Peanut butter’s healthier sibling, almond butter, can give a hint of Thai flavors and provide a protein kick to a mostly vegetable-based meal. You’re probably already sold on the virtues of almonds, but the main reason to add almond butter to a dish is the taste, which adds unsaturated fats for a pleasant texture. This versatile nut butter blends seamlessly with a variety of spicing options.

In curries, I lean towards the smooth and creamy almond butters. However, a chunky one will add crunch and adding almond or peanut pieces alongside the butter can even capture the true feel of a peanut curry. For more, check out these Facts About Almond Butter and try making your own.

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Four tablespoons will usually suffice for a two-person sized curry with relatively large portion sizes, but try working with more or less to-taste. Fresh ground nut butters with no additives are a specialty of many health food stores and even local groceries and will definitely taste the best. If using store-bought almond butter, check the label to make sure no sugar is sneaking into your food without you knowing it, and make sure to use less salt if the butter is already salted.

1. Thai

Heat coconut milk, and then add almond butter and stir until dissolved.  Thai curries shine with bamboo shoots, thinly sliced carrot sticks, fried or steamed tofu, and mushrooms. After the veggies have begun to soften, add lime juice, paprika, basil and shallots. For more inspiration, also try Purple Cauliflower Thai Green Coconut Curry With Carrot Noodles and learn How to Cook Veggies Thai Style.

Next, Add Lemongrass

A more time-consuming but worthwhile endeavor is to steep lemongrass in light, unsweetened coconut milk and strain well before adding almond butter. This aids in cooking the vegetables to pure satisfaction. I typically go for either lime juice or lemon grass, although some recipes do call for both.

2. Chocolate and Almonds

Unsweetened cocoa powder or better yet raw cacao powder, mixes well with traditional curry spices and nut butter. Try cumin, garam masala, curry powder or whole curry leaves, turmeric, garlic and chili in place of a curry mix.

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This works especially well with lentils, rice and vegetables, but also pairs well with broccoli and tofu. Cocoa can also work with other spicing options, like the Ethiopian berbere.

3. Cayenne and Cinnamon

Sweet and spicy, this works for most vegetables, tofu, tempeh or beans. Sautee ingredients first if desired and add water or broth and stir in almond butter until well-blended. Cayenne and cinnamon will be the highlights, but this can also be excellent with nutmeg, ground black pepper and paprika.

4. Ethiopian Spices with a Twist

This is also a sweet and spicy option, but with more flavor notes. Berbere is a popular Ethiopian chili spice blend generally made with fenugreek, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, coriander, paprika and ginger. If not using a blend, I recommend subbing fresh onion, garlic and chilies for the powdered options. Tofu or lentils with your favorite vegetables in this combination of flavors makes for a special treat. Mix almond butter, spices, onions, garlic and chilies into hot water or broth before adding the vegetables, but cook the beans first before adding almond butter, spices and veggies if you choose to use beans. Also try these other fun Ethiopian spices.

5. Bay and Hing with Chickpeas

Often also referred to as asafetida, one of my favorite spices tastes a bit like garlic. If searching for a comparison, it is usually sold cut with flour. The best taste is released by toasting lightly with oil or water, along with red pepper flakes or sliced chili peppers and ginger, turmeric and cumin, before adding the other ingredients. Be careful, because too much hing becomes bitter quickly.

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Cook chickpeas with peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, or any other desired vegetables and add a bay leaf or three and a splash of lemon juice to the pot. Bay works best when it soaks in liquid, but make sure to remove before serving, because while edible, the leaves themselves aren’t exactly delicious. This is an alternative to more typical curry mixes, although these are still relatively common Indian spices.

As you can see, with almond butter this definitely isn’t traditional anymore and should provide a pleasant change of pace.

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Image Source: Mikhall Esteves/Flickr