A Peanut is Not a Nut

A User’s Guide to Spicy Peanut Butter

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By William I. Lengeman III

A Peanut is Not a Nut


Rib Eye Steaks with Spicy Peanut Better and Onions
Sweet and Spicy Peanut Butter Glazed Chicken
Vegetarian Masaman Curry
Spicy Peanut Better Croutons
Gado Gado
Indonesian Peanut-Chile Sauce
Spicy Roast Beef Sandwich


Okay, so peanut butter isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of spicy food. But several companies have released products in recent years that may go a long way toward changing that perception. Among them are a California company that offers a Spicy Southwestern blend; an Ohio firm, one of the nation’s oldest peanut butter makers, that has broken with tradition in peanut buttery twist; and a Greenwich Village restaurant that specializes in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The peanut (Arachis hypogaea), as Trivial Pursuit fans probably already know, is not really a nut, but rather a legume. The plant is thought to have originated in South America, where 3,500 year-old pottery vessels bear the likeness of the plant. European explorers spread peanuts to Spain and around the world, most notably to Africa. Peanuts came to America from Africa by way of the slave trade.

There’s no way to be sure how long peanut butter has been around, but it’s probably safe to assume that, at some point, an ancient South American discovered that roasted peanuts were pretty tasty, especially when you mashed them with a rock and made a nice paste from them. There is evidence that peanuts were being ground and eaten in Haiti as early as 1697; in Cape Town, South Africa, raw peanuts were being used to make a rather unpalatable spread for bread as far back as 1790. But it was in the United States that the concept of roasting and grinding peanuts became a major industry.

The exact origins of peanut butter as we know it today, are not completely clear. A nameless St. Louis doctor is often credited with being the “inventor” of peanut butter, but it’s more likely that the credit should go to Michigan doctor and health food pioneer John Harvey Kellogg. Along with his brother Will, Kellogg is best known for inventing the corn flake. He and his brother started making peanut butter in the 1890s.

Spiced Up Peanut Butter

That great American icon, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, surfaced not long after, but even then not all peanut and peanut butter recipes were sweet. Early editions of The Joy of Cooking, which first appeared in 1931, included a recipe for a Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwich. The ingredients were peanut butter, mayonnaise, salt, pickle relish or chili sauce and minced bacon. In 1935, a USDA bulletin designed to increase awareness of peanut butter as a foodstuff featured a recipe for a Tabasco-spiced Cream of Peanut Butter Soup.

Modern-day fans who are looking for peanut butter with a kick might be interested in Peanut Better, a California company that began selling organic gourmet peanut butter in 2003. The company currently offers five sweet peanut butters, including Deep Chocolate and Cinnamon Currant, and five savory varieties, among them Rosemary Garlic and Thai Ginger and Red Pepper. Peanut Better’s Spicy Southwestern is advertised as “not for the faint of palate.” The spread, which retails at about $5 for a 10-ounce jar, delivers on this promise, packing more than just a token dose of heat. The ingredients for this one are organic roasted peanuts, red pepper, paprika, salt, and spices. The last ingredient, lime oil, adds a very nice touch.
Spiced Up Peanut Butter

Jon Hainer, Peanut Better’s CFO, says his favorite use for Spicy Southwestern is on roasted corn, in lieu of butter and salt. He also like the Spicy butter on a sandwich made with hard Italian salami, sweet pickles and Boston lettuce.

Hainer says the company’s goal with the Spicy Southwestern variety was to create a peanut butter with a distinctiveheat. “We have a theory that most hot foods deliver their heat so quickly that the person tasting it never really gets to appreciate the subtleties of the pepper. We sought to design a taste that would have three parts: first the terrific natural taste of peanut butter made with organic Valencia peanuts. Second, a heat from the pepper that would come on after about 5 seconds and last for another 10 seconds or so, that would be adult, sophisticated, and nuanced. And finally, a lime finish to take away any lingering bitterness from the heat.”  The heat comes from a combination of habanero and pasilla peppers with a distinctive Hungarian paprika. The finish comes from lime oil.

Over on the other side of the country you’ll find Peanut Butter & Company, a Greenwich Village-based restaurant that specializes in all things peanut butter. Philadelphia native and former adman Lee Zalben, aka The Peanut Butter Guy, founded the shop in 1998. Visitors to the restaurant can choose from a wide array of peanut buttery delights, including everything from The Elvis (grilled PB, bananas and honey–bacon optional) to a Peanut Butter BLT, a Peanut Butter Club and a Fluffernutter (PB and Marshmallow Fluff).

In addition to their sandwiches, Peanut Butter & Co. sells a line of six specialty peanut butters, including such flavors as white chocolate, dark chocolate, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl and a fiery butter they’ve dubbed The Heat Is On. Peanut Butter & Co.’s spicy butter mixes peanuts, vinegar, organic palm oil and salt with a special blend of crushed red peppers, chile powder, cayenne, and paprika. It is available at selected stores and on their web site, where a 16-ounce jar sells for $6.

Zalben says he developed the spicy butter as a means to creating an Asian-inspired savory peanut butter sandwich. Those who are fortunate to make it to his shop will find The Heat Is On Sandwich, made with the spicy PB, chilled grilled chicken and pineapple jam. It’s just one of several sandwiches on the menu that uses the firm’s flavored peanut butters.
When it comes to peanut butter, the two companies already mentioned are young whippersnappers in comparison to the Columbus, Ohio-based

Krema Nut Company, which offer their own spicy variety of peanut butter. One of the oldest peanut butter manufacturers in the country, Krema was established in 1898 and now produces all-natural almond and cashew butter in addition to peanut butter. Under the supervision of an experienced master roaster, Krema roasts #1 Fancy Grade Spanish peanuts (a relative rarity in the peanut butter industry) their nuts to perfection and eschews the sugar, salt or hydrogenated oils found in many peanut butters.

Their Hot and Spicy Peanut Butter is available in a twelve-ounce size for the quite reasonable sum of $2.29. Peanut butter fanciers who want their spicy peanut butter ground the old-fashioned way–with their own teeth–may also be interested in the company’s Hot Redskins variety of roasted peanuts, which come in a one-pound bag or the charmingly named Can You Handle My Spicy Hot Nuts?, a spicy variety with more than a hint of garlic that comes in a 14-ounce size. 


Peanut Better
Peanut Butter & Co.
Krema Nut Company

Editor’s Note

In a pinch, you can make spicy peanut butter by adding 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (or more to taste) to 3/4 cup of peanut butter and mixing it well.

Rib Eye Steaks with Spicy Peanut Better and Onions
(Courtesy of Peanut Better)

Marinating the steaks in spicy peanut butter adds a totally new dimension to grilling.

1/3 cup Spicy Southwestern Peanut Better
2/3 cup olive oil (divided use)
4 (8- to 12-ounce) fresh rib-eye steaks, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large sweet onions, sliced into rings 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat your gas or charcoal grill to high.

In a blender or food processor, puree the peanut butter with 1/3 cup olive oil. Put the steaks in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle them with salt and pour the mixture over them, turning the steaks to coat. Let them rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.

In a frying pan, heat 1/3 cup olive oil and saute the onions over moderate heat until they begin to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, draining any remaining oil with paper towels. Season the onions to taste with salt and cayenne pepper and hold warm.

Grill the steaks, turning twice, to your desired level of doneness. Serve the steaks garnished with spicy onions.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Sweet and Spicy Peanut Butter Glazed Chicken

Peanut lovers who coincidentally love chicken can rejoice as this recipe combines the two flavors perfectly, and the honey adds the perfect degree of sweetness. (Courtesy of Peanut Butter & Co.)

1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup Peanut Butter & Co. The Heat is On (spicy) peanut butter
1/2 stick unsalted butter
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 350 degreees F.

In a small saucepan, on low heat, combine the honey, peanut butter and butter until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

Line a 9 by 12-inch glass baking dish with aluminum foil (this will make clean-up a snap).

Slice the chicken breasts into strips 2 inches wide.

Dip the chicken breaststripsin the peanut butter mixture, coating well on both sides, and arrange them in the foil-lined pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil cover and continue to bake chicken for another 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Vegetarian Masaman Curry

This curry gets the peanut treatment, so it’s a combination of Thai style and the Indonesian peanut treatment. (Courtesy of Peanut Butter & Co.)

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14-ounce) container extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups vegetable stock
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1/2 cup of Peanut Butter & Company’sThe Heat Is On
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup frozen peas
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Finely ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and tofu and cook until the onions are translucent and the tofu is slightly browned.

Meanwhile, add the vegetable stock and coconut milk to a large saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the peanut butter and whisk until smooth.

Add the potatoes and carrots and continue simmering until the vegetables are nearly cooked through.

Add the tofu and onion mixture to the curry, along with the frozen peas. Continue to simmer on a low heat for about 5 minutes or until the all of the vegetables are fully cooked.

Stir in the chopped fresh basil and serve immediately over hot basmati rice.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Spicy Peanut Better Croutons

A little peanut flavor in your salad? Why not? (Courtesy of Peanut Better)

3/4 cup Spicy Southwestern peanut butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 loaf French or sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a blender or food processor, puree the peanut butter with the olive oil until the mixture is smooth and runny.

Toss the bread cubes with the peanut butter mixture until they are coated on all sides. Spread the cubes onto a cookie sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely and serve as snacks or tossed in your favorite salads.
Yield: 6 cups breadcrumbs
Heat Scale: Mild

Gado Gado


Gado-Gado Photo: Norman Johnson; Styling: Denice Skrepcinski

This popular salad from Bali is a meal in itself. Traditionally, the salad is composed of a wide array of raw and parboiled ingredients, arranged in layers and is served with the spicy peanut dressing. If you don’t have birdseye chiles, substitute piquin or cayenne chiles.

Peanut Dressing:
1 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1/2 cup water
1 to 2 birdseye chiles (chiltepins), stemmed and minced
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1/2 to 1 cup canned coconut milk

The Salad:
1/2 pound mung bean sprouts, brown ends pinched off
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks size pieces
1 small head cauliflower, separated into small florets
3 large potatoes, boiled and sliced into rounds about 1/2-inch thick
3 hard cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
1 large cucumber, skin scored and sliced very thinly

To make the dressing, place the peanut butter and water into a saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until mixed. Remove from the heat and add all other ingredients to make a thick dressing with a pouring consistency.

To prepare the salad, drop the bean sprouts into boiling water then immediately remove, drain, and rinse them under cold running water.

 Boil, steam or microwave the beans, the carrots, and the cauliflower until only just tender. Rinse in cold water to cool.

Arrange the vegetables in separate sections on a large platter, with wedges of egg and potatoes in the center with the cucumber surrounding the platter.

Serve cold, accompanied by the peanut sauce spooned over the individual servings.
Yield: 8 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Indonesian Peanut-Chile Sauce

(Katjang Saos)

Hot and spicy peanut sauce is a standard condiment in Indonesia. This sauce is not only used with satays but as a basis for unusual curries and as a dipping sauce. It is traditionally prepared by pounding peanuts into a paste before using. We have simplified the recipe by substituting crunchy peanut butter.

4 green onions, chopped, white part only
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 (3-inch) stalk lemongrass, minced
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons crushed red chile
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon prepared prawn paste (blacan)
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
2 cups crunchy peanut butter
Salt to taste

Saute the onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass in the oil for 3 to 4 minutes until the onion is soft and transparent but not browned.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes until thickened.
Yield: 2 1/2 cups
Heat Scale: Varies

Spicy Roast Beef Sandwich

Instead of jelly with your peanut butter, why not roast beef? (Courtesy of Peanut Better)

2 slices of your favorite crusty bread
1/4 pound thinly sliced rare roast beef
1 tablespoon Spicy Southwestern Peanut Better
1 teaspoon mustard
Lettuce leaves

Spread 1 slice of bread with Peanut Better and the other with mustard. Place lettuce leaves on the Peanut Better slice, the rare roast beef on the slice with mustard. Combine both sides, cut diagonally in half and secure with toothpicks.
Yield: 1 sandwich
Heat Scale: Medium

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