I Can’t Believe It’s Nut Butter

This secret ingredient enlivens vegan cacio e pepe, creamy mattar paneer and more recipes.

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By Tanya Sichynsky

Having a little secret can be exhilarating. A low-stakes one, of the “no one in this room knows I ate cake for breakfast” variety, is fun expressly because it’s inconsequential. Feel mysterious! Hurt no one!

In cooking, a secret ingredient provides me with that sense of mystique. Nothing puts a Cheshire cat grin on my face quite like watching friends and family try to discern what exactly is bringing that lil’ somethin’-somethin’ to my cooking.

Surprise, it’s nut butter! Finely puréed almond, cashew or peanut butter can lend creaminess and nuttiness all at once. And at times they can eliminate the need for additional fats or seasonings — as in Ali Slagle’s kale and squash salad with almond-butter vinaigrette, which I’ve lauded here before.

Alexa Weibel cuts dairy — and corners — by turning to cashew butter in her recipe for vegan cacio e pepe. Against the nutritional yeast and miso in her sauce, the spread simply reads as savory, not overtly nutty.

In Zainab Shah’s mattar paneer (which can be easily made vegan using tofu and cashew cream), using cashew butter means you don’t have to bother blending whole cashews with onions and tomatoes to create a smooth, savory gravy. It’s a welcome shortcut, cutting down the cooking time to less than 30 minutes.

Store-bought peanut butter’s flavor is admittedly harder to hide, though it manages to provide subtle richness to Yewande Komolafe’s spicy peanut and pumpkin soup (and you can watch her make it on YouTube!). Or lean into its unmistakable flavor with savory sauces and sweet treats: Melissa Clark’s vegan peanut-butter-maple ice cream uses only four ingredients, allowing the nuttiness to really shine through.

And while you can certainly pick up nut butters at the store, some are quite expensive. So hit the bulk bin and try your hand at making them at home with one pound of raw nuts, salt and a food processor. Kay Chun’s recipes for roasted almond butter, cashew butter and peanut butter will all last in the fridge for at least three weeks:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden and nicely toasted, about 20 minutes (or 25 for peanuts), stirring halfway through. Transfer to a rack and cool completely, 30 minutes.

Place nuts in a food processor and purée until smooth, about 8 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Season to taste with salt.

Vegan Cacio e Pepe

Go to the recipe.

Mattar Paneer (Peas and Paneer in Spiced Tomato Gravy)

Go to the recipe.

Easy Vegan Peanut Butter-Maple Ice Cream

Go to the recipe.

One More Thing!

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