Asian food takes roasted peanuts beyond sandwiches, cookies and candy
I have loved peanut butter for as long as I can remember, most often as part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cookies. However, if you would have ever told me I would be combining it with soy sauce and pouring it over chicken, I may have raised my eyebrows and asked, "Really?"
As a child, I remember rolling balls of peanut butter cookie dough and carefully pressing it with a fork to get a perfect crisscross pattern. The smell of these baking, and yes, the taste of raw cookie dough before we knew it wasn't good to eat, bring me straight back to my childhood. This, along with peanut butter and homemade strawberry jam, on white bread, of course, waiting for me when I burst through the door at lunchtime, are comforting memories. Not to mention the epic negotiations between my sisters and I on Halloween as we traded our candy loot. I remember being willing to trade two Three Musketeers bars for one Reese's!
According to the National Peanut Board, the peanut plant likely originated in Peru or Brazil, but peanut butter wasn't introduced to the masses until the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. It was an instant hit and served as a source of affordable protein during the first two world wars.
Today, peanuts are the 12th most valuable cash crop in America and half of those crops are used to make peanut butter.
Peanut butter is not as accessible in other countries as it is in the United States. When my sister traveled to Russia a little more than 10 years ago to adopt her daughter, peanut butter was on the items she was encouraged to bring as a gift for those helping her while in the country. They were so excited about the jars of peanut butter coming out of her suitcase, as for them, it was a treat.
As Asian restaurants and recipes have become widely available, I have seen peanuts in the food I did not anticipate. Long gone are the days of thinking of Asian food as only eggs rolls and Chop Suey. Today we are lucky to have access to Japanese, Korean, Thai, and so many others.
While I have seen recipes with peanuts in many different cultures, I have used them most frequently in Thai cuisine.
To my surprise, according to ThaiFoodandTravel.com, "Satay and spicy peanut sauces have become mistakenly identified with Thai cuisine. They actually originated further down the Malay peninsula and in the Indonesian archipelago where they dominate the offerings in food bazaars and street-side stalls as well as in refined restaurants." They go on to note that sauce recipes using peanut butter have been Americanized. In Southeast Asia, when a peanut sauce is made, it always begins with freshly roasted peanuts, which are then ground and simmered with other ingredients to make a sauce.
So, I humbly share with you this recipe for Chicken Kebobs and Peanut Sauce. While it may not be authentically Thai, I still think it is delicious and relatively easy to make.
Chicken breast is marinated with soy, lemon juice and garlic to both tenderize and flavor what is often seen as a type of meat with little flavor itself. I find it best to cut the chicken breast into smaller pieces to provide more surface area for the marinade to impart as much flavor as possible.
While your chicken is marinating, make your peanut sauce. More soy, lemon juice and garlic are combined with half and half, peanut butter, butter, and a little sugar and red pepper flakes to make a creamy, yet tangy sauce. If you don't like spicy food, start with half the amount of red pepper flakes, you can always add more.
When you are ready, grill your chicken kebobs, brushing with a little of the peanut sauce. The meat cooks fast, so before you know it, you have a delicious and very flavorful dinner.
I have also used this recipe as an appetizer by substituting chicken tenders for the chicken breast.
Marinate whole chicken tenders, thread onto skewers and top with sauce. It is the perfect portion and always a hit at parties.
When making this for dinner, be sure to serve it with rice, as the rice will help soak up all of the delicious sauce. Trust me. You won't want to miss a drop.
I still make peanut butter cookies and eat peanut butter and jelly, but this recipe quickly rose to the top of the list of ways to use peanut butter at my house. So, despite the fact I can't say this is an authentic Thai chicken dish, I still maintain it is delicious. Try it!
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.