Don't let life without peanut butter be a downer

Many tasty alternatives are available to anyone trying to avoid peanut butter in snacks or meals. From foreground, cream cheese and jam on crackers, 'Peanut' Noodles using cashew butter instead of peanut butter and fudge made with almond butter.<BR><I>Associated Press</i>

Whether salmonella has them spooked or allergies make them averse, plenty of people are passing on peanut butter.

Peanut butters sold directly to consumers have not been affected by the current recalls. But if you're giving peanut butter a pass, there are plenty of options for making do (or just making lunch) without it.

Here are some simple substitutions that won't leave you feeling like a culinary victim.

PEANUT NOODLES

The gist here is you toss warm noodles with a spicy sauce made from peanut butter, hot peppers, scallions and usually a splash each of vinegar and soy sauce. Some grilled chicken or shrimp often are added for good measure.

If tree nuts aren't your concern (peanuts are a legume, but some people with peanut allergies also have tree nut allergies), cashew butter is the best choice. It is ultra rich and creamy, making it a perfect foil for the other flavors in the sauce.

In a blender, combine 1 cup of cashew butter, 1 teaspoon (more or less to taste) hot sauce, 1 chopped scallion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of rice or cider vinegar and 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Blend well until mostly smooth, then toss the sauce with warm noodles. Add grilled or roasted chicken, shrimp or tofu and garnish with chopped scallions or cilantro. This also is a good dipping sauce for chicken wings or spring rolls.

PB&J

Soynut butters generally taste like they sound. There's probably a good use for them; this isn't it.

Instead, go decadent. Swap out the peanut butter with cream cheese, then add your favorite jam. The result is something that tastes just this side of cheesecake, even more so if you use strawberry jam. This also works on crackers.

And if the very thought of slathering cream cheese fills you with guilt, check the facts. A tablespoon of peanut butter has about 95 calories and about 8 grams of fat; a tablespoon of cream cheese has 50 calories and 5 grams of fat.

But if you're still looking to trim, try Neufchatel cream cheese, a naturally lower fat cream cheese. It has about 25 percent fewer calories and fat grams per serving than standard cream cheese.

SWEETS

Almond and other butters generally can be swapped in baked goods and other sweets. Peanut butter fudge works fine with almond butter. And homemade peanut butter cups could be filled with just about any alternative nut butter.

The caveat is to make sure you stir the nut butters well. Many alternative nut butters separate oil, sometimes considerably. If not well blended, this can cause problems, especially in items such as fudge.

If you take the low-tech approach to this, transfer the nut butter and oil to a bowl and stir well. For better results, do it in a food processor. But don't simply pour off and discard the oil; the recipe will turn out too dry.

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