Peanut butter (Recipe: African-inspired squash and peanut soup)
For a short time, before The Beatles won my heart, Elvis Presley rock-'n-rolled my world.
Graceland, blue suede shoes, 31 films, 81 record albums that went gold or platinum, the pelvic wiggle that shocked Ed Sullivan, mystical sightings in the supermarket, and a bunch of skydiving look-alikes all became part of our cultural zeitgeist.
For food lovers, however, at least one part of his culinary legacy -- fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches -- ranks high on the list.
Give or take a bit of mechanical assistance, peanut butter is made the same way it's been made for a hundred years -- and the same way you can make it at home. Peanuts are roasted, and then cooled by fans. Rapid cooling stops the cooking, sets the color, and aids in retention of the natural oil. Then the peanuts are skinned by rubbing them together (at home, you can rub the warm peanuts in a clean towel). The kernels are split, the hearts removed and cleaned. After this, the peanuts are ground (commercially this happens in two stages, because a single long grinding would produce too much heat that would adversely affect the flavor). In the second grinding, oil and salt are added to keep the peanut butter from separating.
If you make peanut butter at home, in a small batch in the food processor, plan to use it right away, or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container; you can float a thin layer of oil on top, if you wish. Store commercially produced peanut butter on your pantry shelf for up to three months after opening; beyond that, refrigerate to maintain freshness and flavor. Natural peanut butters that contain no stabilizers should be refrigerated immediately after opening to prevent spoilage.
By law, peanut butter must contain a minimum of 90 percent peanut. What's in the other ten percent can vary. Jif, the most popular supermarket brand in the US, contains an unspecified amount (two percent or less) of molasses, soybean and rapeseed oils, and salt. Whole Foods unsweetened organic peanut butter has no additives, preservatives or salt.
Remember: March 1 is National Peanut Butter Lovers Day.
African-inspired squash and peanut soup
Peanuts were introduced to Africa in the 16th Century, and today many African cuisines include dishes that combine peanuts with squash or pumpkin. This hearty soup serves 10-12.
5 winter squash of mixed pedigree (I usually use a few butternuts, plus acorn, blue hubbard, or kabocha)
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tsp olive oil
8 onions, thinly sliced
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 hot pepper (jalapeño or Thai chile), chopped fine, or red pepper flakes
Large pinch of hot curry powder
3 Tbsp peanut butter, or more to taste
Fresh squeezed lemon juice, kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut the squash and sweet potatoes in large chunks (do not peel), arrange in a large roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast until soft (1 hour, at least). Meanwhile, drizzle a large frying pan with olive oil and cook the onions over low heat until caramelized, 30 minutes or more. Put most of the onions (save enough for garnish) in a large stock pot. Scoop roasted squash and potatoes out of skins and add to pot. Sauté with chopped hot pepper and curry powder. Add enough chicken stock to cover. Bring to a simmer. Add peanut butter. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Process with an immersion blender until smooth.
To fry the sage leaves, heat a couple of inches of peanut oil in a pan. Drop in the sage, a few leaves at a time, and fry for a minute or so until they are crisp but not burned. Remove with a skimmer, and drain on paper towels to remove excess oil.
Garnish soup with reserved caramelized onions and sage leaves.