Peanut butter hero

My roommate asked me yesterday what I did for sauce if I wanted spaghetti in a hurry. I recommended some bastardized form of spaghetti carbonara, which he had never heard of. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around the idea of throwing seasoned raw eggs in with a pot of freshly boiled still hot spaghetti, but decided to give it a shot. With peanut butter, which I don’t think is a bad idea if done right, but I guess he didn’t do it right because he came to me later and said “it feels gross inside.” I asked if he meant it was too heavy, and he replied with “no, it’s just feels gross in my stomach now.”

Peanut butter is so interesting. It’s a comfort food for my husband, who, if I let him, would eat peanut butter and bagel sandwiches or peanut butter wraps three meals a day. I think that’s a bit excessive. I’m not a big fan of peanut butter sandwiches (and peanut butter and jam just makes me want to throw up a little…I don’t know why, but it is not a natural combination for me), but I love peanut butter in curries, noodle sauces, and yes, even with scrambled eggs (my mother makes delicious bhurji– scrambled eggs Indian style, and sometimes she adds a spoonful of peanut butter at the end of cooking. Wow! Great with chapatis.). It’s a very versatile ingredient, great camping food, and so high in protein. I suspect many people (who don’t have severe nut allergies) would argue it is one of the best food inventions since sliced bread, and that may very well be, given how simple, nutritious, and portable it is.

The first time I read about the invention of peanut butter(*1), I think I was about 9 years old. I came across it in a book about…I’m not sure what- either great inventors, or great people of African descent. Either way, I came to the section about George Washington Carver. How cotton crops in the American South were depleting the soil of nutrients, and the yield of cotton was becoming poorer with each planting. How Carver encouraged the poor farmers (I use “poor” in an economic, non-patronizing sense) to diversify by planting legumes, which would reinvigorate their fields with nutrients so they could grow a good crop of cotton later (ie: crop-rotation), and also provide themselves with a nutrient rich food source. I read about how the farmers listened, and grew tons of peanuts, but were pissed later because they didn’t know what to do with all those peanuts. I read that Carver solved this problem by inventing something like 300 peanut derived products, including peanut milk, peanut butter, and shoe polish. Amazing!

This was before the age of the internet, and when I wanted to find out more about this George Washing Carver guy, I could find nothing at the libraries in town and school. I mentioned him to smart adults I knew in the hopes of getting more information, but no one had even heard of him. After awhile, I began to think George Washington Carver never existed, and the book he was in and was just a story book. I was so sad! But, it turns out it’s true. George Washington Carver did exist, and he is a hero to me. Not because I love peanut butter (I don’t- I like it, but I don’t love it), but because of what he did for his people, and the personal obstacles he had to overcome to do so (he was a black man shortly after a time when your worth was restricted to how good a slave you were). I realize I’m rambling, but for some reason the story of George Washing Carver makes the excited 9 year old in me come out (Underground to Canada was one of my favourite books, and I was a bit obsessed with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and anything Black history around that age).

Anyway, I wish to share one of my favourite peanut butter “recipes.” I put recipes in quotation because all of the proportions are very loosely estimated. I never make this the same way twice. But it’s such a quick and easy meal, made with ingredients I almost always have around the kitchen. It’s great hot in the winter, or room temperature in the summer.

Pasta in spicy peanut butter sauce (serves 2-4)

Dry pasta (I prefer fusili or rotini to the other pastas for this recipe, but any shape will do)
1 tbsp oil
1 chopped onion
1 in piece of ginger- minced
2 cups sliced and/or chopped vegetables (I like any combination of peas, carrots, and peppers, but generally I just use what is my fridge)
¼ cup peanut butter
2-4 tbsps soya sauce
2-4 tbsp vinegar (not balsamic)
Crushed dry chillies to taste (or finely chopped fresh chillies)
2 finely minced cloves garlic (or more- I aways opt for more)

Put pasta on to boil, and cook according to package directions. Make about 2 cups worth (cooked).

While pasta is cooking, over medium heat saute the ginger for a minute, then add the onion and cook until onion is translucent. Add the vegetables one at a time, in order of how long they take to cook (ie: carrots first, mushrooms last), and cook until the vegetables are still slightly crisp (or longer if you like your vegetables soft).

Move the vegetables to the side of the pan, and add the remaining ingredients except pasta. Stir until smooth (add a bit of water if it seems too thick), then add the drained pasta and stir gently until everything is well incorporated. Done! If you do end up trying this, I’d like to know what you think.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to research what else George Washington Carver invented out of peanuts.

  1. Peanut butter was originally an Incan invention, but George Washington Carver brought it back to modern times.  It was patented by some dude in 1890, but the patent comes much after Carver’s work popularized it, and apparently Carver refused to patent peanut butter because he believed food products were all gifts from God. Seriously, could this guy be any more awesome?
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