I don’t know about your family, but in mine, everyone’s happiest with a build-it-yourself meal. When there are choices and everyone gets to “create” their own dinner composition.
And no one is forced to eat cooked carrots, heaven forbid!
All I have to do is provide the building blocks. That’s just one of the reasons this easy peanut sauce recipe is in my emergency dinner bag of tricks.
Especially on a night like tonight when I have several writing deadlines, plus a night class for ski patrol and a new series of cooking workshops I’m launching this weekend at The Jennings Hotel in Joseph.
Yup, this is a dinner 911 situation!
So long as I take 10-minutes to make this peanut sauce, dinner’s going to happen, and then I breathe easier.
Peanut Sauce Possibilities
There are so many ways to go with a tasty, balanced (I have to leave out all spice for the kids, but you can make it four stars if you like) peanut sauce.
Our standard is a pot of boiled soba noodles (or, in a pinch, thin whole wheat spaghetti), steamed vegetables for us and raw for the kids (yes, this also doubles as a way to clean out the vegetable bins. Hello, broccoli stems!).
Add some fresh herbs, lettuce leaves and limes for garnish, plus the omitted sambal oelek for the grownups.
Sometimes, I include a protein, like broiled marinated tofu, leftover sliced beef, pork or chicken. But honestly, this is a meal that centers on the peanut sauce as the organizing principle and doesn’t demand much more than a vehicle for delivering it to your mouth.
Lettuce bundles of cooked ground pork, spring rolls, raw or steamed broccoli… It’s a treat drizzled over steamed rice for lunch, and I love to dip wedges of roasted sweet potatoes in this sauce, too.
Flavor & Texture Balancing
Peanut sauce is simple, but a good one hinges on balancing the flavors and offering a rich sauce that isn’t heavy. I find a lot of peanut sauces are too sweet and others are too thick.
This is rich, tangy and mildly sweet and you control the heat factor. It also has just enough body for dipping but also coats noodles without becoming leaden.
I can’t tell you how many evenings it’s saved me with the peace of mind that when the kids ask, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” I get all smiles and happy sounds in return.
Easy Peanut Sauce
This peanut sauce recipe is one I've memorized to handle ordinary dinner emergencies. It's mild and kid-friendly. (I serve the spicy sauces at the table for parents!) It also works just as well with other nut butters for those who can't have peanuts for one reason or another.
Once you have it made, you can take dinner in so many different directions--from steamed vegetables to chicken skewers. Make a batch as a dip for your next party for spring rolls, grilled shrimp skewers or roasted sweet potato wedges.
- 1-13.5- ounce can coconut milk
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup peanut butter or almond or cashew butter
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce or tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar or agave
- 1/2-1 teaspoon sambal oelek or another fresh chili paste optional
- pinch salt optional
Scoop the coconut cream from the top of the can into a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook just until they become fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add the peanut butter and whisk until it is melted and smooth. Add the fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, and brown sugar and whisk to blend. If using the sambal oelek, add the amount that suits your taste.
Allow the sauce to simmer and taste for a balance of acidity and sweetness. I find a pinch of salt pulls all the flavors together.
This recipe makes 2 cups peanut sauce. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.