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.

I have to admit, I was pretty stoked when I read about this month’s challenge. I am a huge fan of almond butter and manage to figure out a way to get in a tablespoon or two everyday – whether it be in my morning bowl of oatmeal, a smoothie, or a sandwich. Despite my great love of almond butter (and for that matter, peanut butter), I have never managed to venture out beyond those two household staples, and was thrilled that this challenge would finally make me do just that.

So what do you need to know about making your own nut butters at home? Here are a few of the great pointers provided by our hosts:

  • The process for making various types of nut butters is essentially the same. Pour nuts into bowl of food processor. Grind the nuts in the processor until they form a paste or butter. The nuts first turn into powdery or grainy bits, then start to clump and pull away from the side of the bowl, and finally form a paste or butter. The total time required depends on the fat and moisture content of the nuts; grinding time will vary from roughly 1 to 4 minutes (assuming a starting volume of 1 to 2 cups [240 to 480 ml] nuts).
  • You may add oil as desired during grinding to make the nut butter smoother and creamier or to facilitate grinding. Add oil in small increments, by the teaspoon for oily nuts like cashews or by the tablespoon for dryer/harder nuts like almonds. You may use the corresponding nut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like canola.
  • The inclusion of salt in the nut butters is optional and to taste. If you make nut butters from salted nuts, peanuts or cashews for example, you will not need additional salt.
  • Roasting the nuts before making nut butters is optional according to your preference. To roast nuts in the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and a shade darker in color. Allow nuts to cool before grinding.
  • Homemade nut butters are more perishable than commercial products and should be stored in the refrigerator. The nut butters harden & thicken somewhat upon chilling.

For this challenge we were to make our own fresh, homemade nut butter and then use it in at least one savory recipe. Four savory challenge recipes were provided for us to choose from and there was also an optional challenge to include a homemade nut butter in a sweet recipe of our choice. With a fridge stocked full of various nuts and the desire to try as many nut butters as I could, I made a total of four dishes that incorporated some type of nut (or seed) butter.

For the savory challenge recipe, I chose to make the Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing.

I was not disappointed – the cashew dressing component of this recipe is absolutely amazing! In an effort to not just eat the leftover dressing by the spoonful, I used it over the next day or two in every way I could think of until the last drop was finished. The leftover cashew butter that didn’t make its way into the dressing found its way into my morning bowl of oatmeal and provided a nice change of pace from the usual almond butter.

For my next nut butter adventure I decided to try another savory recipe using a different type of nut butter. Our hosts provided us with a link to recipes using nut and seed butters from Futters Nut Butters for further inspiration. I visited the site and found a recipe for a Walnut Hummus that sounded too interesting not to try.

For this recipe I made a roasted walnut butter to use in the hummus recipe. I decided to serve the hummus in bite sized cucumber cups with crumbled walnuts sprinkled on top. The combination of cucumbers and hummus was quite refreshing and served as a perfect snack for a hot summer day. I will definitely be hanging on to this recipe for future use. Once again, any remaining nut butter went into the next day’s morning bowl of oatmeal.

For the optional sweet recipe I tried out the Maple Pecan French Toast recipe from the Go Dairy Free cookbook by Alisa Marie Fleming (the recipe can also be found in Vegan Bites by Beverly Lynn Bennett).

For this recipe you essentially soak your bread in a homemade pecan cream (that is sweetened with maple syrup) for about 1-2 minutes before cooking. For the french toast topping I macerated some strawberries with maple syrup. The end result was delicious, but a little heavy on the maple syrup flavor. If I were to do it again I may opt for a non-maple syrup topping so that the pecan flavors could come through a little more.

For my final recipe I went back down the savory route and tried my hand at Roasted Wasabi Chickpeas.

I had been wanting to try this recipe for awhile but didn’t have any tahini on hand or enough sesame seeds to make my own.  I decided to make my own roasted sunflower seed butter and use it in place of the tahini called for in the original recipe.

You can view the recipes for most of these dishes after the jump.

Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew (or Peanut) Dressing
Asian Noodle Salad: adapted from Thai Noodles with Peanut Sauce from Cooking Light, October 2002
Asian Cashew Dressing: adapted from “Chinese Peanut Dressing” recipe (p. 22) in Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds
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.

Cashew Butter:
1 c (240 ml) cashews*

Cashew Dressing:
½ inch (1 cm) slice of fresh ginger, chopped
8 cloves garlic, more or less to taste, chopped
½ c (120 ml) cashew butter
¼ c (60 ml) soy sauce
3 T (45 ml) sugar
3 T (45 ml) vinegar
3 T (45 ml) toasted sesame oil
¼ c plus 1 T (75 ml) water
Hot sauce to taste (optional)

Noodle Salad:
1/2 pound (225 g) linguine or thin rice noodles [I used soba noodles]
1 T (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 [I used mushrooms and bean sprouts]
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced
1/4 c (60 ml) sliced green onions
1/4 c (60 ml) chopped fresh basil
1 T (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.

Walnut Hummus
adapted from Futters Nut Butters

Walnut Butter:
1 c roasted walnuts
canola oil (optional)

1/3 c walnut butter
1 garlic clove, quartered
1 14-ounce can chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 t orange zest
1/4 c orange juice
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper

Make walnut butter: Preheat oven to 350F. Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and lightly browned (be sure to stir the nuts once or twice to prevent burning). Allow nuts to cool before grinding. Grind walnuts in food processor until smooth. You may add canola oil in small increments (about 1 teaspoon at a time) to facilitate grinding.

Make hummus: Combine garlic, chickpeas, orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper in in food processor, add walnut butter and continue to blend to an even, smooth consistency. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Roasted Wasabi Chickpeas
adapted from Dairy Free Cooking

Sunflower Seed Butter:
1/2 c roasted sunflower seeds
1-2 T olive oil

Roasted Wasabi Chickpeas:
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
1 T olive oil
2 T wasabi powder
2 T mustard powder
2 1/2 T sunflower seed butter
1 t arrowroot powder
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t garlic powder
pinch of cayenne
1 1/2 t salt

Make sunflower seed butter: Preheat oven to 350F. Spread sunflower seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-10 minutes (be sure to stir the seeds once or twice to prevent burning). Allow seeds to cool before grinding. Grind seeds in food processor until they have formed a powder. With the processor running, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and continue processing until smooth. Check the consistency and, if needed, add additional oil in small increments until desired consistency is reached.

Make the roasted chickpeas: Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

Toss the chickpeas with the olive oil, spread them out evenly on the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, or until the chickpeas are golden and crisp, stirring every 10-15 minutes to prevent them from burning. Remove the chickpeas from the oven and turn up the heat to 400F.

While the chickpeas are roasting, mix together the remaining ingredients until they form a paste.* Mix the hot chickpeas with the paste, re-oil your baking sheet if necessary, and place the chickpeas back on the pan, returning them to the oven for about 30-35 minutes. Stir the chickpeas every 10 minutes to prevent burning, and remove when lightly golden and crisp [you may not need the full 30 minutes]. Add additional salt if desired. Let the chickpeas cool completely before eating. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

*Depending on the consistency of your sunflower seed butter you may need to add water in small increments until you are able to form a paste.

To get the additional savory challenge recipes and to see all of the other creative nut butter dishes head on over to The Daring Kitchen!