Peanut butter is like pizza: Some kinds are better than others, but some is always better than none.
I like all pizza just for being pizza — my love for peanut butter is equally all-encompassing. My devotion is boundless.
In my quest to avoid processed food, peanut butter has never left my side. I cannot fault the peanut butter of my youth for its added sugar, oil and salt, for it is what my foundation is built upon. These days, I sniff out the healthier options.
In the case of peanut butter, the only necessary ingredient is peanuts. A little salt is nice, but anything else listed on the label is what gives peanut butter a bad name. Peanuts have plenty of their own fat, so added oil acts as an emulsifier rather than as an ingredient that contributes to flavor.
Sugar is added to most processed foods, peanut butter included, because it makes things taste yummy. But peanut butter without sugar is also delicious — plus, you get to be in full control of the sugar situation.
Think of it in the context of a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich: The bread contains sugar and the jelly contains sugar, so if the peanut butter also contains sugar, that sandwich is more like eating a big piece of cake rather than a sensible lunch. Don’t kid yourself.
Choose your peanut butter wisely, and then use it in sweet or savory dishes with wild abandon. Peanut butter is beautiful that way. Add a little sweetness and it’s dessert, but go the other way with a little spice and peanut butter makes the meal in a savory sauce.
Make your own peanut butter in a food processor or fancy blender with roasted peanuts and a dash of optional salt, or choose a jar with peanuts and salt as the only ingredients. Be sure to read the label; often when “natural” is in the name, it’s worth having a look at the ingredients to make sure they don’t include more “natural” things than you’d prefer.
The most readily available peanut butter that fits my criteria is Smucker’s Natural, although there are many other pricier brands, as well as a slew of other nut butters on the market.
The main complaint about natural peanut butter is the separation issue. Without emulsifiers to keep it smooth and creamy forever and always, the oil separates from the peanut butter. And the jury is out on whether to refrigerate it.
These issues can be tackled by stirring the heck out of a new jar of natural peanut butter and then storing it in the fridge. The oil and peanut butter will meld and chill together to become one. If the thought of attempting to spread refrigerated peanut butter on a soft piece of bread makes you cringe, store the jar upside down in your pantry. If you’re at risk of neglecting your jar of natural peanut butter, it’s best to store it in the fridge.
Try these recipes for peanut butter at any meal.
Sauteed broccoli with peanut sauce
8 cups broccoli florets
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 cup sliced red bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced yellow onion
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons smooth natural peanut butter
2 1/2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large pot fitted with a steamer basket. Add broccoli, cover and cook until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the steamed broccoli and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Whisk peanut butter, tamari, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. Stir into the vegetables. Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Recipe adapted from www.eatingwell.com.
Peanut butter cookie dough balls
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup dates
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon water
4 ounces chocolate
Pulse just the peanuts in a food processor until they are broken down into fine crumbs. Add the dates, peanut butter and vanilla to the food processor and pulse again to form a soft, sticky dough. Add the tablespoon of water if the mixture gets too sticky. Continue to pulse and press the mixture back down with a spoon until there are no more large pieces of dates or peanuts and the mixture starts to stick together in one large ball.
Roll small pieces of “dough” between your hands to form small balls. Place on a plate or cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Refrigerate until you’re ready to dip in chocolate.
Melt the chocolate very slowly (double boiler, hot oven, or carefully in the microwave) and dip each ball into the chocolate. Remove the balls with two forks and let the excess drip off. Place on wax paper or parchment paper and allow the chocolate to set. Refrigerate.
Recipe adapted from www.pinchofyum.com.
Thai peanut wrap
6 tablespoons natural peanut butter
4 whole wheat or whole-grain tortillas, warmed
2 cups mixed salad greens
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1/2 cup shredded carrots
Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter down center of each tortilla. Toss together greens, cilantro, and rice vinegar and divide evenly among tortillas. Top evenly with chicken and carrots. Roll up tortillas to enclose filling completely. Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from www.prevention.com.
Amanda Stone works in educational services, marketing and special features at the Globe. Contact her at 417-627-7288 or email her at email@example.com.