Food & Drink

Savor the rich versatility of nut butters in dinner and dessert

Almond butter lends an earthiness to recipes.
Almond butter lends an earthiness to recipes. Star-Telegram

Once Pippa Murray, who makes and sells peanut butter in the U.K., realized that pesto and her product were practically cousins, her job writing “The Nut Butter Cookbook” became much easier.

She’s first and foremost a food entrepreneur, but writing an entire cookbook about creative ways to use peanut, almond, macadamia, pistachio, walnut, pecan and hazelnut butters revealed to her just how versatile nut butters can be.

“Nut butters always have that question mark of whether it’s savory or sweet, which means they can go either way,” she says.

When developing savory recipes, she thought of dishes that typically included nuts and looked for ways to also incorporate a scoop or two of nut butter that’s either homemade or store-bought.

In addition to recipes, the book offers a guide to nuts (and fake nuts, such as walnuts and peanuts, which are actually seeds and legumes) and their nutrition, including the types of saturated and unsaturated fats found in them.

You find out about how nut butters can add a slow-releasing form of energy to granola, trail mix, muffins, breads, salads and even those savory side dishes, as well as more traditional dessert uses, like brownies or sundaes.

“There’s so much sweet things you can do, but there’s also so much you can do with savory,” she says. For instance, with almond butter, you can add a richness to a soup that has chicken, sweet potatoes and leafy greens. “The almond butter creates a depth of flavor.”

Another example: Adding a scoop of peanut butter to an Asian coleslaw dressing that would otherwise have peanuts gives the entire salad a boost of that aromatic roasted flavor that is usually only concentrated in the nuts.

Nut butters play well with chicken and sometimes pork, but not as often with fish and beef. (Don’t tell that to the fine folks of Sedalia, Mo. The home of the Missouri State Fair used to have a drive-in restaurant called the Wheel Inn that served a hamburger with peanut butter on top called a gooberburger. It was gooey and delicious and remains one of my most beloved flavor memories.)

“There’s lots of weird ways to make it work, but nut butters can also be a subtle ingredient that creates a slightly different twist on something you’ve always made,” Murray says.

If you’re experimenting, steer clear of nut butters and citrus, except for maybe a squeeze of lime on top of a satay or noodle dish. Murray hasn’t found a use for peanut butter on pizza or Italian food other than putting it in a pesto.

Of all the kinds of nut butters you can make, peanut butter has the strongest flavor, so if you’re looking for a more mild earthiness to a dish, consider almond or cashew butter.

All nut butters are packed with protein and vitamins, but they have long carried the label of being relatively high in fat. However, many people have come to realize that our bodies need fat, especially the good fats, and that low-fat foods typically load up on sugar to compensate for the lack of fat and flavor.

Murray says that making nut butter at home allows you to add as much or as little salt and sugar as you’d like, and you can puree it until it is as chunky or smooth as you prefer — or perhaps make some smooth and some crunchy by dividing the batch in half.

Nut allergies are an issue in the U.K. as in the U.S., Murray says. Current research suggests that exposing young children to nuts at an early age might be what keeps them from developing an allergy, and some people who have allergies to one kind of nut might be OK eating a butter made from a seed or legume, such as a roasted soybean.

Peanut butter has been around England for 80 years, Murray says, but they don’t eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “There is a nostalgia for having it for breakfast on toast,” she says. Almond and cashew butters caught on only about three years ago, and now many Brits are putting a spoonful of peanut butter in porridge or smoothies.

“You guys are the forefathers of nut butters,” she says. “But we’re catching on.”

Because of that established artisan nut butter market, including the Boulder, Colo.-based Justin’s and HomePlate, which relocated to Austin last year, Murray doesn’t plan to sell her peanut butter in the U.S., at least for now.

Easy oven-baked chicken satay

Serves 4

“One of the easiest ways to impress your family on a weeknight,” Murray says. “If you’d rather have skewers, just replace the chicken thighs with 4 chicken breasts, cubed and threaded onto skewers (soak the skewers for 20 minutes if they are wooden). The skewers only need 15 minutes in the oven and then a further 5 to 8 minutes with the honey.”

  •  1/2 small bunch cilantro
  • 1 red chile
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 3 heaped tablespoons peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 (3/4-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • Finely grated zest of 2 limes and juice of 1
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 to 8 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin
  • Olive oil, to drizzle
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • Brown rice and/or green salad, for serving

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Put cilantro, stalks and all, in a food processor with chile, garlic, peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, and lime zest and juice. Add a couple of splashes of water and blitz to a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place chicken thighs in a roasting dish, spoon half the satay mixture (reserve the rest in a bowl for serving) over it and coat the chicken well. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until cooked through, drizzling the honey over the chicken 10 minutes before the end of cooking.

3. Once the chicken is golden, take it out of the oven and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve on a bed of brown rice or with a fresh green salad and the reserved satay sauce on the side.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 516 calories, 35 grams fat, 23 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams protein, 118 milligrams cholesterol, 945 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 59 percent of calories from fat.

“The Nut Butter Cookbook” by Pippa Murray (Quadrille, $22.99)

Nutty couscous salad

Serves 4

  • Scant 1 cup couscous
  • 1 stock cube
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, halved and finely sliced
  • Sea salt
  • 5 tablespoons nut butter pesto (recipe follows)
  • 3 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1  3/4 ounces arugula
  • Chopped nuts (to match those used in the pesto), for sprinkling

1. Place couscous in a bowl, crumble in the stock cube and pour 1 cup boiling water over the couscous. Add  1/2 tablespoon olive oil, stir once, then cover with cling film.

2. Meanwhile, fry the red onion in the remaining oil over low heat until completely soft. Season with salt.

3. When the couscous has softened, stir through the nut butter pesto. Add red onion, green onions and arugula and mix. Sprinkle with a handful of chopped nuts to serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 383 calories, 21 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 4 milligrams cholesterol, 324 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.


Almond nut butter pesto

“I keep a stock of jam jars at home to store homemade nut butters and pesto,” Murray says. “You can make this pesto with hazelnut or sunflower seed butters, too.”

  • 1  3/4 ounces Parmesan, grated
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil

Blitz Parmesan, garlic and basil with salt and pepper to taste to form a paste in a food processor. Add nut butter and pulse until combined. Gradually blitz in olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture turns into a rough paste. Store in an airtight container.

Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving of pesto: 75 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 65 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 86 percent of calories from fat.

“The Nut Butter Cookbook” by Pippa Murray (Quadrille, $22.99)

Blueberry and almond breakfast muffins

Makes about 1 dozen muffins

  •  1/3 cup almond butter
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 large ripe banana, cut into chunks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Scant 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 2 1/2 ounces medjool dates, pitted and chopped

For the topping:

  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  •  2/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons seeds, such as sesame, poppy, pumpkin or sunflower

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a muffin tray with muffin liners or squares of baking parchment.

2. Put almond butter, yogurt, banana, egg, vanilla and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until the mixture forms a batter. Stir in flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt until just combined. Stir in blueberries and dates using a wooden spoon.

3. Spoon batter into the muffin liners to about three-quarters full. Sprinkle each muffin with light brown sugar, slivered almonds and seeds. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until cooked, then leave to cool in the trays on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Nutritional analysis per muffin: 257 calories, 10 grams fat, 37 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 34 percent of calories from fat.

“The Nut Butter Cookbook” by Pippa Murray (Quadrille, $22.99)