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Why Marcus Samuelsson Thinks Peanuts Are The Most Versatile Ingredient - Exclusive

chef Marcus Samuelsson with giant peanuts
chef Marcus Samuelsson with giant peanuts - Static Media / Shutterstock

When Americans think of peanuts, we almost instinctively go to peanut butter, particularly the quintessential peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While peanut butter and jelly is delicious, peanuts have much more to offer. Chef Marcus Samuelsson recently partnered with the National Peanut Council and created a peanut-themed pop-up menu at his Marcus Bar & Grille restaurant in Atlanta. Everything contained the legume, right down to a PB&J old-fashioned. In an exclusive interview with Samuelsson we spoke about what made him want to take on this challenge and why he feels peanuts are the most versatile ingredient.

Samuelsson states, "It was a really interesting challenge ... but we had a lot of fun with it." He was inspired by how many different ways peanuts can be used, musing on their versatility, particularly the contrast between their extreme crunch and complete creaminess once made into nut butter. He also put thought into how best to utilize peanuts' high levels of protein and fat in his special menu.

One example the chef gives is the vegan peanut butter waffles made for the pop-up event. Initially, he and his team set out to use peanut butter as an interesting flavor element. But with some experimentation, they found this surprising fact: "Putting peanut into the waffle gives you a whole other texture too, that makes the waffle both crispier but also creamier in a way."

Read more: 25 Most Popular Snacks In America Ranked Worst To Best

Look Internationally For Peanutty Pleasure

vegan peanut curry stew
vegan peanut curry stew - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Regarding the wide variety of possible uses for peanuts, Marcus Samuelsson says, "You have to think broader." He explains, "In Africa, for example, we use peanut butter a lot when we cook sauces. We think about it as a butter and we thicken our sauce. In Ghana, it can be a chicken stew thickened with peanut butter. In Senegal, you have mafe. You have these great dishes where peanuts are not just a side or a snack. They're integrated into the sauce." And that isn't where it stops; around the world, peanuts are used extensively in noodle dishes and with meat. "Chili, garlic, and peanuts work great in a noodle," says Samuelsson, going on to cite Southeast Asia -- in particular, Thailand -- as places where you can get great sautés with peanut dipping sauces.

Incorporating peanuts into a dish doesn't have to be complicated, either. Some basic ideas even start with that traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Samuelsson says, "[When making a] peanut butter sandwich, whether it's with bananas, or jellies, or whatever you add in, sometimes I add in apples for my son to get that nice crunch." Adding such a twist can help open up a world of opportunity for the humble peanut.

Samuelsson's Marcus Bar & Grille pop-up ended on Sunday, October 15. To keep up with Marcus Samuelsson's latest projects and future events, follow him on Instagram.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.