Nancy Hinton (Food writing 2006)
I’m in a peanut state of mind. I regularly go through love-in phases with various foodstuffs, often in synch with the seasons, sometimes just out of the blue. These days I’m nuts about peanuts. I am constantly craving them as a snack, and feeling very inspired to incorporate them into my cooking.
I grew up on peanut butter, but somewhere amidst all the excitement of my teen age years, I forgot about it. I rediscovered peanuts around 1994 when satay was all the rage. One day, I was making satay sauce, and started dipping into the peanut butter; I fell in love all over again. Wow, so good.....the memories flooded back.
Me and peanuts go back a long way. Beyond the peanut butter sandwiches in my lunchbox, BBQ peanuts were one of my favorite things as a kid. I always brought a stash with me to summer camp to make up for the terrible food there, but unfortunately soon learned that the raccoons enjoyed them as much as me. I spent much time and energy plotting and scheming to keep my sacred peanuts away from my new enemies. I would leave the less interesting bits from my care package, such as granola bars, lying about, but would wrap my peanuts in layers of bags, inside boxes, hidden in a locked suitcase, and tied to the roof of the tent. The damn buggers still managed to get to them, always leaving the blasted granola bars untouched, arg!
Blast ahead a decade or so, and its the 90’s , I’m being influenced by the “fusion” trend, I go on to dabble in different ethnic cuisines, and uncovered new ways to cook with peanuts. How fantastic they were toasted in a Thai salad, how fine a marriage they made with shrimp, chilies and coriander, how fabulously strange they were in African peanut soup... our relationship grew. But there would be a break-up down the road.
You see, around the same time, peanuts were slowly being shunned from the modern kitchen as the frequency of deadly allergies mounted. No matter that peanut oil made the best fries, actually the crispiest fried anything, it had to go. For years, I fried in canola oil, and now way past the peanut, I drizzled cold-pressed walnut oil or hazelnut oil into my preparations.
Until very recently, I had forgotten how delicious toasted peanut oil is on a green that can stand up to it, with a squeeze of lime or a splash of sherry vinegar. Now that just as many other allergies are a part of the game, and the peanut is not the only villain, I guess we can invite them back into the kitchen, albeit with a little caution.
And that is a good thing. Peanuts are nutritious, packing a good amount of protein, good unsaturated fat, .....
In fact, peanuts are a legume.....
And just plain addictive.
The other day, deep in the middle of my peanut rage, I happened to be in a long line at Canadian Tire when a peanut craving struck, and lo and behold, there they were, little packets of Planters next to the lighters and keychains for 99 cents. Before the thought that I don’t trust big food manufacturers registered, I had already gobbled them down. When my brain caught up, still in line, I got to reading the label, whoa! Since when did peanuts need so much help? There were 20 odd additives present, this and that, I suppose to keep them crunchy, keep them from going rancid, pump up their umami, who knows.....
Ingredients: Peanuts, salt, potato starch, sugar, monosodium glutamate, tapioca dextrose, autolyzed yeast, cornstarch, spices, hydrolyzed plant (soy) protein, smoke flavor, hydrogenated soybean oil, onion powder, garlic powder, monoglycerides, BHT, BHA, propyl gallate, citric acid, tri-calcium phosphate, (may contain other nut types).
Outrageous! You don’t need all that crap if they’re fresh, only a bit of heat, a bit of salt..... Au naturel en vrac at Ahkavan or from a health food store, that’s the way to go. But honestly, do go ahead, and try them again – you’ll see.