Peanuts may be allergenic troublemakers for some, but for the rest of us, they're a flavor-packed nutritional powerhouse.
They're easy to stow in a purse or lunchbox, great to add crunch and protein to Asian noodle dishes, and quintessential to the American party table.
Portuguese and Spanish merchants introduced peanuts from Mexico to Indonesia in the 16th century, and peanut sauce was soon born. Peanut sauce for satay or salad rolls—those perfect party finger foods—is a cinch to make from scratch using store-bought peanut butter. Just aim for the kind that is made from only peanuts, add lime juice, a splash of fish sauce, a little sugar or honey (apricot jam is also great), a little blob of spicy sambal oelek
chile paste and just enough water to thin to a dipping consistency. (You can also skip the sugar and chile paste and use a spoonful of Thai sweet chile sauce.) Then brush it on the protein of your choice (chicken is great) and grill or bake. Serve with more sauce for dipping.
To go full bore with the peanut sauce theme—for an all-Asian buffet, say—try a sweet-potato salad with creamy peanut dressing. Toss cubed, cooked sweet potato with peas, thinly sliced scallions and a handful of peanuts, then mix with a dressing of rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, mayo and peanut sauce. This is great with chicken satay.
Want peanuts with a little more crunch? Toss roasted, unsalted peanuts with cooked rice noodles, grilled meat or tofu, shredded carrots, bean sprouts and julienned cukes, and drizzle with a sauce made of lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and minced garlic. This is one of my favorite Vietnamese meals: light, fast and easy.
If you're looking for flavors a little closer to home, try an apple and celery salad with roasted peanuts. Combine julienned tart apples and finely sliced celery with chopped peanuts, chopped parsley and a Dijon-lemon vinaigrette for a healthy side dish, perfect with a less-healthy deviled ham sandwich or cold fried chicken. Want something even easier? Try sprinkling roasted peanuts on a creamy carrot-ginger soup for a little protein punch.
For an impressive and deceptively easy party snack, try tossing store-bought roasted peanuts with a mix of cumin, cayenne, curry powder, garlic powder, sugar and salt. Mix the spices with a little oil and toss peanuts to coat. Then re-roast the nuts in a warm oven until they're warmed through. These can also be tossed with curry popcorn, sesame crackers and rice crackers for a quick snack mix.
If you prefer a sweeter snack, mix roasted peanuts with melted dark chocolate and spoon blobs onto a sheet of wax paper to make peanut clusters. When they're still warm, sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on top. These make lovely gifts, too, if you're the generous type. Unfortunately for my friends and family, I'm a stand-over-the-sink-and-shovel-these-into-my-face type.
And for dessert, there's no better tribute to the peanut than a good, old-fashioned peanut butter pie. Okay, a peanut butter pie in a chocolate-graham cracker crust, sprinkled with crushed peanut brittle. That's way better.
Those are my favorite dinner party dishes. Have one of your own? Would love to hear it!