The Nuttiness of Natural Peanut Butters: Fad or Fact?

Smuckers, Skippy and Jif – they all have ‘natural’ peanut butters, but are they really natural? What does one qualify ‘natural’ peanut butter as in the first place? Well I’m sure there is some FDA branch who has determined this definition, but I’ll tell you the simplest definition there is going. In my mind, the ingredients label should read ‘peanuts and salt’. That’s all folks.

While at a friend’s house for brunch last week, a jar of Skippy Natural Peanut Butter was placed on the dining table. Being the freak dietitian I am, I hustled on over and read the ingredients list. Look nothing gets this RD more excited than a bomb peanut butter just placed on a brunch spread, but the ingredients need to be right. I don’t care if it has less fat or more sodium or more freaking peanuts, the ingredients list is where it’s at people!

Now that you know, below is THR’s breakdown of ‘natural’ peanut butters hot on the market.

1. Skippy Natural Peanut Butter: FAIL

Image from Google

Image from Google

Ingredients: Roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt

The minute you see ‘oil’ in the ingredient list of any nut butter – go running. Nuts are naturally oily, that is why they are considered a fat. There is absolutely no need to add oil to an already oily product. I don’t care if that oil is ‘natural’.

2. Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter: WIN

Image from Google

Image from Google

Ingredients: Peanuts and salt

3. Jif Natural Peanut Butter: FAIL

Image from Google

Image from Google

Ingredients: Roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt, molasses
*See oil comment above.

There’s countless niche natural peanut butters out there. As a New Englander, I LOVE Teddies. Not living in my area? Hop on over to Walmart, Target or Amazon to purchase your first jar today! But seriously, feel free to experiment. Natural peanut/nut butters have come a long way in the last 5-10 years. They don’t always required heavy stirring and are far from their initial chalky prototypes. So get out there nut lovers and rediscover what it means to eat natural peanut butter!


Red Lentil Cashew Burgers

This recipe gets a mad shout out to Eating Well Magazine. I stumbled upon this recipe a few years back and while it may be a touch labor intensive, I promise you the efforts involved will be rewarded. As I mentioned in last week’s lentil post, cooking lentils can be a bit dicey. This recipe should put your mind at ease if it turns out to be your first lentil cooking experience. Why? You cook the red lentils until the point of mush – failure approved! These burgers are packed with flavor. If you don’t like curry, please select another post to read from the archive (to the right) because that little spice is a big player in this recipe. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short, but full 26 years of life it’s to never force feed people curry…or demand fortune cookies from a BBQ food truck…or start a football tailgate in the parking lot of a zoo. I suppose that’s more than one thing.

Red Lentil and Cashew Burgers are easy to prepare in advance. Frozen in patty form prior to pan searing makes them an excellent freezer staple with no pre-thawing required. I lay out how to make them in advance below the recipe in the notes section. Don’t let that little sweet heart of yours think I am leading you on.

Enjoy these burgers any time of year because no grill is required. Just fresh, honest, whole ingredients are combined to make your diet and kitchen more simplified. Got other lentil ideas? Please leave them in the comment section below.

Happy cooking!

Red Lentil Cashew Burgers

Adapted from Eating Well

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada MS, RD, LDN

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada MS, RD, LDN

Serves 6

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cup peeled and diced carrots, about 3 medium carrots
1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed
3/4 cup raw cashews
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
6 whole wheat pitas
6 cups baby spinach
1 red pepper
1/2  English cucumber, sliced into 1/4 inch half-moons
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine 2 cups water, carrots and lentils in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Partially cover saucepan and simmer until the lentils are tender and falling apart, 12 to 14 minutes. Drain through mesh strainer pressing out any extra liquid with a spatula. Transfer to a plate and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place cashews on prepared cookie sheet and bake until toasted, about 15 minutes or until golden brown. If you can remember, shake pan halfway through baking to get a good toast on the nuts. Set aside and let cool.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada MS, RD, LDN

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada MS, RD, LDN

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, curry powder and the remaining 2 tablespoons water; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pulse the cashews in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the lentils and the onion mixture; pulse until mixture is combined. Transfer to a bowl and stir in breadcrumbs. *See below for blending note.

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Form the mixture into six 1/2-inch-thick patties, using about 1/2 cup for each. Cook 2 to 4 patties at a time until evenly browned and heated through, about 4 minutes per side.

Cut tops of whole wheat pitas off; put a good healthy layer of hummus inside, followed by a cup of spinach, the red lentil cashew burger and slide in english cucumber slices and red pepper strips.


Recipe notes:

Make Ahead: Prepare burgers as directed, stop before pan searing. Wrap ‘raw’ burgers in plastic wrap, place in a freezer bag and store in freezer up to 3 months. When you’re ready to eat them, remove from freezer and once unwrapped, these little guys can go straight into the searing pan! Cooking time will increase by a minute or two per side.

Blending: I only have a small food processor. To accommodate the space issue, I blend the cashews, lentil mixture and onions all separately – I place the three blended parts in a medium-size mixing bowl, add breadcrumbs and stir to combine.

Hummus: I prefer the roasted red pepper flavor for this recipe, but feel free to experiment as you like


Turkey Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Cauliflower

As promised, I present to you a healthy take on an old classic. I think the staples of our childhood kitchens can fall by the wayside when we try to start eating healthier. Beef stroganoff, tuna noodle casserole, chicken divan, and meatloaf are practically taboo in modern, ‘healthy’ households these days. These were foods I was raised on. They elicit fond memories and unadulterated nostalgia. However, in today’s 2014 world, we all know we cannot add Campbell’s Cream of Anything to our nightly entrees without a little saturated fat guilt.

Which brings me to our featured cauliflower recipe. The creation was sparked by my mother a few weeks ago. If you read ‘Crushing on Cauliflower’ last week, you know whipped cauliflower was a mashed potato substitute in our house some 10 years ago.  She asked if I thought said cauliflower would work on top of shepherd’s pie in place of mashed potatoes. Let me tell you, there’s never been a food science question thrown at me I won’t attempt to tackle. This baby was born not 2 weeks after that 15 minute phone conversation.

I am not saying all good things must be destroyed in order to make them healthier. I enjoy the challenge of healthfully adjusting recipes in the kitchen – make it taste good, look good, and most importantly, feel good. That’s not a crime. I also find it thrilling to try new things for the first time while cooking for others. Shoot, my eggplant osso buco didn’t turn out? Oh, did you say it tastes like tire rubber? Thank you! Now then, where can I get my hands on a Dominos menu and who will be running out to purchase the beer to help drown my shame?

I decided to make this dish for some friends during New England’s 3,307th snow storm this year. Instead of lugging the perishables around town, I took a cab straight to my evening kitchen. En route to the destination, my cab driver asked what was in my grocery bags. I think it was ‘Hey, what are making you for dinner tonight little lady?’ After I bit my tongue in resentment for the somewhat sexist comment, I informed him I was making Shepherd’s Pie…with turkey…and whipped cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. This 5’10″, 200-something pound man rolled his eyes as if seeing the top of his cab would be a crime if he didn’t indulge the desire. His verbal response was, and I quote, ‘Oh God, their poor souls. They [my dinner guests/ginny pigs] are going to be so mad at you!’ I paid the fair, tipped appropriately, exited the cab and got to work.

Needless to say my cabi was W.R.O.N.G. This pie is good. I mean darn good. I made it for the male population and these boys were practically licking their plates clean after supper. I would never lead you down the wrong path. Try this beauty and let its traditional simplicity amaze you.

Side bar on this one – photos were taken using my iPhone because my Cannon battery decided to die with unapologetic urgency.

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Cauliflower

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Serves 6-8
*See bottom of post regarding recipe notes

2 medium heads of cauliflower, chopped into small floweretts
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 cup shredded asparagus
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup canned corn, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper*
¼ cup ketchup
1 pound ground turkey breast
4 cups chicken broth, divided
1 Tablespoon flour
¾ cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit

In a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, cook to soften for about 5 minutes. Stir in carrots, asparagus and cook for another 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook until fragrant (~2 minutes). Add ground turkey and cook until lightly browned, breaking up the turkey during cooking. Fold in peas and corn. Add herbs, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper; heat through. Stir ketchup and cook until lightly caramelized, about 1-2 minutes. In a small separate bowl, whisk together 1 cup of chicken broth and flour, pour into skillet and cook for another 2 minutes until juices have thickened. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 pan.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Meanwhile, in large saucepan heat remaining 3 cups of chicken broth and cauliflower over medium-high/high heat. Broth should nearly cover the cauliflower, if it doesn’t, add water until it does. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until cauliflower is soft*. Drain excess fluid, reserve about 1 cup of fluid in case needed to thin whipped cauliflower. Place cooked cauliflower in a food processor and puree. Drizzle in ~1 Tablespoon of olive oil, pulse to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper. If too thick, add reserved broth here until desired consistency is achieved. This step will take about 20-25 minutes, feel free to make whipped cauliflower prior to starting the turkey layer.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Spread whipped cauliflower over turkey mixture in baking dish. Top with shredded cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese has melted and turkey mixture is bubbling around the edges. You may need to broil for ~5 minutes if you want cheese to brown depending on your oven.

Cut pie into pieces, plate, serve and enjoy!

Recipe Notes:

*Crushed Red Pepper: add as much or as little as you like depending on your desired level of heat.

*Whipped Cauliflower: When I write ‘soft’, I mean soft. At this point you can practically mash it with a fork. Paragraph two under the directions is how I make whipped cauliflower as a side dish. However, in addition to the cauliflower, I add a few peeled cloves of garlic during the boiling process and puree them with the cauliflower to add extra flavor.