At my church there is a program called Meals for Moms. Whenever a new mom has a baby, church members sign up to provide a week's worth of food for the family. This allows the new family to have one less thing to worry about during those trying first few months of parenthood!
I've been signing up to cook for moms for over a decade. Through the years, I have settled on several dishes that are healthy, easy to make in bulk, and store well for a week - dishes like Taiwanese meat sauce over rice, tea eggs, three cup chicken, bok choy, and Korean spinach salad. Occasionally, I'll throw in something fun, like Totoro eggs for my Totoro-obsessed friend or fancy chocolate for someone with a sweet tooth.
One of my close friends in Boston has become my most trusted partner in executing all of this. Every time a new mom has a baby, she emails me and asks, "want to sign up? which week works for you?"
Throughout the past decade, we've worked out a great partnership. She's a great sous chef and is awesome at prepping the ingredients (and often helps me shop for them, since she has a car!). I do some prep but focus on executing latter steps, like stir frying, simmering, and, in general, overseeing the burners on the stove. We usually get together and spend 2-3 hours chatting, chopping, and cooking. It works out great, and we've been able to make food for so many moms.
Recently, my good friend had her first baby.
Of all the people at our church, she most definitely deserves having someone cook food for her, considering the countless meals she has prepared for others. I was the first to sign up, and I made many of the same dishes we had always made together. This time, however, I snuck in something new.
Ironically, she had given me a couple bag of raw peanuts several weeks back.
"I don't know what to do with them."
"Nahh . . I don't even like those peanuts that much. You can have them."
I do love aromatic soy braised 5-spice peanuts. It was always my mom's signature dish that she brought to potlucks back when I was a kid. I love snacking on them at restaurants, and I've always wanted to learn how to make them. Finally, because I was handed two bags of raw peanuts, I had no excuse NOT to try making my favorite peanut snack.
They turned out great!
I knew my friend had told me she didn't really like the boiled peanuts, but I snuck a small container-full of them in the big bag of food I had packed for her.
The next day she texted me a photo of her plate, piled high with the food I had made her.
"Dinner! Thanks! :-). I even like the peanuts . . ."
Yay! I was thrilled.
These peanuts are indeed delicious and downright addictive. Definitely monitor the texture of the peanuts and stop cooking them when they reach a consistency you like. I tried making them in a pressure cooker, but in the end I found those peanuts to be too mushy and that I preferred the stovetop version. Perhaps if I tweak the pressure cooker times, I'll come to some happy medium. For now, I know this method works, and it's fantastic!
Chinese Braised Peanuts
1 ½ - 2 lbs raw peanuts
2 star anise
2-3 dried chili peppers
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons rock sugar
2 teaspoon 5-spice powder
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
8 cups water
Combine all ingredients in a large pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, and then bring down to a simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours, until peanuts are soft. Strain peanuts from the braising liquid, set aside, and let cool.
To serve, toss with chopped cilantro and optionally dress with a bit of sesame oil.
This makes a pretty big portion. You can freeze peanuts in zipper bags and defrost them in portions for snacks. I found this to be a great way to keep them around for a much longer period of time without fearing that they would go bad.