It's no wonder that fitness fanatics are usually peanut butter fiends -- unlike eggs, meat or beans, you don't have to fire up the stove to get all the nutty protein and gut-filling fats peanut butter provides. Just pop the top, grab a spoon, and you're growing muscle while fighting fat.
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But just using peanut butter or another nut butter as a spread or in smoothies sells it short. This delicious stuff can be deployed to make sweet breakfasts sweeter, noodle dishes creamier and vegetables protein-packed. Six strategies help you to add peanut butter at every meal for more flavor and good fat.
There are a lot of delicious, nutritious ways to use peanut butter in the kitchen besides spreading it on bread. It's a great replacement for butter, cream or sugar in lots of situations.
Lee Zalben, founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co.
At Breakfast: Swap It for Syrup and Butter
Oatmeal's already a stick-to-your-ribs staple of healthy weight loss, filled with fiber and whole grains that keep you full. To further fend off snacking during the day, give it the PB-and-J treatment, suggested Lee Zalben, founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co.
"It's a great replacement for butter, cream or sugar in lots of situations," he said. Besides using it in oatmeal, Zalben suggested adding a lump to pancake batter. "Add a scoop of our cinnamon raisin swirl peanut butter and some chopped apples, and plain pancakes become kind of cinnamon raisin apple fritters."
Peanut butter or other nut butters can even act as a swap for syrup. Julie Fagan, the food blogger behind Peanut Butter Fingers, said she likes to use them for easy stuffed French toast. To make it, let two slices of French toast cool a bit, then slather peanut or almond butter between the slices and top with sliced bananas, strawberries or other fruit.
At Lunch: Pep Up PB&J … or Try a Peanut Butter Pizza
Reduce sugar and add extra protein to PB&J with ricotta. According to Fagan: "It's one of my favorite sandwiches to pack. Smash raspberries or any kind of fresh fruit, combine it with ricotta cheese, and put it on bread with peanut butter."
Or, she said, make it even more interesting and incorporate vegetables, spices and Thai flavor to create a peanut butter pizza. Simply top a pizza crust with peanut butter, cheese and vegetables commonly used in Thai cooking: bean sprouts, carrots, scallions, broccoli and chili peppers.
At Dinner: Dress Salad, Marinate Meat and Sauce Noodles and Rice
"Peanuts and peanut butter have been used in Asian and Eastern cooking for centuries," Zalben said. As such, heat -- especially red chili flavors -- works well with peanut butter in any context.
For a chili/peanut butter sauce that works over chicken, noodles or rice, he suggested combining a scoop of peanut or cashew butter with some chili paste or powder and a little vegetable oil to thin out the mixture.
Another ingredient that works well: coconut. Zalben suggested mixing light coconut milk with some peanut butter in a rice cooker for Indonesian-inspired rice.
For a peanut vinaigrette that makes salads creamy or works as a marinade or sauce for meat, mix some peanut butter with vinegar and a little water, suggested Phoebe Lapine, one of the authors of "In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes From Our Year of Cooking in the Real World."
"Because nut butters have natural fats, you can thin them without using oil," she said. Lapine's favorite use for peanut butter, though, is the BGSK Peanut Sauce from her website, Big Girls Small Kitchen.
The ingredients are: 4 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced 3 cloves garlic, chopped 2/3 cup sugar 2 teaspoons chile paste 1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter, preferably natural 2/3 cup soy sauce 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar 1/4 cup sesame oil 1 cup water Green parts of chopped scallions or julienne-cut cucumbers for serving
Process the ginger and garlic in the food processor until smooth. Add the sugar to help make it smoother. Add the remaining ingredients, except the water and scallions or cucumbers, and process until smooth. Add the water. If your food processor is small, you may have to do this in two batches. Set the mixture aside for at least an hour to let the flavors meld, or refrigerate overnight. Serve over udon noodles, rice or meat.
Make a Grab-and-Go Snack: Peanut Butter Granola and Granola Bars
Peanut butter is great for binding foods together, according to food writer Phoebe Lapine, and it can be used to create chewy, no-bake granola bars or crispy, baked ones.
To make either type of granola bar, mix together: 1 1/4 cups crispy rice cereal 1 1/3 cups rolled oats 1/4 cup blanched, sliced almonds 1/3 cup peanut butter 1/3 cup oil 1/4 cup honey 1/4 cup brown sugar
For crunchy bars, bake at 350 F for five minutes in a square pan, then slice.
For a crumbly, bag-ready granola, food blogger Julie Fagan mixes 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with 2 tablespoons of honey and microwaves it for about 20 seconds until it melts. She stirs in 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and vanilla extract, then adds 1 cup of oats, stirring until they're coated. She spreads the mixture on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and bakes it at 325 F for eight minutes. Finally, she allows it to cool until it has that granola crunch.