Last year my GI doctor told me to try going off all legumes. Here is why that is horrible news: peanuts are legumes, and the classic PB & J is my all-time favorite food. Well, chocolate chip cookies may be my ALL all-time favorite, but it would be safe to say that PB & J is a staple in our house.
My doctor’s recommendation was bad news beyond lunch–the legume family includes beans and peas. I can forego peas–easily. But I eat beans several times a week. I figured anything was better than my poor tummy hurting all the time though, so I gave it a go.
Rather than giving up my beloved peanut butter, I turned to other nuts butters like cashew, macadamia and almond. All of which are ridiculously expensive. So I figured I would try buying bulk nuts and making my own. Nuts and seeds aren’t indulgent–they are healthy fats that our bodies require to perform, feel and look good.
Here’s is what I discovered: I will NEVER buy nut butters again. I am IN LOVE with the homemade version. The cost isn’t substantially better than store bought because even bulk nuts aren’t cheap, but the flavor is so much better. Also, I can control the salt and oil, and we know how I like to tweak my own flavors, thank you very much.
Making your own nut butter is very easy. Essentially, it involves three steps:
- Buy the nuts (preferably raw).
- Roast them to your preference.
- Grind them to your preferred chunkiness.
- Eat them whatever way you like.
I have a friend who I swear put my almond butter on pickles, and she wasn’t even pregnant. I sampled another friend a jar of macadamia and honey butter to get her feedback and she sent me a video of her spooning it out like it was ice cream.
The great thing about making your own nut butter is that you can tweak it for seasonings. Try kosher salt v. sea salt or table salt; add honey or pure maple syrup, sciracha or chile pepper, cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.
Don’t be shy to use some of these butters in applications you may not have considered before, i.e. as a spread on grilled or roasted meats. Pistachios, walnuts and pecans are especially nice this way.
- Buy your nuts in the bulk section OR find them seasonally at farmer’s markets. Finding fresh nuts makes a world of difference in flavor. Most of us aren’t able to do that, but if you can source just off the tree nuts, kudos!
- Try to buy whole, raw nuts. Don’t buy dry-roasted, since these are already seasoned.
- When you get the nuts home, roast them yourself. Spread them in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Season to your preference with salt, dried herbs or spices. Roast for 10-12 minutes at 350. Just like with coffee, the flavor of your nut butter will vary drastically depending on the depth of your roast. As you become more proficient at making your butters, vary your roasting times to see how it changes your recipe outcome. Let the nuts cool slightly before you process.
- Add any additional flavorings or seasonings before processing so they are fully mixed in. I highly recommend that you taste the nuts you already roasted for flavor. It’s always easier to add than to take away. If you want a swirl effect, i.e. with honey or syrup, add these at the end or stir in by hand.
- Process the roasted nuts in a food processor or blender. I use my VitaMix. Different nuts require different processing times (see footnote below), but expect about 2 minutes.
- I have found it is best to use about 2 cups of nuts at a time, otherwise the machine really has to work hard. Work in batches until you have as much as you require. The whole nuts should keep well in your pantry, so either buy to accommodate what you will use, or store the nuts and make up batches as you go to keep your nut butter fresh.
- The nut butters keep for sometime in your refrigerator, tightly sealed.
FOOTNOTE: processing times
Cashews require about 2 minutes. I am not a huge fan of cashew butter, because it has such a strong flavor and odor. My health-nut friend Deborah loves it, and she has a great point: it is important to mix up your nut intake, so you get a variety of vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids. I manage cashew butter in smoothies with vanilla and cinnamon to balance it.
Almonds– Sliced almonds take a little bit longer to process and may require the addition of a little oil because they are dry. Whole almonds are naturally more oily, and take about 2 1/2 minutes to process.
Almond butter is good in just about everything- it is by far my go-to replacement for peanut butter. In fact, not to be disloyal, but I think I like it even better than PB. It has a wonderful aroma that makes the entire house smell homey and just a little exotic. It pairs well with everything from honey to spice to syrup and brown sugar and sit well on both sweet and savory dishes.
Macadamias– I may occasionally cheat on my almond butter with macadamia nuts. They are wicked expensive but they are Oh. So. Gooooood. Process for about 2 minutes. Because macadamias are high in fat, the butter will be thin. Chill to thicken. Add it to cookie doughs, strudels or donuts, waffles, pancakes, ice cream, chicken, steamed asparagus….I could bathe in this stuff…seriously. Macadamias pair well with everything from chocolate and coconut to berries, herbs like rosemary or thyme and spices like chile peppers and paprika.
Hazelnuts form the base of that classic chocolate dessert spread (Nutella!!). West Coast folks shouldn’t have a hard time finding them fresh in season. You might have to remove the skins. Roast until the nut is shiny, then rub them between a towel and the skins come off. Process about 2-3 minutes. Mix 1:1 with chocolate syrup to make your own spread. Hazelnuts are also delicious in pastry crusts and mixed into sweets like strudels and cinnamon rolls.
Pecans and Walnuts– both of these spreads are great over meats or even mixed into desserts, but are slightly bitter, so not great for sandwiches or toast. They process in 1 1/2 -2 minutes.
Pistachios are awesome as spreads over poultry, pork or meat, especially roasts and kebabs. The finished spread is very dry and crumbly, and it clumps up a lot when mixing. Process for 3 minutes or more. Add oil if you need a smooth result. Or use the dry spread in desserts like ice cream or layered cake fillings. Pistachio marries well with cinnamon, nutmeg and other eastern spices.
Peanut butter was invented in the 20th century and will never (I hope) go away. Process roasted peanuts for about 2 minutes. Peanut butter is lighter than commercial butters. It is also a little grainier–you can add a TB of organic peanut oil to smooth it out.
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