Remember, pre-Whole Foods, when there were health food stores? Shops, usually on the small side, that carried unusual things you didn’t see in the regular grocery stores like countless bulk bins of oats, nubby whole wheat flours, nuts and everything “chocolate” was actually made from the always disappointing carob. You were sure to see some tie dye, several pairs of Birkenstocks and a machine that ground peanuts into fresh peanut butter was tucked in a corner. In my younger days, freshly ground nut butters fell squarely into that “good for you” category which was an automatic strike against it’s character (refer back to carob). I never cared much for it and the requisite oil slick on top then but I’ve come to the realization that the Skippy of my youth is no longer my favorite. (Except for peanut butter cookies. Nothing makes a better cookie than creamy Skippy.) These days, I actually seek out these machines and now I even grind my own nut butters. Whoa. I’ve come a long way baby.
Ages ago, my friend Mark of From Belly to Bacon (check it out – he does really cool stuff) casually mentioned how good kaffir lime leaves were ground into homemade peanut butter. It was a casual, off-hand comment but I’m certain I stared at him blankly like an idiot for a few beats. Of course! Lime leaves and peanut butter – what a perfect combination! All the flavors I love from Thai cuisine, ground up into a delicious paste. The idea lodged itself permanently in my brain. Good ideas are like that; they stick around until the time is right.
Months passed. Maybe even a year or two. I found lime leaves at my local Thai grocery just for this purpose but didn’t make peanut butter. I made other things, namely red curry, but no nut butters. There was no good reason I didn’t do it but I still kept that idea filed away.
Earlier this summer, I was wandering through the greenhouses at a favorite garden center and while looking at the various citrus trees on offer, I casually asked if they ever had kaffir lime trees. I rather fancied myself with my own kaffir lime leaf tree. The response was rather lukewarm – sometimes, but not often, I was told. Something about citrus infections and shipping issues, blah, blah, blah. I asked them to call me when the next shipment came in and left with zero expections that I’d receive a call.
Several months later, to my surprise, the call came. My tree had arrived. An hour later and 30 bucks lighter, I happily drove my little lime leaf tree home. It now perfumes my living room with its heady scent, enjoying a productive little life on a sunny windowsill. I’ve made endless curries with the abundant leaves but now was the time to revive that peanut butter idea.
If you’re not familiar with the lovely, distinct flavor of kaffir lime leaf, also known as Makrut lime, Thai lime and wild lime, seek it out. I know it from primarily Thai food, red curries being a favorite, but you’ll see it all manner of Southeast Asian cuisines. The fragrant leaves are typically simmered in a sauce lending a heady aroma and flavor but it also goes very well with dark chocolate. You can often find the leaves in small packets in Thai produce markets but I’ve occasionally seen them in Indian produce markets as well. Sometimes you might find them in the freezer section of these markets, which makes an ok substitute but fresh is definitely best. If you like the flavor as much as I do, consider buying a tree. All you really need is a sunny window and an organic spider mite spray. I bought mine at Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago but there are several mail order suppliers out there.
So back to the peanut butter. Into my VitaPrep blender, I tossed some roasted salted peanuts, both coconut oil and cream, garlic chile paste, a dollop of honey and a finely diced lime leaf or two. After a really good buzz in that crazy blender, what emerged smelled heavenly. A combination of an old childhood favorite and a really good Thai meal. I immediately spread some on a cracker and laughed with delight. This was not the peanut butter and triscuits of my childhood. This was sophisticated and delicious. And very lime-leafy, which I loved. I found it got better and better as it aged and the flavors became more pronounced.
I ate quite a bit on crackers as it made such a lovely snack and even tried a sandwich. Not my favorite but a good effort. I added a spoonful to a stir-fry sauce and a little to some buckwheat noodles, which were both quite good and a great shortcut to add a lot of flavor with minimal effort. Then I whipped up the easiest satay sauce ever by thinning with some coconut milk to create a dippable consistency. It made a quick weeknight chicken satay dinner mostly effortless, because we all know the skewers are just a vehicle to shove more peanut sauce in our mouths anyway.
Now, I will admit the insanely powerful and just as insanely expensive VitaPrep blender was pretty key in achieving the smooth texture I desired, just like those grind-your-own machines. But a food processor would work too, just be diligent in scraping the bowl to get every bit. And I suppose you could go really old school and use a mortar and pestle. If you do, let me know how that goes. Depending on what method you choose, you may have to play with the levels of coconut oil/coconut cream to get the texture you prefer.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: ALL GROWN UP I love this. I’ve made it twice in the last month. On a cracker or added to a sauce as a flavor boost, it reminds me a little of those shortcut “simmer sauces” big food companies advertise. Thin it with coconut milk for that instant satay sauce I mentioned or use it as the base for a soba noodle bowl. The flavor can’t be beat. Or even better, use the idea as a jumping off point to create your own flavored nut butters. What about chile lime, 5-spice, or go the Middle Eastern route with sumac, thyme and sesame? The possibilities are endless.
Six years ago: Squash & Onion Tart, Lattice Love, Lessons in Pie Crust, Cucumber Kimchi
Five years ago: Radishes, Butter, Sea Salt, Roasted Beets w/Whipped Goat Cheese, Sauteed Beet Greens, Homemade Chicken Pot Pies
Four years ago: Concord Grape Pie & Purple Cow Pie Shakes, Simple Apple Cake
Three years ago: Kale & Squash Salad
Two years ago: Muhammara – the best sauce you’ve never heard of, Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes
Last year: Seeded Crackers, Sherry Candied Walnut Salad
THAI LIME LEAF PEANUT BUTTER
Makes about 2 ½ cups
Note: coconut cream is a thick, unsweetened coconut product found in Thai markets. It is not the sweetened coconut cream you’d use for cocktails. If you can’t find it, use the thickened coconut paste that settles in the bottom of the unsweetened coconut milk could work.
2 ½ cups roasted salted peanuts (12 ¾ ounces)
2 Tablespoons coconut oil (maybe more if needed)
¼ cup unsweetened coconut cream (not Coco Lopez)
1 Tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons minced kaffir lime leaf
1 ½ teaspoon Thai chile paste with garlic
- In the workbowl of a food processor or a high powdered blender (ie VitaMix), finely grind the peanuts, scraping the bowl often.
- Add the coconut oil and continue to process until well blended; the mixture will be quite soft at this point.
- Add the honey, coconut cream, lime leaf and chile paste and process to blend; the mixture should tighten up at this point. NOTE: the texture should be fairly soft and spreadable at this point and will set up a little bit in the refrigerator. If it seems too hard, add a little more coconut oil, maybe just a teaspoon but avoid adding too much.
- Transfer to a storage container and keep in the refrigerator. The peanut butter will keep for quite some time, 1-2 months refrigerated.