Great ingredients make for great meals. Whenever you can, use the highest quality supplies for your recipes. The flavor difference will always come through in your finished dish.
If there is an ingredient that you are not familiar with, check our Ingredient section. There are pages and pages of information about the ingredients used in my recipes.
When I was in high school one of the coaches taught a class in health. Even as a teenager I knew that it was pretty sad stuff, with no curriculum, text or tests. He simply rambled for a full year about this and that. Most of it we thought was pretty silly and we were not far from wrong. It was more typical for him to talk about camping or sport and he actually ran a football pool that I am sure that he did pretty well on.
The only thing he said in the whole year that I remember was that if we were stuck in the "the city" with a dollar, we should purchase peanuts as our sole source of nutrition. A buck was a fair amount of money at the time and would have netted a fair amount of nuts. Silly though it may sound, he was probably not far off. Peanuts are rich in protein, carbohydrates, great quality fats and a great calorie per dollar ratio even today.
I love peanuts. There's everything good about them nutritionally, but they also taste fantastic. I keep raw as well as dry roasted peanuts in my cupboard. I don't buy either type salted because I use them in recipes and don't want the added salt in dishes.
Dry roasted peanuts have an intense, more peanutty flavor that works great in dishes. Raw peanuts have a dryer, papery flavor that have a place when you want them to be less dominant for such things as stir frys.
Most peanuts that are available are of one of four types – runners, Valencia, Spanish or Virginia. There is no significant nutritional difference between the four. Runners are mostly made into peanut butter. They are similar in size to Spanish peanuts, but without the brown papery skin. Valencias are grown in Southwest U.S. and are mostly roasted in the shell (ballpark nuts).
The Virginia type are longer and oval shaped. These are the peanuts that I look for when I am shopping. I think they are pretty in dishes and have a great flavor, whether raw or roasted.
The majority of mass market peanut butter sold today is full of additives, mostly salt and sugar. Check the ingredient list, especially on the national brands. There's not much reason for it to say anything but "peanuts." If the label includes salt, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated anything or has added oils, look for another one that doesn't. One of the most widely available unadulderated peanut butters is made by Smucker's and it, like all of the more natural peanut butters, will separate as it sits, with the peanut oil rising to the top, and requires stirring before using.
It used to be rare that one could find fresh ground peanut butter, but it's available at many grocery stores now. Certainly, Whole Foods stores have peanut grinders and most health food stores, but even national grocery chains have gotten in on the act. The best part is that you only have to purchase what you need and the peanut butter is always fresh and fresh tasting.
There are many good peanut sauces on the market and I keep them on hand for evenings when I don't feel like being creative or I am pressed for time (yes, even your favorite chefs keep bottled sauces on hand). They work great in stir frys. Looking for such sauces that you like is a key to eating healthy on a day to day basis, so you always have a back up. While you might have the desire to make a great sauce, the motivation or time isn't always there.
Having one that you like in the fridge can make it so easy to create a great meal. Whole Foods Organic Peanut Sauce is milder (some brands can be very spicy) and one tablespoon contains 1.5 grams of fat with no saturated fat. There is no cholesterol and only 160 mg of sodium.
When choosing any prepared sauce, check the label. Many are very high in fat – as much as 5 grams per tablespoon. Likewise, the salt content can be much higher. For instance, San-J brand is gluten free and has great peanut flavor, but two tablespoons contains almost 700 milligrams of sodium - so any added salt or soy sauce would be too salty for most dishes.
Coach Barfield was probably right: peanuts are one of the best nutritional choices, but even more importantly, they are just one of the best and most delicious ingredients, whether as part of a recipe or for a snack.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
1 ounce peanuts = 161 calories, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 7 monounsaturated fat, 1 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 5 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol