Nutrition research suggests that nuts are good for your health. Nut butters, or pureed nuts, make it easy to use nuts in cooking. Although peanut butter is a staple in North America, most popular as the star ingredient in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beloved in peanut butter cookies and other sweets, it's seldom used in preparing savory dishes. Nut butters -- including not only peanut butter but almond, cashew, and walnut butters -- are common ingredients in many Asian and African countries, used in a wide array of savory dishes. Nut butters add complex & interesting flavors to dishes, provide body & thickness to sauces, and can be used to replace the dairy fats or other oils in recipes.
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What exactly is the July challenge? The challenge is make a fresh nut butter and to use it in one savory recipe (i.e., not a sweet dessert). You choose the type of nut (e.g., peanuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, etc.). Then puree the nuts into a paste or butter. (Instructions for making nut butters are provided below.) Then use your fresh homemade nut butter in at least one savory recipe. The nut butter challenge was inspired by the article “Better with Nut Butter” by Kathy Baruffi in Cooking Light magazine.
In addition to instructions for making nut butters, we have provided 4 challenge recipes from which to choose: Chicken with Pecan Cream & Mushrooms, Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing, Chicken with Curried Tomato Almond Sauce, and Walnut Walnut White Bean Dip with Rosemary & Sage.
What about dessert? We chose to focus on using nut butters in savory recipes, but we know nut butters make fabulous sweet treats. An extra but optional challenge this month is to use a homemade nut butter in a sweet recipe. The type of nut and the recipe is up to you. Can’t wait to see the results!
Homemade Nut Butters (including almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, peanut, pecan, pistachio, & walnut): adapted from Better with Nut Butter article from Cooking Light magazine online
Chicken with Pecan Cream & Mushrooms: adapted from Cooking Light, October 2002
Asian Noodle Salad: adapted from Thai Noodles with Peanut Sauce from Cooking Light, October 2002
Asian Cashew Dressing: adapted from “Chinese Peanut Dressing” recipe (p. 22) in Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds
Chicken with Curried Tomato Almond Sauce: adapted from Butter Chicken recipe at Food Network online
Walnut & White Bean Dip with Rosemary & Sage adapted from Cooking Light, August 2007
The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.
Posting Date: July 14, 2010
- We had best results making nut butters in a food processor rather than a blender. My basic two-speed, household blender worked fine for soft nuts like pecans and walnuts, but was unable to blend harder nuts like almonds & macadamias. Unless you have one of those high-powered blenders guaranteed to puree almost anything, we recommend using a food processor.
- The four challenge recipes include instructions for making the appropriate amount of nut butter for the particular recipe. If you made the nut butter in advance, substitute the appropriate volume of nut butter for the nuts.
- The yield of nut butter is about half the original volume of nuts. If you start with 1 cup (240 ml) nuts, you’ll get about ½ cup (120 ml) nut butter.
- We have provided recipes for unsweetened nut butters since the challenge is to use the nut butter in a savory recipe. You may sweeten the nut butters as desired for use as a spread or in dessert recipes.
- Despite the name, there is no dairy butter in nut butters. They are essentially pureed nuts, also called nut pastes.
- To use nut butters in sauces as a substitute for heavy cream, first make a nut cream. Whisk the nut butter with about twice the volume of water, adding more water until you reach your desired consistency. For example, start with ¼ cup (60 ml) nut butter with ½ cup (120 ml) water; add more water as needed.
Simple Suggestions for Using Nut Butters:
- sauce for grilled meat or fish
- topping for pancakes or French toast
- dip with apples or celery
- spread for toast or sandwiches
HOMEMADE NUT BUTTERS
- The process for making various types of nut butters is essentially the same. Pour nuts into bowl of food processor. Grind the nuts in the processor until they form a paste or butter. The nuts first turn into powdery or grainy bits, then start to clump and pull away from the side of the bowl, and finally form a paste or butter. The total time required depends on the fat and moisture content of the nuts; grinding time will vary from roughly 1 to 4 minutes (assuming a starting volume of 1 to 2 cups [240 to 480 ml] nuts). Processing times for a variety of nuts are described below.
- You may add oil as desired during grinding to make the nut butter smoother and creamier or to facilitate grinding. Add oil in small increments, by the teaspoon for oily nuts like cashews or by the tablespoon for dryer/harder nuts like almonds. You may use the corresponding nut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like canola.
- The inclusion of salt in the nut butters is optional and to taste. If you make nut butters from salted nuts, peanuts or cashews for example, you will not need additional salt. We recommend making unsalted nut butters for use in the challenge recipes (and other savory recipes) since the recipes call for salt or salty ingredients. You can then adjust the salt to taste. If you are making nut butter for use as a spread, you should add salt according to your preference.
- Roasting the nuts before making nut butters is optional according to your preference. To roast nuts in the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and a shade darker in color. Allow nuts to cool before grinding. Roasted nuts will make butter with darker color than raw nuts.
- It’s helpful to keep in mind that the yield of nut butter is about half the original volume of nuts. If you start with 1 cup nuts, you’ll get about ½ cup nut butter.
- The consistency of nut butters varies from thin & soft (almost pourable) to very thick and hard depending on the fat content of the nut. (See links below for nutrition info on variety of nuts.) Homemade nut butters will probably not be as smooth as commercial products.
- Homemade nut butters are more perishable than commercial products and should be stored in the refrigerator. The nut butters harden & thicken somewhat upon chilling.
- See links at bottom of post for additional information about making nut butters at home.
What variations are allowed:
- We tested the challenge recipes below with particular types of nut butters as indicated in the ingredient list. You are free to experiment with other types of nuts. For example, you may want to substitute walnut butter in the Chicken with Pecan Cream and Mushrooms. You may also substitute the chicken or shrimp in the challenge recipes with your protein of choice.
- If you do not own a food processor or high-powered blender to make your own nut butter, you may complete the challenge with store-bought nut butter.
- Vegans, vegetarians, and those with food restrictions may substitute accordingly in the challenge recipes.
- Homemade Nut Butters: 10 minutes (optional) roasting, 5 minutes preparation
- Chicken with Pecan Cream & Mushrooms: approximately 30 minutes
- Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing: approximately 30 minutes
- Chicken with Curried Tomato Almond Sauce: approximately 30 minutes
- Walnut White Bean Dip with Rosemary & Sage: approximately 10 minutes
Approximate Processing Times in Food Processor for Nut Butters:
- Almonds: form a thick butter in about 2 to 3 minutes for slivered almonds, or 3 to 4 minutes for whole almonds; the skin of whole almonds will leave dark flecks in the butter
- Cashews: form a smooth, spreadable butter after about 2 minutes of processing
- Hazelnuts: form a firm, thick, and grainy butter in about 2 to 3 minutes; to remove the skin from whole hazelnuts, roast in a 400 degree F oven (200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6) for about 5 minutes or till skins loosen, then rub hazelnuts in a clean dishtowel to remove some of the skin; the remaining skin will leave dark flecks in the butter
- Macadamias: form a soft and smooth butter in about 2 minutes
- Peanuts: form a thick, grainy butter in about 2 or 3 minutes
- Pecans: form a very soft, oily, pourable butter in 1 or 2 minutes; the skins give pecan butter a slightly tannic and bitter flavor
- Walnuts: form a very soft, oily, pourable butter in 1 or 2 minutes; the skins give walnut butter a slightly tannic and bitter flavor
- Pistachios: According to the Nut Butter Primer from Cooking Light, pistachio butter is dry and crumbly with a tendency to clump during processing; they recommend combining it with softened cream cheese for easy spreading and report a processing time of 3.5 to 4 minutes. Please note, we did not test pistachio butter.
- Food processor or high-powered blender
- Rubber spatula
- Large non-stick frying pan
- Sauce pan, stock-pot, or Dutch oven for cooking noodles
- Baking sheet or roasting pan for oven-roasting nuts
- Assorted mixing bowls
- Assorted plates
- Tongs or spatula
- Wooden spoons
- Cutting board
- Kitchen knife
Chicken with Pecan Cream & Mushrooms
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe notes: Substitute your favorite pasta or rice in place of the egg noodles. Use fresh rosemary or parsley in place of thyme if you prefer.
3/4 cup (180 ml) coarsely chopped pecans*, toasted
1 cup (240 ml) water
¾ teaspoon (3 ml) salt, more as needed
½ pound (225 g) egg noodles or pasta
4 (6-ounce / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) deglazing liquid (water, broth, wine; optional)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped shallots
½ pound (225 g) mushrooms, sliced
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
Chopped pecans, (optional garnish)
- Prepare pecan cream. Grind pecans in a food processor for about a minute or so until smooth, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed. Add water and 3/4 teaspoon (3 ml) salt; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Set aside pecan cream. (*If starting with prepared pecan butter, blend ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons (90 ml) pecan butter with the water and salt until smooth.)
- Cook noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Drain, rinse, and keep warm.
- If desired, pound chicken to ¼ inch (6 mm) thickness to promote even cooking. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Set aside cooked chicken on a clean plate, cover to keep warm.
- Add deglazing liquid to pan if using and stir up any browned bits. If needed, add another teaspoon (5 ml) of oil (or more) to pan for sautéing the shallots and mushrooms. Sauté the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and starting to brown. Add fresh thyme to the pan. Stir in pecan cream; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 minutes till reduced slightly.
- Slice chicken into thin strips. Divide the noodles among serving plates. Add a scoop of the mushroom pecan sauce on top of noodles. Lay sliced chicken on top. Garnish with fresh thyme and/or a pinch of chopped pecans if desired.
Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew (or Peanut) Dressing
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe notes: Customize the salad by adding or substituting your favorite vegetables. Shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and slivered carrots would make nice additions. Obviously, you can omit the shrimp, or substitute chicken or tofu or the protein of your choice. The dressing is equally as good with peanut butter rather than cashew butter. We tested the dressing with nut butters made from salted cashews & peanuts with good results.
1 cup (240 ml) cashews*
½ inch (1 cm) slice of fresh ginger, chopped
8 cloves garlic, more or less to taste, chopped
½ cup (120 ml) cashew butter
¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) sugar
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) vinegar
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) toasted sesame oil
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon (75 ml) water
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
1/2 pound (225 g) linguine or thin rice noodles
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
1/2 pound (225 g) small or medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into thin strips
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced
1/4 cup (60 ml) sliced green onions
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) chopped cashews (optional garnish)
Lime wedges (optional)
- Make cashew butter: Grind cashews in food processor for about 2 minutes until smooth. (*Or start with ½ cup (120 ml) prepared cashew butter.)
- Prepare cashew dressing: Combine ginger, garlic, cashew butter, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water in food processor or blender. Process/blend until smooth. Be sure to process long enough to puree the ginger and garlic. The dressing should be pourable, about the same thickness as cream. Adjust consistency – thinner or thicker -- to your liking by adding more water or cashew butter. Taste and add your favorite hot sauce if desired. (If the cashew butter was unsalted, you may want to add salt to taste.) Makes about 1 ½ cups (360 ml) dressing. Store any leftover dressing in the refrigerator.
- Prepare noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Rinse and drain noodles. Set aside.
- Heat oil in large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add shrimp to the pan and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes or until opaque throughout. Alternately, cook shrimp in boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes or until done.
- Slice basil into thin ribbons. Combine noodles, bell pepper, cucumber, onions, and basil in a large bowl. Add about ½ cup (120 ml) cashew dressing; toss gently to coat. Add more cashew dressing as desired, using as much or as little as you’d like. Scatter shrimp on top. Squeeze fresh lime juice over salad or serve with lime wedges. Sprinkle with chopped cashews if desired.
Chicken with Curried Tomato Almond Sauce
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe notes: Substitute the protein of your choice for the chicken. This is a smooth sauce, so the onion is removed before serving. If you prefer, dice the onion and leave it in the sauce or substitute a bit of onion powder.
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
4 (6 oz / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt to taste
1.5 tablespoons (20 ml) garam masala seasoning
1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) black pepper
4 tablespoons (60 ml) butter
1 large onion, cut in half pole to pole
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce/425 g) can tomato sauce
⅓ cup (80 ml) almond butter
⅓ cup (80 ml) milk
½ to ¾ cup (120 to 180 ml) chicken broth or water, more as needed
1 cup (240 ml) frozen peas (optional)
Hot basmati rice for serving
Chopped parsley (optional garnish)
Sliced almonds (optional garnish)
- Cook the chicken. If desired, pound chicken to ¼ inch (6 mm) thickness to promote even cooking. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Dice chicken into bite-sized pieces; set aside on clean plate and keep warm.
- Prepare spice blend. Stir garam masala, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper together in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook gently for several minutes to infuse the butter with onion flavor. Keep the heat low to avoid burning the butter; a little color is fine. Add the spice blend and garlic and cook for 1 minute or till fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the tomato sauce, stir well, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Whisk in almond butter and milk until thoroughly combined with tomato sauce. The almond butter is thick so it takes a while to make a smooth sauce. Return to simmer. Add broth (or water) to sauce to reach desired consistency; return to simmer. Add more broth (or water) as needed to thin sauce as desired.
- Remove onion from sauce and discard. Stir frozen peas (if using) into sauce. Transfer sliced chicken to sauce. Simmer gently for a few minutes until peas and chicken are heated through.
- Serve chicken and sauce over rice. Garnish with chopped parsley and/or sliced almonds if desired.
Walnut White Bean Dip with Rosemary & Sage
Recipe notes: Canned beans tend to be salty, so you may not need additional salt. Taste the dip after blending and add salt as needed.
½ cup (120 ml) walnuts*
1 (15.8 oz/448g) can Great Northern, Cannellini, or other white beans, drained and rinsed 1 garlic clove, chopped 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons (10 ml) fresh rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons (10 ml) fresh sage, chopped
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) lemon zest (optional) ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) black pepper salt to taste
- Make walnut butter by grinding ½ cup (120 ml) walnuts in food processor for about a minute until it forms a nut butter or paste. (*Alternately, start with ¼ cup (60 ml) prepared walnut butter.) Add beans, garlic, lemon juice, rosemary, sage, lemon zest (if using), and black pepper to the walnut butter in the food processor. Process the mixture to a smooth consistency. Taste and add salt as desired. Garnish dip with chopped walnuts and/or chopped fresh rosemary or sage, if desired. Serve dip with pita wedges, crostini, or assorted vegetables.
- Here are three links for additional information about making fresh nut butters at home: the Nut Butter Primer from Cooking Light online, India Curry website, and the Cook’s Thesaurus online.
- Click here for a summary of nut nutrition from the University of Nebraska extension. Scroll down the page for a helpful chart comparing nutrition facts for both peanuts and tree nuts.
- Here’s a helpful video on making peanut butter at home in a food processor.
- Here’s a helpful video on making macadamia nut butter at home in a food processor.
- For inspiration on cooking with nut butters, check out these recipes from Futters Nut Butters, a company that sells a variety of jarred nut butters.
The Daring Kitchen and its members in no way suggest we are medical professionals and therefore are NOT responsible for any error in reporting of “alternate baking/cooking”. If you have issues with digesting gluten, then it is YOUR responsibility to research the ingredient before using it. If you have allergies, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure any ingredient in a recipe will not adversely affect you. If you are lactose intolerant, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure any ingredient in a recipe will not adversely affect you. If you are vegetarian or vegan, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure any ingredient in a recipe will not adversely affect you. The responsibility is YOURS regardless of what health issue you’re dealing with. Please consult your physician with any questions before using an ingredient you are not familiar with. Thank you!