Can’t we all just get along?
You know what’s good? Peanut butter. Well, anything with peanuts, really. Most of us know this, but it hadn’t occurred to me just how good peanuts are until I received, honest to goodness, an e-mail from a national peanut marketing group with some good-time holiday peanut recipes, suited to these tough economic times. Now, I’m not in the employ of said group, but I do like peanuts, and their buttery, buttery sandwich-spread incarnation, and I’m going to declare it to you all.
When I was in elementary school, I ate a peanut butter and jam sandwich on whole wheat bread for my school lunch every day. Every day. My daughter’s school is peanut-free, so I can’t send the same predictably delicious lunch with her, and as a result we really don’t have peanut butter around all that often. Or bread, for that matter (I’m still working on finding a gluten-free bread recipe that the child will eat). If my dedication to peanut butter has waned in the age of the school lunchroom peanut ban, I wonder how many other peanut butter lovers are passing through the sandwich-spread aisle and foregoing that most luscious and mouth-stick-togethery of toast accoutrements?
Of course there’s the allergy issue. The latest stats suggest that about 4 per cent of us have food allergies of some sort. That may not seem like a lot, but it means that you probably know at least a couple people who have to steer clear of the Cracker Jack. And that every school has its allergic contingent. If you’re a parent of non-allergic kids, you’ve probably had your moments of being overly hard on the parents of kids with food allergies, who are perceived as being the force behind the lowly peanut’s troubles (and your lunchtime dilemmas). But you’ve got to cut the parents some slack. I like to think I’m a pretty level-headed person, but still and all if I were convinced by my doctor that my child might stop breathing if the youngster across the table ate a handful of Reese’s Pieces, I might behave in a, shall we say, hyperprotective fashion. Breathing is pretty important, even for children.
The truly annoying thing about the media exuberance over deathly peanut allergies is that the hoopla undermines the difficulties that the small but significant number of food-allergic folks experience. If people pipe up about their allergies these days, they’re as likely to get a response of, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you?” as anything else. But people with food allergies, believe it or not, aren’t actually out to make your life complicated. They just want to be sure that the sandwich they ordered isn’t going to land them in Emergency. Is that entirely unreasonable?
So it is with this qualification that I call upon the peanut lovers of the world: express your peanutly passion, yes, and express it exuberantly. But don’t send peanut-containing lunches to your kids’ school (you’re not being revolutionary, you’re putting other people’s kids in danger—stop it), don’t bring peanuts to a potluck unless you know it’s okay, and if you’re having people over for dinner, ask them whether they have any food sensitivities. They’ll be happy you asked, and you’ll be happy to make a dinner that everyone can enjoy.
And if you’re among the 96 per cent of people who can eat anything you like, including peanuts, with abandon, then you might want to put this peanut sauce recipe into regular rotation at your house. It’s awfully delicious, full of protein, easy to make, pretty cheap, and is just as good hot as it is cold. I usually throw it on noodles, but it’s just as good over rice, with chunks of grilled chicken or tempeh (if you can get your hands on it), and the odd vegetable wouldn’t go astray in there, either. This recipe got me through my college years, and I’m happy to rediscover it now. Thanks for the note, peanut-marketing people! I’ll buy extra peanut butter now, for those who can’t.
There are a bazillion different recipes for peanut sauce out there, but this is the one I survived on for about three years. Now that I have youngsters, I cut the chili paste way down, but you can bump it up as much as you like.
(makes about 1 1/4 cups)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
3/4 cup natural peanut butter (as in “no salt, no sugar”)
3 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon chili paste (sambal olek), or more to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup boiling water, as needed to reach desired consistency
Mince your onion very, very finely. If you have a food processor, now is the time to use it.
Put onion and ginger in a large bowl and add peanut butter. Smush it all together with a rubber spatula.
Smush in tamari and honey, then stir in vinegar and chili paste.
Add water, a bit at a time, until an appropriately saucy consistency is reached.
This is great over a stir-fry, but don’t pour it directly into the hot pan—the honey will caramelize and give it a weird taste. If you want to use the sauce as a dip for salad rolls, add a little more water. Or you can toss it with cooked noodles and serve it with some more chopped peanuts or toasted sesame seeds on top. If you have sauce left over, it will last in the fridge for up to a week.