Once Pippa Murray, who makes and sells peanut butter in the U.K., realized that pesto and her product were practically cousins, her job writing “The Nut Butter Cookbook” became much easier.
She’s first and foremost a food entrepreneur, but writing an entire cookbook about creative ways to use peanut, almond, macadamia, pistachio, walnut, pecan and hazelnut butters revealed to her just how versatile nut butters can be.
“Nut butters always have that question mark of whether it’s savory or sweet, which means they can go either way,” she says.
When developing savory recipes, she thought of dishes that typically included nuts and looked for ways to also incorporate a scoop or two of nut butter that’s either homemade or store-bought.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
In addition to recipes, the book offers a guide to nuts (and fake nuts, such as walnuts and peanuts, which are actually seeds and legumes) and their nutrition, including the various types of saturated and unsaturated fats found in them.
You find out about how nut butters can add a slow-releasing form of energy to granola, trail mix, muffins, breads, salads and even those savory side dishes, as well as more traditional dessert uses, like brownies or sundaes.
“There’s so much sweet things you can do, but there’s also so much you can do with savory,” she says. For instance, with almond butter, you can add a richness to a soup that has chicken, sweet potatoes and leafy greens. “The almond butter creates a depth of flavor.”
Another example: Adding a scoop of peanut butter to an Asian cole slaw dressing that would otherwise have peanuts gives the entire salad a boost of that aromatic roasted flavor that is usually only concentrated in the nuts.
Nut butters play well with chicken and sometimes pork, but not as often with fish and beef. (Don’t tell that to the fine folks of Sedalia, Mo. The home of the Missouri State Fair used to have a drive-in restaurant called the Wheel In that served a hamburger with peanut butter on top called a gooberburger. It was gooey and delicious and remains one of my most beloved flavor memories.)
“There’s lots of weird ways to make it work, but nut butters can also be a subtle ingredient that creates a slightly different twist on something you’ve always made,” Murray says.
If you’re experimenting, steer clear of nut butters and citrus, except for maybe a squeeze of lime on top of a satay or noodle dish. Murray hasn’t found a use for peanut butter on pizza or Italian food other than putting it in a pesto.
Of all the different kinds of nut butters you can make, peanut butter has the strongest flavor, so if you’re looking for a more mild earthiness to a dish, consider almond or cashew butter.
All nut butters are packed with protein and vitamins, but they have long carried the label of being relatively high in fat. However, many people have come to realize that our bodies need fat, especially the good fats, and that low-fat foods typically load up on sugar to compensate for the lack of fat and flavor.
Murray says that making nut butter at home allows you to add as much or as little salt and sugar as you’d like, and you can puree it until it is as chunky or smooth as you prefer – or perhaps make some smooth and some crunchy by dividing the batch in half.
Nut allergies are an issue in the U.K. as in the U.S., Murray says. Current research suggests that exposing young children to nuts at an early age might be what keeps them from developing an allergy, and some people who have allergies to one kind of nut might be OK eating a butter made from a seed or legume, such as a roasted soybean.
Peanut butter has been around England for 80 years, Murray says, but they don’t eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “There is a nostalgia for having it for breakfast on toast,” she says. Almond and cashew butters caught on only about three years ago, and now many Brits are putting a spoonful of peanut butter in porridge or smoothies.
“You guys are the forefathers of nut butters,” she says. “But we’re catching on.”
Because of that already established artisan nut butter market, including the Boulder, Colo.-based Justin’s and HomePlate, which relocated to Austin last year, Murray doesn’t plan to sell her peanut butter in the U.S., at least for now.
Easy oven-baked chicken satay
Pippa Murray writes: One of the easiest ways to impress your family on a weeknight. If you’d rather have skewers, just replace the chicken thighs with 4 chicken breasts, cubed and threaded onto skewers (soak the skewers for 20 minutes if they are wooden). The skewers only need 15 minutes in the oven and then a further 5 to 8 minutes with the honey.
Recipe from “The Nut Butter Cookbook,” by Murray (Quadrille, $22.99, 160 pages).
1/2 small bunch cilantro
1 red chili
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 heaped tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
One 3/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
Finely grated zest of 2 limes and juice of 1
6 to 8 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin
Olive oil, to drizzle
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Brown rice and/or green salad, for serving
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the cilantro, stalks and all, in a food processor with the chili, garlic, peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger and lime zest and juice. Add a couple of splashes of water and blitz to a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken thighs in a roasting dish, spoon over half the satay mixture (reserve the rest in a bowl for serving) and coat the chicken well. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season. Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until cooked through, drizzling the honey over the chicken 10 minutes before the end of cooking. Once golden, take out of the oven and sprinkle over the sesame seeds.
Serve on a bed of brown rice or with a fresh green salad and the reserved satay sauce on the side.
Blueberry and almond breakfast muffins
Makes about 12 muffins
1/3 cup almond butter
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 large ripe banana, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Scant 2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup blueberries
2 1/2 ounces medjool dates, pitted and chopped
For the topping:
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2/3 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons seeds, such as sesame, poppy, pumpkin or sunflower
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a muffin tray with muffin liners or squares of baking parchment.
Put the almond butter, yogurt, banana, egg, vanilla and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat well until the mixture forms a batter. Stir in the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt until just combined. Stir in the blueberries and dates, using a wooden spoon.
Spoon the batter into the muffin liners to about three-quarters full. Sprinkle each muffin with the light brown sugar, slivered almonds and seeds.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until cooked, then leave to cool in the trays on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.
Almond nut butter pesto
Pippa Murray writes: I keep a stock of jam jars at home to store homemade nut butters and pesto. You can make this pesto with hazelnut or sunflower seed butters, too.
From “The Nut Butter Cookbook,” by Murray (Quadrille, $22.99, 160 pages).
1 3/4 ounces Parmesan, grated
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 cup basil leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons almond butter
5 tablespoons olive oil
Blitz the Parmesan, garlic and basil with some salt and pepper (to taste) to form a paste in a food processor. Add the nut butter and pulse until combined. Gradually blitz in the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture turns into a rough paste. Store in an airtight container.
Nutty couscous salad
Scant 1 cup couscous
1 stock cube
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, halved and finely sliced
5 tablespoons nut butter pesto (see recipe below)
3 green onions, finely sliced
1 3/4 ounces arugula
Chopped nuts (to match those used in the pesto), for sprinkling
Place the couscous in a bowl, crumble in the stock cube and pour 1 cup boiling water over the couscous. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil, stir once, then cover with cling film.
Meanwhile, fry the red onion in the remaining oil over a low heat until completely soft. Season with salt.
When the couscous has softened, stir through the nut butter pesto. Add the red onion, green onions and arugula and mix. Sprinkle over a handful of chopped nuts to serve.