Some people, who can’t imagine how anyone got through the fasts before peanut butter, have suggested that George Washington Carver be made an honorary Saint of the Church for his introduction of peanuts into the food mainstream. I don’t think we have such a thing as honorary saints, but I can sympathize. The peanut butter sandwich is the quintessential Lenten fall-back meal, especially where kids are involved.
If you’re willing to look eastward for food ideas, here are a couple of very simple (imitations of) Asian meals using peanuts or peanut butter. The few ethnic ingredients are all available in our local, very middle-American Kroger supermarket, so if you don’t have them they shouldn’t be hard to get.
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Crunchy Peanut Slaw
I’ve seen many good variations on this simple Asian-style slaw. This one takes ideas from a version in Arthur Schwartz’s What to Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat, and from a recipe on The Kitchn blog. (Incidentally, I used to subscribe to a number of food blogs, but over time I’ve narrowed down to just this one, which seems to give me all the good food advice I can possibly use.) It should be obvious that all the proportions are negotiable based on your own tastes.
Shred one medium-size head of green cabbage as finely as you can. The more finely you can slice it, the better; ideally the slices will look like long strings of cabbage.
Finely chop 1 bunch of green onions (scallions), white and green parts.
In a large serving bowl, toss the cabbage and onions together with 1 1/2 cups roasted peanuts.
To make the dressing, combine:
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil+ 1/4 cup sesame oil
- 3 Tbs rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- a pinch of chili powder
- 1/2 tsp finely minced ginger
Mix the dressing well and toss with the cabbage mixture. Sprinkle a few more peanuts on top for looks.
Note: sesame oil has a very strong flavor. If you don’t like it, substitute regular vegetable oil for all or part of it.
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Noodles with Spicy Peanut Sauce
This recipe is for 8–12 ounces of spaghetti. Adjust as needed. The sauce can be whipped up very quickly, and the proportions of ingredients are very flexible: adjust to what suits your own tastes best. You can buy Chinese noodles, but in my opinion they hardly differ from spaghetti, so why not simplify a bit and just use cooked spaghetti?
In a mixing bowl, combine:
- 1/3 cup peanut butter
2 Tbs vegetable oil or sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- A large pinch of cayenne or chili powder
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 large clove garlic, finely minced
With a large spoon, work the ingredients all together until smooth. If it comes out too stiff, add a bit more vegetable oil.
This sauce improves substantially if left to sit for a few hours, but if necessary it can be used right away.
Cook the spaghetti. Dress it with the sauce. Eat!
In Asia, it’s common to eat noodle dishes cold, especially in the summer. Sounds odd to us, but it’s worth trying. Just cook the spaghetti ahead of time, toss with a little oil to keep it from sticking together, and let it cool beforehand.
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I’ve thought about using Spicy Peanut Sauce as a dressing for slaw — a sort of hybrid of these two recipes — but I suspect that, while the slaw would probably taste great, it would look like an unpleasant brown mess, so I haven’t tried that yet.