"The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online."
At first glance, making nut butters don't seem like much of a challenge. Put nuts in a food processor, and blend them. Done. OK.
Second part of this month's challenge: use said nut butter in a savory recipe. Again, doesn't seem difficult. For my first challenge with the Daring Cooks, I was more than a little let down. I mean, Chicken Saté (a savory nut butter application) isn't exceptionally uncommon; most people I know have had it. Although some of the provided recipes looked delicious, and I was really looking forward to trying out a cashew-butter version of peanut (or sesame) noodles, I felt like this one was going to be a breeze.
Holy crap, was I wrong.
In order to elaborate on the EPIC FAILURE of this challenge, let me start by sharing the recipe I was PLANNING to make (as provided from the Daring Cooks forum):
Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew (or Peanut) Dressing
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe notes: Customize the salad by adding or substituting your favorite vegetables. Shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and slivered carrots would make nice additions. Obviously, you can omit the shrimp, or substitute chicken or tofu or the protein of your choice. The dressing is equally as good with peanut butter rather than cashew butter. We tested the dressing with nut butters made from salted cashews & peanuts with good results.
1 cup (240 ml) cashews*
½ inch (1 cm) slice of fresh ginger, chopped
8 cloves garlic, more or less to taste, chopped
½ cup (120 ml) cashew butter
¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) sugar
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) vinegar
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) toasted sesame oil
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon (75 ml) water
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
1/2 pound (225 g) linguine or thin rice noodles
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
1/2 pound (225 g) small or medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into thin strips
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced
1/4 cup (60 ml) sliced green onions
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) chopped cashews (optional garnish)
Lime wedges (optional)
Make cashew butter:
Grind cashews in food processor for about 2 minutes until smooth. (*Or start with ½ cup (120 ml) prepared cashew butter.)
Prepare cashew dressing:
Combine ginger, garlic, cashew butter, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water in food processor or blender. Process/blend until smooth.
Be sure to process long enough to puree the ginger and garlic. The dressing should be pourable, about the same thickness as cream.
Adjust consistency – thinner or thicker -- to your liking by adding more water or cashew butter. Taste and add your favorite hot sauce if desired. (If the cashew butter was unsalted, you may want to add salt to taste.)
Makes about 1 ½ cups (360 ml) dressing. Store any leftover dressing in the refrigerator.
Prepare noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Rinse and drain noodles. Set aside.
Heat oil in large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add shrimp to the pan and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes or until opaque throughout. Alternately, cook shrimp in boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes or until done.
Slice basil into thin ribbons. Combine noodles, bell pepper, cucumber, onions, and basil in a large bowl. Add about ½ cup (120 ml) cashew dressing; toss gently to coat. Add more cashew dressing as desired, using as much or as little as you’d like. Scatter shrimp on top. Squeeze fresh lime juice over salad or serve with lime wedges. Sprinkle with chopped cashews if desired.
So step one: make a nut butter. Great. Only one problem; I don't have a food processor/blender/big smashy rock, nada. Luckily, the challenge does stipulate that one can use a pre-made nut butter in this case. I really wanted to make it myself, but I wasn't about to buy more stuff for my tiny tiny tiny kitchen, with only 3 more months living here. Not gonna happen.
So my next step: find cashew butter. Shouldn't be too hard, right? Yeah... if you can find cashew nut butter in Germany, please tell me where (someone I know finally did tell me, but at that point, I had made my sauce a peanut sauce instead. Bah.) In fact, I just found out TODAY while writing this post (Tuesday) that they don't call it "butter" or "puree" but "mus." Even with that knowledge, I still can't find anywhere online that I can order it.
What else went wrong?
Couldn't find sesame oil, couldn't find cucumbers (!), couldn't find shrimp. Oy.
So what did I do?
Attempt #1: Fail.
Using the above recipe as a loose guideline, I made some modifications. I added coconut milk to make up for the loss of sesame oil - sounds like a weird substitute, but many of the other peanut sauce recipes I found called for coconut milk. Still, every recipe required a food processor, since there's a lot of garlic and ginger, and the whole point is to have a silky smooth sauce to coat your noodles. It allows the flavors to combine more readily, etc etc.
Knowing the whole point of the processing is to allow the flavors to infuse throughout, I had a brilliant idea. I figured I would simmer the garlic, ginger, diced onion and sambal (since it's a bit chunky) in the coconut milk to infuse it with their flavors. Then, I could stir the peanut butter and "teriyaki" sauce I have into the warm milk, which would melt the peanut butter to an easier-to-stir consistency. Genius, right?
WRONG! Two words: EPIC FAILURE. When I added the PB to the warm sauce, it seemed to work... until it didn't. Basically, after a few stirs, my lovely, creamy, organic peanut butter broke into a million pieces, separating the peanutty solids from the oil, and turning a much darker brown than one would reasonably expect.
The best part? I was trying this recipe out for a picnic the next day. A picnic where people paid me to bring food for them so they didn't have to cook. People I had never cooked for, who know I have a food blog, and therefore have high-ish expectations of me. Well, my sense of decency (and pride) wouldn't allow me to serve something that gross looking to anyone (but my husband), so I saved it to try and salvage the next day. In the mean time, I just made another batch of sauce for the picnic, mincing everything as small as I could (no heat this time), and dealt with the fact that it would be chunky. Luckily, it was a hit!
The next night, in an attempt to salvage the disaster, I stirred my broken sauce into some hot egg noodles for dinner. The texture was disgusting looking - oily and chunky, and much darker than any peanut butter based sauce should be - but amazingly it had a great smooth mouth-feel, and the flavors were pretty good. It was even good cold the next day.
Attempt # 2: Win!
At this point, I had been eating peanut sauce for almost a week, but I still hadn't gotten it right. So I decided to try one more time. I looked at the Daring Cooks recipe again, took stock of my pantry, made some (ok, many) modifications, and went back to work. This is what I came up with:
Summer Salad with Spicy Peanut Curry Sauce
Here's what you need:
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2" thick slice of ginger
- 1/4 cup peanut butter (half creamy, half chunky)
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (none of that low fat junk)
- 2 TB red curry paste
- 1 TB wine vinegar
- 2 TB soy or teriyaki sauce (the "teriyaki" I found out here is mostly soy sauce with a little sugar and vinegar in it - no ginger or garlic. Weird.)
- juice of half of one lime
- 1/2 tsp sambal (or hot sauce of your choice), more or less to taste
- 1/2 pound long, thin noodles, cut/broken into 2" long pieces*, and cooked according to package directions
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1/2 zucchini, grated
- 1 small kohlrabi, grated (chop the green leafy parts and throw them in with your cooking pasta in the last 4-5 minutes)
- 1 bell pepper, small dice
Here's what you do:
Note: If you have a food processor, feel free to put all the sauce ingredients in (except the chunky peanut butter) and puree until smooth. Stir the chunky PB in after processing to maintain its chunky texture. If it's too runny, add a little more PB - too thick, add more coconut milk or lime (depending on your taste). If you don't have a food processor, follow these directions:
1. Finely mince your ginger and garlic. Then, using the flat of your blade (or a mortar and psetle if you have it), mash them into a paste. Sprinkle on a little salt to make the going easier. Mix this paste with the rest of your sauce ingredients. If you have time, allow to sit at room temp for about an hour to allow the flavors to meld.
2. Mix your sauce with your warm noodles and grated veggies. You can substitute in any veggies you want - it's a great way to dress up leftovers. Serve warm or cold - either way is awesome.
3. Optional: Add in some stir-fried tofu, chicken, or shrimp that have been marinated in some of the PB sauce, or in a vinaigrette of hot sauce, lime juice, olive oil, sugar, salt, and pepper
Also, this is a great dipping sauce for crudites!
*Final note: Regarding noodles
When I sent my husband to the store for noodles, I said "get some fettucini, or head to the Asian section of the store and pick up rice noodles or some of those ramen style noodles. Just soemthing nice and thin - use your judgement."
Yes, I told my husband - a man who rarely cooks and has to call me at least once every time I send him to the store for something, a man who brought me chives when I sent him out for leeks - I told him to use his judgement.
He comes home and hands me a bag of noodles the likes of which I had never seen before. I think they're called soup noodles out here - thin noodles about 2" long (kind of like what you get in Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup). This is what I get when I asked him for fettucini-like noodles. I say to him (grudgingly) "Well, I'll make them work."
Inevitably, I give him all this crap about his noodles, and what happens? They turn out to be the PERFECT choice! They were the exact length and width of the grated vegetables, and were incredibly easy to eat with a pair of chopsticks.