Peanut butter? Peanut butter??!! Whatever was that? The real (milk-turned-curd-churned) butter-loving-me was first introduced to this strange ingredient on my first foreign travel. Suspicious then, I never gathered enough courage to actually go and buy a jar of the stuff. This was five years back. Cut to today, peanut butter was everywhere. It was a vegan favourite, finding its way into smoothies, as a dip, and umpteen other uses on every food blog that had sprouted. PBJ (Peanut butter and jelly – jam to us non-Americans) sandwiches were supposedly a favourite kid treat, I read. I wasn’t still convinced.
Flashback to my childhood, when my mom first asked me to spread shengachi chutney (spicy peanut chutney) on my bread slice, I turned up my nose and said “Pfft!” I guess I was in the “mom-you-don’t-really-know-anything” phase. You see, growing up in a typical Maharashtrian household, peanuts found their way into everything. We made peanut laddoos (roasted peanuts and jaggery balls) and peanut chikki (peanuts and sugar/jaggery syrup came together in a nougat form), added whole unroasted peanuts to patal bhajis and usals (leafy green vegetables and lentils were incomplete without these), shengacha koot (roasted peanuts powder) would be added to all vegetable dishes (cabbage, french beans you name it) and also to all koshimbirs (a kind of salad with yogurt and raw veggies, with peanut dressing). Peanuts were also an important ingredient in the special masala for bharli vangi (stuffed brinjals) and karylachi bhaji (bitter gourd) These slow roasted peanuts were also munched with/without jaggery as a favourite snack as dinner was getting ready or for an afternoon post lunch quickie. My dad was an expert peanut-roaster, and he also showed remarkable patience in slow-roasting them to perfection. We inherited his loved for these roasted beauties so much so that mom had to sneakily keep changing the dabbas to hide them from us. Dad and I have spent many an afternoon opening dabba after dabba in the kitchen, only to come up empty-handed. But I am digressing. So, you can imagine my surprise and utter horror when mom wanted to smear peanut chutney on bread, and try to Indian-ize, or Maharashtrian-ize it.. Bread in my English-school-educated view was only to be had with butter, jam and ketchup then. How little I knew about bread’s versatility, and also that I was going to, ahem, have to eat my own words, and the shengacha-koot-turned-chutney to boot, that was to become a rage, a decade from then.
So when did the transformation happen, you may ask. Two important events took place, which had me converted. First, I discovered my peanut man, here in Yongchun vegetable market. He put up his stall only on Fridays, and would have two varieties of salted peanuts slow-roasted to perfection (and he actually came up to dad’s impossibly high standards!!). I have braved many a storm (literally – thanks to Taipei weather and otherwise) to rush to his stall on Fridays after work, when we were nearly out of peanuts, and procure a stash. The dialogue between the husband and me would, almost always, be on these lines:
ME: We need to go to Yongchun after work.
The Scientist: What on Friday?? Let’s do it Sat/Sun.
ME: Cannot. Only half a packet of peanuts left.
The Scientist (panicking): What? So soon…Ok, let’s meet up at 7 at the bus stop directly.
(You see, The Scientist loves them as much as I do, and both are together guilty of polishing off enormous amounts)
But I am digressing again. (There is another anecdote related to the peanut-man, which I will share again later).
The second important event was stumbling onto the easy-peasy tutorials available on how to make your own peanut butter, which abounded the cyberspace. You see, I had of late became far too suspicious of consuming anything that came wrapped in plastic (hence the foray into bread-making, butter making, ghee making etc, which is yet another post) with unpronounceable ingredients (and in Taipei, literally unreadable) and loaded with preservatives and flavourings. So a 3-ingredient recipe (roasted peanuts, salt, peanut oil) had me sitting up and taking notice.
Now if you have ever read Linda Goodman’s sun signs, as with any Aries girl, to-think is to-do. I lost no time in getting peanuts into a blender, and having a go! My first attempt was a gritty textured butter, from using the wrong blender jar. I also jumped too soon into making a chocolate flavoured, cinnamon spiced butter. The experiment didn’t go down well with The Scientist (my barometer or guinea pig, as he calls it, when it comes to cooking experiments). Not one to give up after one failure, I made another batch. This time “orginal” flavoured. With crunchy apples, hmm, this was snack heaven. Apples were never my favourite fruit, but this combination was delightful, just the right amount of sweet and salty.
I now bravely buy my apples, and they don’t make it to trash, dried and shrivelled up any more. Have you tried PB anytime? Go on then, blend some peanuts, and blend some more, drizzle some peanut oil, add salt, slice up your apples, dip them in, munch, munch, munch…I kid you not. You will definitely convert.