Almond Butter — Off the Beaten Aisle

By: J.M. Hirsch

Most of us have plenty of ideas for using whole almonds. Eat them whole. Bake them into treats. Scatter them over salads or green beans.

But what about almond butter — toasted (and sometimes salted) almonds that have been ground to a peanut butter-like consistency?

After cranking out a few AB&J sandwiches, most people push the jar of almond butter to the back of the refrigerator. Time to pull it forward because almond butter is easy to use in all sorts of delicious ways in numerous cuisines.

Let’s start with the basics. Almond butter is what it sounds like: ground almonds, usually with a bit of oil and salt added for texture and taste.

It's not the same as almond paste or marzipan, both of which are made from finely ground almonds (but with a fair amount of sugar added) and used in baking.

The texture of almond butter is similar to peanut butter (they are jarred the same and sold alongside one another at the grocer), but differ in taste. Whereas peanut butter has a pronounced, well, peanut flavor, almond butter has a richer, creamier taste that is nutty, but (oddly) not distinctly almondy.

Nutritionally, they are similar. Two tablespoons of peanut butter have 188 calories and 16 grams of fat. Almond butter has 202 calories and 18 grams of fat.

There are numerous brands of almond butter, but it’s easy to make your own. Simply grind whole toasted almonds in the food processor until chunky-smooth. You may need a drizzle of canola oil to get the consistency you want. And consider using smoked or tamari almonds for an extra burst of flavor.

Whether you make it or buy it, almond butter can be substituted 1-for-1 in recipes that call for peanut butter. This opens up lots of possibilities.

• Substitute almond butter in chicken satay recipes for a delicious spicy-nutty sauce.

• Use almond butter in place of the namesake ingredient in peanut butter cookies, as well as in peanut butter Rice Krispie treats.

• Whisk together almond butter, rice vinegar, hot sauce and soy sauce for a great dipping sauce for fresh spring rolls.

• Toss warm pasta (spaghetti or soba are great) with almond butter mixed with hot sauce and rice vinegar for easy “peanut” noodles. Garnish with chopped scallions, then eat warm or chilled.

• Use almond butter in place of the tahini in traditional hummus recipes. Garnish with smoked paprika.

Mole-Style Pulled Pork Buns

This blend of Mexican mole sauce and pulled pork tenderloin makes for a crazy-delicious sandwich. The filling also would be good tossed with warm noodles.

Start to finish: 45 minutes (25 minutes active)
Servings: 4
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 2-inch chunks
½ cup smooth almond butter
½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot
½ tablespoon cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup water
Salt
4 sesame-seed burger buns
1 scallion, white and green parts, chopped

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the pork and sear for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Set aside off the heat.

In a blender combine the almond butter, tomatoes, garlic, shallot, cocoa powder, cinnamon, black pepper, red pepper flakes, cloves and water. Puree until smooth, then add to the pork.

Bring the pork and sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork to a large plate or cutting board, then use two forks to pull and shred it. Return the pork to the sauce and stir well. Season with salt.

Divide the pulled pork between the buns. Top with scallions.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 500 calories; 240 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 27 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 75 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 34 g protein; 3 g fiber; 450 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking . He also blogs at LunchBoxBlues.com.

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