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Last Chance Foods

The Peanut Gallery

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Every year, the average American eats more than six pounds of peanuts and peanut butter. Lee Zalben, the president of Peanut Butter & Co., believes that the love affair with peanut butter began at an early age for many. “Peanut butter has a very special place in the American psyche,” he says. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are often the first foods that we’re allowed to make for ourselves. It’s the first time we can be an active participant in preparing our food.”

Recently, though, another peanut product has taken center stage—peanut flour. The protein-packed flour is gluten free and works as a substitute for wheat flour in baked goods. Zalben, however, warns that’s it is definitely not a one-to-one substitute. “If you add water to peanut flour, it won’t be peanut butter per se, but it’ll have a little bit of the consistency,” he says.

Instead, Zalben says that many bakers, chefs, and cooks blend peanut flour with corn meal, oat flour, rice flour and other leavening agents to add protein and bulk to recipes. “[Peanut flour is also] a terrific thickener and flavor ingredient for soups, stews, sauces,” he adds. “There are so many different things you can do with it.”

In addition to peanut flour, boiling peanuts is growing more popular in the Northeast. Charleston, S.C. natives Ted Lee and Matt Lee grew up with the Southern tradition of eating boiled peanuts at ballparks and social gatherings. When they first moved to New York City in 1993, few people in the area had ever heard of them.

“We were trying to sell boiled peanuts to New Yorkers,” recalls Ted Lee. “We thought we’d start with the Southern restaurants in New York, and the Southern restaurants hadn’t even heard of them.”

The brothers went on to start The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, a mail order catalog of Southern pantry staples. These days, however, Ted Lee notes that even leading chef April Bloomfield (who come to New York via the U.K.) serves boiled peanuts at The Breslin, one of the city’s most talked-about restaurants.

Zalben and Lee both point out that the experience of eating boiled peanuts reminds eater and chefs alike that peanuts are legumes and not nuts. Once boiled, the nuts take on a bean-like consistency a la steamed edamame. In the South, the raw, green peanuts (preferably pulled straight from the ground) are boiled in water as salty as the sea. Lee says he also came across boiled peanut stands in Hawaii, where the Asian tradition dictates boiling peanuts with star anise.

The recent popularity of peanut flour and boiled peanuts is thanks in part to marketing efforts by the National Peanut Board. Zalben recently worked with the organization and National Peanut Board President Raffaela Marie Fenn to launch the Nutropolitan Museum of Art, a photography exhibit of peanut butter sandwiches on display at a pop-up gallery in SoHo. The board recently launched the site Skinny on Nuts.

Fenn shared the National Peanut Board’s recipe for Hawaiian boiled peanuts, which can also be used to make the Lee Brother’s recipe for peanut soup. Both recipes appear below.

Hawaiian Boiled Peanuts
Makes: 2 cups of boiled peanuts

  • 2 cups green peanuts in-shell
  • 3 star anise
  • 4 tablespoons of Hawaiian salt
  • Water

1. In a large pot, place peanuts, two tablespoons of salt and enough water to cover the peanuts. Soak peanuts overnight.

2. Drain peanuts. Replace in pot. Add remaining salt, star anise and add enough fresh water to cover peanuts.

3. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the peanuts for three to four hours or until the peanuts are soft. Drain the water and remove the star anise. Serve warm or at a room temperature.

From the Lee Brothers’ "Simple Fresh Southern" cookbook:

Boiled peanut lovers often wonder why roasted peanuts hold sway in such a variety of recipes—noodle dishes, desserts, and soups—whereas boiled peanuts seemed to be pigeonholed in the snack category. We make every effort to be contrarian in this regard. Why not show off the bean-like flavor of peanuts, which is virtually obliterated when they get roasted?

This soup marries boiled peanuts with bacon and onion. It’s elegant and soothing, like an English pea soup, and the dash of white wine vinegar livens it up and focuses its flavor.

Boiled Peanut Soup
For 4 people
Time: 30 minutes

  • 1/4 pound slab bacon or 4 slices thick-cut  bacon, finely diced
  • 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 ½ large onions)
  • 3 cups Sunday Chicken Broth
  • 2 cups Boiled Peanuts, shelled
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (from twelve 5-inch sprigs)
  • 1 ½ cups two-percent milk
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Finely ground white pepper to taste

1. Scatter the diced bacon in a 12-inch skillet and sauté over medium-high heat, moving the pieces around with a slotted spoon until the bacon is firm and just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a small bowl. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and discard.

2. Add the onion to the skillet and sauté until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, peanuts, and 2 teaspoons thyme, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer vigorously, uncovered, until the peanuts have slipped their skins and the broth is reduced by one quarter, about 10 minutes.

3. Transfer some of the soup to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth, about 3 minutes. Repeat, processing in batches until all the soup is pureed. Pass the soup through a fine mesh strainer into the pot; you should have about 3 cups. Add the milk and vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Ladle into bowls and garnish each bowl with pinches of the remaining thyme leaves.