Summertime is busy time, and that often means eating on the go. Whether you’re at constant baseball games or meeting up for a regular play date, you’re probably bringing food along with you to feed your crew. And there’s no meal that’s as on-the-go friendly as the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
And don’t get me wrong — I love a pb&j. But months of eating anything can get a little old, and this summer, I started to wonder if there was a way to zhuzh up the ol’ standby.
I was actually inspired by a sandwich at one of my favorite places to eat — Green Dirt Farm Creamery in Weston. The restaurant serves as a sort of tasting room for the farm, and all their sandwiches feature their in-house cheese. So color me surprised when I found that they had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on their menu — with the addition of their sheep’s cheese. And cue more surprise when I discovered that it was absolutely delicious.
All summer, I was craving this sandwich, the Fresh PB&J Sammy on sourdough. And while, yes, I stopped in for plenty of the Green Dirt version, I decided to try my own at home with what I had on hand, which was goat cheese. And it opened up a whole new world for me.
The pb&j with goat cheese started being my standard poolside sandwich this summer, and then I started talking to other people about it, spreading the gospel of the pb&j with cheese, and they would share their pb&j innovations with me. You could toast them! Put chips on them! Add bacon! The possibilities were endless.
The pb&j is so nostalgic and, yeah, sometimes, you just want a really basic one on white bread with grape jelly and creamy Jif like you had when you were a kid. But it’s also fun to be playful about it, which is nostalgic in its own way, too — being innovative and doing something a little weird or against the rules, just like when you were a kid.
Here are some ideas to change up your peanut butter and jelly sandwich:
Change up your bread: One easy way to liven up your sandwich is to use different bread. That sourdough you may have learned to make during the pandemic is a perfect bread to use, or you could opt for milk bread, a Japanese option that is fluffier and sweeter than white bread.
Get nutty: While most toddlers would balk at crunchy peanut butter, you’re an adult! You can try new things! If you don’t have the crunchy type on hand, you can also just add peanuts between your layers of peanut butter and jelly to get that crunchy fix.
Toast it: One of my favorite ways to make an “elevated” pb&j is to simply toast it. It’s really similar to grilled cheese — make your pb&j, and then spread some butter on the outside on both sides. Melt some butter in a pan and add your sandwich, flipping once browned. If you want to get really fancy, sprinkle some powdered sugar on before you cut into it. I promise it will be your new late-night craving.
New spreads: You probably already have a go-to jelly for your pb&j (mine is strawberry), but change it up a bit and try raspberry or apricot. Honey is a great addition, too! I’ve also heard ginger or lemon preserves are great, or you could try swapping the peanut butter out for something different nut butter, or even something worldly like tahini, which is a ground sesame seed paste with a similar flavor to peanut butter.
Fresh fruit: This is probably the simplest way to up your pb&j game, since technically, you’ve already got fruit on your sandwich in the form of jelly. Try adding some smashed raspberries or cut strawberries to yours next time you make one!
Add some spice: Putting some spice on your pb&j can add some interest. Sambal, an Indonesian chili paste, is a good option because it lends itself to sweetness, or Sriracha is an easy one since it’s a common fridge staple. I’m also a big fan of gochujang, a mildly spicy Korean paste with a hint of sweetness. It’s best to mix your spice in with your peanut butter before spreading it — it’ll remind you of satay!
Chip in: Probably the wackier idea you’ll see here, and one a toddler would either love or abhor, but chips on sandwiches are a great way to add crunchiness and saltiness to any sandwich — especially the pb&j. Apparently, Channing Tatum loves to eat Cheetos on his pb&j, though I’ve had others tell me they love to add Doritos — both the nacho and cool ranch variety — to theirs, too.
Say cheese: As I said above, you’ve gotta try cheese on your pb&j. I’m a fan of goat cheese, specifically the honey variety, but plain versions or those with dried fruit are great, too. The trick is to set it out for 15-20 minutes before making your sandwich to soften it a bit, so it’s easier to spread on delicate bread. Or you could pick up some sheep's cheese at Green Dirt!
It’s bacon!: Bacon lends itself well to peanut butter because it’s also both sweet and salty. If you’re opposed to adding straight-up strips of bacon to your sandwich, a bacon jam, which you can buy or make at home, is a good stepping stone to getting out of your comfort zone.