Recipes: The smooth, creamy comfort of peanuts

The word "peanuts" spelled in peanuts. Georgia is the No. 1 producing state. Virginia Willis for The AJC
The word "peanuts" spelled in peanuts. Georgia is the No. 1 producing state. Virginia Willis for The AJC

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Sweet and savory recipes for cooking with Georgia’s favorite nut

Several years ago, I was heading to South Georgia for a food event. It was a warm autumn night, not untypical of the region. As soon as I slowed and turned off of the interstate, I rolled down the windows of my SUV. The bright lights of the I-75 corridor fade quickly once you’re a mile or so from the obligatory conglomeration of fast-food joints and budget hotels. The warm wind whipping in the cab, I slowed my speed and took a deep breath. I was at once hit with the rich, earthy aroma of freshly plowed dirt. Having grown up in the area, I knew instantly the peanuts had been turned in the fields. It was a comforting scent from my childhood and instantly brought a smile to my face.

ExploreBuy This: Three ways to enjoy Georgia’s favorite nut

Brought to the South by explorers from South America via Africa by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, peanuts were introduced to North America as early as the 1600s. Enslaved Africans planted peanuts throughout the southern United States (the word goober comes from the Congo name for peanuts — nguba). Peanuts have long been America’s favorite nut, and Georgia is the No. 1 producing state. The majority of Georgia peanuts are runner peanuts, predominantly grown for peanut butter. Whether peanut butter is paired with jelly on bread or is the star of the show in a cookie, it is a fan favorite. Most households have a jar of it in the pantry at all times.

ExploreThe road to boiled peanut bliss
An Open Faced Peanut Butter Sandwich is a simple pleasure, and most households have a jar of peanut butter on hand. Virginia Willis for The AJC
An Open Faced Peanut Butter Sandwich is a simple pleasure, and most households have a jar of peanut butter on hand. Virginia Willis for The AJC

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

The pandemic, like many things, has altered our relationship with peanuts. In this case, it’s been pay dirt. According to Bob Parker, president and CEO of the National Peanut Board, “In 2020 we saw peanut consumption in the U.S. hit a record high of 7.6 pounds per capita. Working and schooling from home, parents have rediscovered and introduced their kids to their love for peanut butter. It can provide a temporary sense of well-being and, for many, bring back memories of happier times.”

ExploreSpread the word: We're stuck on peanut butter

Many people do not know that peanuts grow beneath the soil and not on trees like pecans, but it’s not as simple as, say, a potato. Technically a legume, not a nut, peanuts are planted in the spring and begin to flower in about 40 days. Once the flowers are pollinated, the petals fall off, and the ovary forms. This budding ovary is called a “peg” and within it is the peanut embryo. The peg forms a stem, grows downward into the soil, and grows into a peanut! From planting to harvest, the growing cycle of a peanut takes four to five months.

March may be National Peanut Month, but as any farmer knows, farming is a year-round business. According to Casey Cox, a sixth-generation peanut farmer of Longleaf Ridge Farms in Camilla, Georgia, the timing of harvest is crucial. There has to be a stretch of dry weather to allow the peanuts to dry in the field. The soil is turned, the plants are separated from the nut, and they are left for two or three days to cure, or dry, before the next step. A hard rain can destroy a crop in a matter of hours. The incredible aroma I had experienced late that autumn evening was during this curing process.

The sandy soil and subtropical climate of Georgia are ideal for producing peanuts. Our hot, humid summers also make peanuts an environmentally friendly crop in terms of water usage. It takes 5 gallons of water to produce 1 ounce of shelled peanuts, making them a sustainable plant-forward protein. (For perspective, it takes a whopping 80 gallons of water for the same amount of almonds.) According to the Harvard Medical School, peanut consumption can be linked to the same heart-health benefits as more pricey nuts.

Both nutritious and filling, peanuts are a go-to in my kitchen. I hope you will go nuts for these modern comfort food recipes: Seedy Flatbread is a twist on the two-ingredient dough internet sensation; hearty and filling West African-inspired Peanut Butter Chicken is umami-packed, creamy, and boldly flavored; and the Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies don’t require any flour! Flour is not quite as scarce as it was a year ago; nonetheless, there is something wonderfully comforting that you can have warm cookies in a matter of minutes. That’s guaranteed to make you smile.

Virginia Willis is an Atlanta-based Food Network Kitchen chef, James Beard Award-winning food writer and author of seven cookbooks. She is also a culinary consultant, including for the National Peanut Board.

RECIPES

Spread some creamy comfort with this trio of very doable and delicious peanut recipes: Seedy Flatbread for snacking, West African-inspired Peanut Butter Chicken for savory satisfaction, and Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies that are guaranteed to become part of your baking repertoire.

Seedy Flatbread provides plenty of flavor at snacktime. Virginia Willis for The AJC
Seedy Flatbread provides plenty of flavor at snacktime. Virginia Willis for The AJC

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Seedy Flatbread

Umami or savory is one of the five basic tastes along with sour, salty, bitter and sweet. Scientifically speaking, it is a naturally occurring MSG that makes flavors craveable. It should be no news that peanuts are naturally high in umami. These simple flatbreads hit all the flavor notes.

Seedy Flatbread
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped (try sweet heat or spiced, too)
  • 2 tablespoons Everything Seasoning
  • 1 cup self-rising flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil or olive oil spray
  • Adjust the rack in the center of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.
  • Combine the nuts and seasoning; set aside.
  • Combine the flour and buttermilk in a bowl. Stir to combine. Transfer to a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Using a rolling pin, and adding flour as needed, roll out 1 piece of the dough until very thin. (Aim for the thickness of a quarter.) Repeat with 1 more piece of dough, reserving the remaining 2 pieces for a second batch.
  • Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven. Working quickly, add the discs of dough to the baking sheet, drizzle or mist oil over each, and evenly sprinkle with 1 heaping tablespoon of reserved seeds and nuts. Return baking sheet to the oven and cook until brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Repeat rolling and baking process with remaining dough. Store in an airtight container for up for 2 days. Makes 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 251 calories (percent of calories from fat, 42), 6 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 10 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 3 milligrams cholesterol, 887 milligrams sodium.
Peanut Butter Chicken has a West African influence. Virginia Willis for The AJC
Peanut Butter Chicken has a West African influence. Virginia Willis for The AJC

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Peanut Butter Chicken

This recipe draws inspiration from a traditional West African chicken stew called “mafé” that often contains sweet potato and greens. I’ve adjusted it into a quick weeknight supper using boneless skinless chicken thighs bathed in a spicy gravy. It’s the indispensable peanut that gives this dish its essential earthy character. Served alongside rice and a steamed vegetable, it makes for a very satisfying supper.

Fresh Scotch bonnet gives it a fruity, floral heat, but if you want to make this a true pantry meal, simply substitute 1 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes.

Peanut Butter Chicken
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced-fat low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/2 Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Cooked rice, for serving
  • Combine the stock and tomato paste in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk or stir until no lumps of tomato paste remain. Set aside.
  • Spray a large (10-12-inch) skillet with nonstick spray and heat over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the skillet and sear until brown on both sides, about 5 minutes total for both sides. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Set aside.
  • Add the onion to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger; cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the stock mixture, peanut butter, Scotch bonnet, coriander and cumin; stir until smooth. Add the chicken and turn to coat in the sauce.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is done and registers 165 degrees when measured with an instant-read thermometer, about 8 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 436 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 44 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 24 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 155 milligrams cholesterol, 362 milligrams sodium.
The third ingredient in Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies can be an egg, or aquafaba (the liquid with canned chickpeas) if you want a vegan version. Virginia Willis for The AJC
The third ingredient in Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies can be an egg, or aquafaba (the liquid with canned chickpeas) if you want a vegan version. Virginia Willis for The AJC

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

Many three-ingredient peanut butter cookie recipes call for 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar and 1 egg. It’s a lot of sugar, and I prefer making them with half the amount. Some recipes also do not recommend using all-natural peanut butter. Well, I say that’s nuts! Lastly, the egg can be replaced with 3 tablespoons of canned chickpea liquid known as aquafaba, making them completely vegan.

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg or 3 tablespoons canned chickpea liquid
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat. In a bowl, combine with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon the peanut butter, sugar, and egg or canned chickpea liquid until well blended. Using a tablespoon, scoop out the dough and roll into balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Using the tines of a fork, make a crosshatch in the top of the dough. Bake until browned and set, about 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet to a rack to cool. (If using the canned chickpea liquid, it is important to let the cookies cool a full 10 minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a rack to cool completely or to eat!) Store in a sealable airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per cookie: 90 calories (percent of calories from fat, 57), 3 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 6 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 55 milligrams sodium.

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