- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Many of our holidays are linked with traditional foods, but somehow President’s Day, a fairly recent invention, has yet to receive its official culinary emblem.

I’d like to nominate the peanut to such status, and not just because former President Jimmy Carter was raised by a peanut-farming family.

The link between peanuts and presidents goes back further than that. Williamsburg has been known for centuries not only as the center of American Colonial culture, but also as a thriving peanut-producing area.

Thus, the food we associate with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is also one we grind into butter and spread on bread with a bright-colored jelly or, better yet, one we can cook into a rich, flavorful soup that will keep us warm and happy during the bleak February chill.

Serve this satisfying soup with brown basmati rice, grilled chicken or tofu and spinach sauteed in garlic-spiked olive oil.

Or just serve it by itself for a perfect lunch.

Whatever you do, please don’t skip the banana topping, strange though it may sound. It is truly transcendent, if not habit forming.

Curried peanut soup with banana topping

4 cups water

1 cup best-quality smooth unprocessed peanut butter

2 tablespoons light-colored honey

1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil

2 cups finely minced onion

2 tablespoons minced or crushed garlic

2 teaspoons salt (less, if peanut butter is salted)

3 tablespoons minced or grated ginger root

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Cayenne, to taste

2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

Banana topping (recipe follows)

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Place peanut butter and honey in medium-size bowl. Add 2 cups boiling water and mash with a spoon until it becomes smooth. Whisk in remaining 2 cups hot water and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven. Add onion, garlic, salt and ginger root.

Saute over low heat for about 10 minutes, then add cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cumin, dry mustard and cayenne to taste.

Continue to cook and stir for 5 more minutes, adding remaining 1 tablespoon oil if onion starts to stick.

Stir in peanut butter mixture and cover. Bring to a boil, then turn heat all the way down and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare banana topping. Just before serving, heat soup again, if necessary, and whisk in room-temperature buttermilk.

Taste to correct salt and cayenne and serve immediately, sprinkle with banana topping.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

BANANA TOPPING

3 medium-sized unripe bananas (about 2 to 3 days away from ready to eat)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons peanut oil or canola oil

A pinch or two of cinnamon

A dash of salt

Peel bananas and slice at 1/4-inch intervals. Place in a shallow dish and drizzle with lemon juice. Let stand about 10 minutes.

Heat oil in a medium-sized heavy skillet. Add bananas, including all the lemon juice, and saute on each side for about a minute.

Dust lightly with cinnamon, sprinkle with a little salt, stir gently and remove from heat. (Don’t worry if banana slices lose their shape.) Serve over curried peanut soup.

To contact Mollie Katzen, visit her Web site www.molliekatzen.com.

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