THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Not really a nut

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Satay pasta. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALI used to have those childhood sandwiches with that creamy spread from the favorite legume of most children, the Arachis genus, the humble peanut, many times a week. I think most of you are aware that the peanut isn’t a nut at all — actually, foods in the nut family like walnuts, almonds and pecans are technically drupes. But because peanuts grow underground and co-exist with nitrogen fixing bacteria in root nodules, they’re even less of a nut than drupes.

The Peanut Butter Sandwich
At the Tatsumoto household, it was only Skippy peanut butter. No Jif, Peter Pan or supermarket brands. And I consumed my fair share until college, when it became apparent that there were two types of peanut butters: those that were shelf stable and didn’t require any mixing or refrigeration and the natural types that required you to mix the oil back into the peanut butter and refrigeration after opening. Why is one product shelf stable? Because the natural peanut oil is removed and replaced with vegetable shortening. Before food processors refined their production of vegetable shortening, half of the fat produced was of the trans fat variety, the worst type of fat you can consume. Even with modern shortening production where the trans fat is almost eliminated, shelf stable peanut butter still contains about three grams of saturated fat per serving, and while saturated fat is better than trans fat, you still want to reduce your consumption of saturated fat. So since my early college days, I usually purchase almond butter in place of even natural peanut butter. However, be aware that recipes for baked goods that require peanut butter usually require shelf stable peanut butter, as the vegetable shortening in the peanut butter produces a different final texture than peanut oil. Why do manufacturers even remove the peanut oil? Peanut oil is a valuable commodity when stir frying as it has a higher smoke point and it also has a neutral flavor profile — just compare prices at your big box stores. Peanut oil costs two to three times more than canola or vegetable oil (when you deep fry a turkey) so the oil is the most valuable part of a peanut.

Whole Peanuts
Despite reducing my peanut butter consumption since childhood, I still enjoy peanuts, albeit in their original form. No, not roasted either, but in the classic Hawai‘i snack form, boiled. And no, these aren’t those mushier, boiled goobers found in the South. Hawai‘i’s version is a little firmer — al dente, if you will, and spiced with star anise and a touch of ginger. When the old Honolulu Stadium, also known as the Termite Palace, was the 50th’s main sports arena, you would always find boiled peanut vendors hawking their bags of warm boiled peanuts kept warm in a converted trash can. A Hawaii Islanders (where Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn got his AAA start) baseball game was never complete without a bag of boiled peanuts.

I tried recreating these by simply simmering the peanuts in the salted and spiced water, but it takes more than an hour of constant simmering and the peanuts can go from al dente to mushy amazingly fast if you aren’t constantly monitoring the texture after the first hour. I even made boiled peanuts while in graduate school for Giants and A’s games, purchasing the raw peanuts from an Asian produce market on Irving St. Of course, I had to discreetly and quickly cherry pick those triplet and quadruplet shells without the cashier noticing as I’m sure I would have been scolded for cherry picking every peanut I purchased — “just use the scoop, never mind picking just the good ones.”

Since then, I’ve always used a recipe that Mom followed, first bringing the water to a boil, covering and turning off the heat for four hours then simmering for the last 30 minutes.

Local boiled peanuts. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

1 lb. raw peanuts
1/4 cup Hawaiian salt
5 pieces star anise
1 thumb sized piece fresh ginger
Several black peppercorns
~10 cups water

Add all the ingredients in a stock pot with enough water to cover the peanuts by two inches. Bring to a boil, cover, then turn off the heat and let sit for four hours. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain and let cool for drier, crunchier peanuts or remove from heat and let sit in the cooking water for 30 minutes then drain for wetter, softer peanuts.

Not for Sandwiches
I still also include natural peanut butter in my diet, though not for those classic peanut butter sandwiches. Because peanut butter plays an integral role in Thai dipping sauces, I use the chunky version, since most Thai dishes also are garnished with ground peanuts — the chunky version simply combines both the peanut butter flavor and the garnish in one. I also use light canned coconut milk, which only contains about one-third the saturated fat as regular canned coconut milk (save your dietary saturated fat for dessert) and because this dish can be served cold, it’s a perfect main or side dish during those dog days of summer. Feel free to add sliced tofu for added vegan protein or shredded or grilled chicken for non-vegetarians.

Satay pasta. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Satay Noodle Bowl
1/2 cup unsweetened lite coconut milk
3 tbsp natural chunky peanut butter
3 tbsp shoyu
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
2 tsp lemongrass paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp garlic-chili sauce
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 packages uncooked soba noodles
2 cups frozen shelled edamame
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
Finely julienne Thai basil

Whisk together coconut milk, peanut butter, shoyu, lime juice, lemongrass, fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic chili sauce and ginger in a bowl until smooth. Set aside.

Cook noodles according to the package directions adding edamame during the last two minutes of cooking time. Drain in a colander. Drain and rinse noodles/edamame under cold water then place in a large bowl. Drizzle with the sesame oil and toss to coat. Add the peanut sauce and toss to coat then garnish with Thai basil. Divide mixture among six to eight bowls.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/ recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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