, but the serving vessel should definitely be nice crunchy lettuce leaves.
5. Olé! Mole! Mole (pronounced mole-ay) is a Mexican sauce traditionally made with chiles, cocoa, and, in more contemporary versions, peanuts and peanut butter. The authentic recipe takes a lot of time and energy (the average recipe containing at least 26 ingredients, and the recipes are as varied as American BBQ sauces according to Wikipedia), but I encourage you to find a recipe to try online and serve it over chicken, pork, or turkey, with enchiladas, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or whatever your favorite make-at-home Mexican dish is.
6. Sweet Treats can be made by spreading peanut butter on apple slices or bananas. I’ve also heard it’s good with pineapple.
If you don’t like the flavor of peanut butter, maybe you’d like another nut butter–there certainly are a lot of choices out there these days. Almond butter is popular for its ability to substitute for peanut butter, being similar in flavor and texture (roasted almond butters have a richer flavor!). It also has a more favorable protein content than peanut butter. Some people who are allergic to peanuts are able to eat almond butter, but please don’t hold me accountable for that–I’m not a doctor! Cashew butter is a bit milder and sweeter in flavor–great with fruits or marinades. Hazelnut butters are often combined with chocolate (such as Nutella) which make for a yummy topping for toast, crackers, and even ice cream!
But what about you? What’s your favorite way to eat peanut butter or any other nut butter? And if you’re allergic or peanut butter isn’t your thing, what sorts of delicacies were standard fare in your lunch box? Leave a comment and let’s reminisce on school lunches together!