Hi all! I don't know if you've noticed, but the last two months, Biren and I skipped out on our usual Nona Nona post as we were both chest deep in commitments and distractions. I'm happy to report now, that we've sorted everything out and we're game for another round of brainstorming, cooking and second guessing each other. If you're not familiar with Nona Nona, check it out here. In a nutshell, each month we settle on a theme for a dish and without consulting or discussing, we each decide on a dish that fits the theme.
Neither knows what the other will prepare, until the day of the reveal. It's been incredibly fun and a little nerve wrecking, as the goal thus far has been to avoid preparing the same dish, an ever present danger as we both have very similar cultural and culinary backgrounds, me being a born and bred Singaporean and Biren a transplanted born and bred Malaysian, now happily residing in Minnesota. For a peek at our past Nona Nona features, click here and get up to speed! This month's theme is "Asian Street Snacks" and if you're curious about what Biren has cooked up, her kitchen is this-a-way, but first, on to one of my favourite local street snacks...
Are these peanuts, normally boiled or simmered for up to eight hours to attain the perfect level of mushiness, really as good as I think they are, or do I love them because they take me back to those Thursday evenings when the street we lived on would be transformed by the bright lights and ear splitting noises of the weekly pasar malam (night bazaar))? To nine-year old me, it felt like the world had come to our door step, but for my grandma and mum, it just meant the weekly chore of replacing balding brooms, broken laundry pegs or a leaky pail. A definite highlight of the pasar malam for me, was the boiled peanut cart with the gargantuan wok full of bubbling peanuts. Before I even saw the cart, I could smell the distinctive sweet and mealy scent and see the billowing steam which almost obscured the seller from sight. I still wonder how it was possible that he never collapsed from the heat!
I always brought home a paper cone of them, so huge, I needed both hands to hold it. As we walked home, in virtual blackness punctuated only by the soft light from houses along the way, cricket song (yes, I have a thing about crickets) and crunching gravel and dirt beneath our feet, with our booty securely in one hand, my grandma would take a peanut from the cone, split the shell open and feed me, with the other, and never miss a beat, or drop anything. I'm convinced that she knew magic ;)
Braised peanuts have the kind of face, that as the saying goes, only a mother could love. When raw, their shells are pale and crusted with dirt. Cooking hardly improves their countenance; brown is one of my favourite colours, but is there a less comely shade than that on a slimy, wet boiled peanut? And I, love them! But magic often happens in the most unexpected places. Even simmered with nothing more than salt and sugar, they are transformed into a treat so many times more than the sum of their parts. An unexpected plus with boiled peanuts is that they are more nutritious than their roasted counterparts as the kernels absorb the nutrients from the shell during the long, slow simmer.
The usual flavourings for Chinese braised peanuts are star anise, cinnamon, soy, salt and sugar, with some cooks throwing in a dried chilli or two for an added kick. I have cooked this with all of the above and I have done so with just salt and sugar. Sometimes I add whole unpeeled garlic cloves to the basic salt and sugar duo. They're all good, so it's just a matter of personal taste. I think the garlic,salt and sugar version is the best, so that's what I'm doing today.
So the 64 thousand dollar question (stop trying to guess my age) again - are boiled or braised peanuts everything I think they are, or is my perception coloured by the rosy glow of nostalgia for a simpler, sweeter time in my life? I might concede that it's largely in my head, if it were not for the legions of boiled peanut fans around the world, from the deep south of the United States, to Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Peru, China, Brazil, Nigeria, India..... and still counting! We can't all be blinded by nostalgia, can we?
Chinese Braised Peanuts
Prep 10 mins Cook 6 - 7 hours Serves 4 - 6
500 g (about a pound) green (raw) peanuts or groundnuts in shell, thoroughly washed and drained
2.5 L (about 12 cups) water
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
4 large cloves whole, unpeeled garlic
2 star anise (optional - I didn't include it)
1 stick cinnamon (optional - I didn't include it)
Combine everything in a deep and heavy based pot (to reduce evaporation rate so you don't have to top up with water too often) and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, to ensure even cooking, for at least 6 hours, longer if you like your peanuts really, really soft.
Keep topping up the water, to ensure peanuts are submerged throughout the cooking process.
When peanuts are done to your liking, turn off heat and drain well. Serve warm as a snack at any time, or with beer.
Note : You may also cook this in a pressure cooker. Combine ingredients in pressure cooker pot, increasing the water to 2.8 L (14 cups) and ensuring liquid level corresponds to manufacturer's specifications. Seal cooker according to instructions and set pressure at maximum (for meat). Bring to a boil, until cooker starts hissing or whistling and lower heat according to manufacturer's recommendations. Cook for 1 hour from the hissing stage. Turn off heat and de- pressurise according to manufacturer's instructions. When safe to open pot, open and drain peanuts. Serve warm. This method is not recommended for pressure cookers of a capacity below 8 L.