Forget peanut butter. There are all sorts of nut butters just waiting for your morning toast. More important, every jar of cashew or pumpkinseed butter is the secret ingredient to thicken your sauce, bring depth to your salad dressing, or turn tortilla chips into fancy hors d'oeuvre.
When my Canadian neighbors migrated home for the summer a few weeks ago, they cleaned out their refrigerator and I acquired a veritable gold mine of nut butters. The next afternoon, I had an open-face white cheddar and sunflower seed butter on pumpernickel sandwich. Since then, I've been incorporating a dollop of those beyond-the-peanut butters in all sorts of recipes. They've become my new secret ingredients.
As a side dish, I've added Nearly Pad Thai to my repertoire. I'll always have a soft spot on my palate for buttered noodles, but bringing the flavors of Pad Thai to my plate in less than 15 minutes is a great way to perk up an otherwise boring dinner.
I start by cooking shallots or onions in butter. I add a little honey, almond butter, Sriracha sauce, and salt and pepper. As soon as those ingredients are sizzling, I add some water and bring the nearly done sauce to a boil. A few minutes later, I add cooked noodles (any flat, fettuccini-shaped noodle will work). A minute of gentle stirring later and they're done. Who says the vegetables can't be on the side, instead of in, the Pad Thai? A similar technique got me a plate of Fiddlehead Ferns in Pumpkinseed Butter.
In terms of salads, my favorite add-in is sesame paste - aka Tahini. A few weeks ago, I wrote about summer rolls, and the radish sprout and lettuce filling has become a plain old salad on my plate. The dressing for that salad is a simple vinaigrette tweaked by the addition of tahini. The dressing has a richness and depth that oil and vinegar alone can't achieve.
When I'm alone at work and get hungry I always face a dilemma. I'm in a kitchen and there are ingredients in the pantry and the refrigerator, but if I cook I have to clean. At AndyFood, cleaning means cleaning and sanitizing to meet health code. That generally translates into me eating an apple and not making a mess. A couple of days ago, when I began to obsess about nut butters, I decided to schmear some cashew butter on a tortilla chip. I topped it with some chili bean paste (any chili sauce will do) and added a dab of orange marmalade. An hors d'oeuvre was born and I had a tasty snack that dirtied just a couple of spoons and a butter knife. That's my idea of simple.
It's always possible that a combination of flavors won't work. I suspect that almond butter won't turn liver into filet mignon, and haggis and tahini won't ever catch on. On the other hand, I'm convinced that most bland vegetables or pasta dishes wouldn't be hurt by teaspoon or two of tahini or cashew butter. Rather that trusting me on this, trust your own taste buds.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.