3 easy ways to use versatile peanuts
By TABITHA ALTERMAN
From Mother Earth News
After pure oils, nuts are the richest foods we eat.
The weak cell walls of these fat seeds lend them an appealing tenderness, while their oils make them mouthwatering.
This characteristic richness is what made prehistoric guys and gals value nuts for nourishment, and it’s what makes squirrels and people store them away today.
Peanuts, though actually legumes, are one of America’s most prized nuts. We love our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and our grandmas’ peanut butter cookies.
But we aren’t the only ones who’ve gone nuts for them. They flourish in the hot climates of Africa and Southeast Asia, where you’ll find them in all kinds of creative recipes that find their sweet spot where salt, sugar, spice and citrus happily coexist.
The peanut wears many hats.
Its unique nutty flavor is the product of hundreds of distinct compounds that range from fruity and flowery to fried and smoky, many of which can be altered or amped up by various cooking processes.
One reason that peanuts boiled in the shell taste so terrific is because the shells contain vanillin, a sweet flavor enhanced by boiling.
Red peanut skins also contain antioxidants and other compounds that transfer a depth of flavor to the nuts within if left on during roasting.
Among nuts, peanuts are second only to pine nuts in terms of protein content (26 percent), which makes them a hearty stand-in for meat.
And they’re practically second to none in their penchant for playing well with other foods.
Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible, list nearly 60 foods that love peanuts including cayenne, coffee, fish sauce, mole sauces, pork, shrimp, strawberries and red wine vinegar.
Versatlity with variety
There are four major groups of peanuts – Valencia, Virginia, Runners and Spanish.
Valencias, which include the popular ‘Georgia Red’ variety, are the most common peanut in home gardens and have a wonderfully sweet flavor.
Virginias develop huge nuts that are great for snacking.
Runners are a dependably tough stock grown for commercial peanut butter production, but I recommend trying super-oily and crisp Spanish peanuts for making your own peanut butter.
Having freshly dug, moist, “green” peanuts on hand is a treat, but note that these are only available immediately after the fall peanut harvest season.
Raw peanuts are green peanuts that have been air-dried (rather than roasted) to reduce the moisture level for year-round storage.
If you don’t have a local source of raw peanuts, search www.localharvest.org to find a supplier.
The following recipes are best prepared with green or raw peanuts.
Easy roasted peanuts
in the shell
1 pound raw or green peanuts in the shells, rinsed and dried
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Toss peanuts with oil and salt until well-coated. Spread onto a baking sheet in a single layer.
Roast for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on how roasty you want the flavor) at 350 degrees.
Shake the pan a couple of times during roasting to stir the peanuts. Watch carefully to prevent scorching.
Let peanuts cool a few minutes before serving, as they will harden up and become crunchier.
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 pound shelled raw peanuts, with or without skins
2 to 4 tablespoos granulated sugar
Grease a baking dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, heat honey, butter, vanilla and 1 teaspoon salt over medium-low heat, until melted.
Stir in peanuts, and then pour them out into a single layer in the baking dish.
Roast peanuts for 15 to 25 minutes, or until golden, shaking the pan a few times to stir the nuts.
Remove from oven, stir to break up clumps, and let cool slightly.
Sprinkle on the remaining salt and sugar and toss to coat, then serve warm.
Real boiled peanuts can only be enjoyed in the fall, when moist, green peanuts have just been plucked from wet dirt (mostly in the South).
If you’re growing peanuts, you’ll be able to do this, or find a farmer who will sell you some green peanuts.
Your boiled peanuts will freeze well for year-round snacking, or you can also approximate the real thing by starting with raw peanuts.
1 pound green peanuts in the shells
5 tablespoos kosher salt
Rinse peanuts well, and then add them to a stockpot. Cover them completely with cold water, then stir in the salt.
Bring the water to a boil, then cover and reduce to a gentle boil over medium heat.
Continue to boil the peanuts for about 3 hours, stirring every half hour or so.
Add water if the level gets too low. Turn off the heat and let the pot sit with the lid on for about 30 minutes.
Serve the peanuts warm, and encourage your guests to suck the delicious brine off of the shells before splitting them open, tossing the shells on the ground and chomping on the savory nuts.
For a different take, add several dashes of Old Bay or your favorite Cajun seasoning to the stockpot along with the nuts, then squeeze lemon juice over the peanuts before serving.
Boiled peanuts are amazing with ice-cold beer or sweet tea.
Excerpted from Mother Earth News, the Original Guide to Living Wisely.
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