Oh, dear. I’m sorry I didn’t stop by to say hello yesterday. It was an awful day, and I was in no shape to string together words in a coherent fashion. Instead, I went for an after-dinner bike ride, watched a sweet and slightly sappy movie called Not Since You, and I made peanut sauce for dinner.
We should talk about the peanut sauce.
On the issue of peanut sauce, my position is that every cook who claims to like peanut sauce ought to have her own signature version of it. I feel the same way about salsa too, by the way, and chocolate cake. I love the idea of signature recipes for the same reason that I love it when other people cook for me: I feel like it’s a window into what makes them happy and what pleases their palates. I’m not a big fan of people labeling something the “best” this-or-that because I feel like it fosters an annoying sense of competition among cooks. Can’t we just see life like the giant potluck it is, and everybody can just bring something they love to share?
An eternity ago, I shared “my” peanut sauce recipe on this site, and I shared it mostly in the hope that you would be inspired to try the salad in which I use the peanut sauce as a dressing. Oh man, I love that salad so much—just thinking about it makes me want to hike to the grocery store for some salad greens, a handful of radishes, and a few potatoes. The dressing is a deep savory number, a dance of salt and umami with the richness of peanut butter. It has just a touch of sweetness, but it’s not a sweet dressing. It’s quite different from the peanut sauce that I made yesterday, but because I have a cosmopolitan tongue, I like them both. (Ooh, I like that idea. Rather than having favorite recipes for everything, I can just declare myself a cosmopolitan foodie with a libertine tongue!)
Last night, I came home from my exhausting day knowing that I wanted to make something good for dinner, something that involved a green vegetable. I had two heads of broccoli rolling around in the produce drawer, hanging out with a package of tofu that was waiting so patiently for its turn on the dinner table. And for elusive reasons, I was craving Melissa Clark’s peanut sauce, and a plan for dinner was hatched: roasted broccoli and tofu on rice, topped with creamy spoonfuls of peanut sauce. It had all the elements of a good vegetarian dinner. Green vegetable? Check! Protein? Check! A tasty carbohydrate? Check! Something to tie everything together into a meal? Check!
And so began a relaxing session of kitchen therapy. I got the rice going first, using my favorite oven-baked version. Then I prepped the broccoli and tofu, cutting them both into large, bite-sized chunks and seasoning them with salt, pepper, and a generous splash of olive oil. I chose to roast the broccoli and tofu because I find it so much easier than pan-frying them on the stovetop. Plus I was already using the oven for the rice, so I’d be able to get more bang for my buck in the oven.
Finally, while the rice et al. were cooking or cooling, I made the peanut sauce. Whereas my old peanut sauce recipe is salty and savory, Melissa Clark’s peanut sauce is sweet and bright with ginger and coconut. The peanut sauce accompanies a story about making crispy fried tofu, but honestly, the tofu part didn’t work out for me. It’s probably because the pan I was using was too small to accommodate an entire block of tofu, but still, I find myself unmotivated to make it again. Maybe crispy tofu isn’t my thing? I rather like the soft, lightly browned tofu pillows that roasting can yield, and like I said, roasting is so easy, whereas pan-frying feels fiddly and fussy to me, at least when it comes to tofu.
Finally, all the separate parts were finished, and I assembled my bowl of rice topped with tofu, broccoli, and lots of peanut sauce. After the requisite food-photography-in-anticipation-of-blogging, I realized I forgot the radishes. Radishes are terrific with peanut sauce! They should not be forgotten! So I sliced up a radish, added it to my bowl, and dinner was served.
(See? No radishes! Shameful!)
I imagine you could take the peanut sauce in any number of directions: peanut noodles, a dipping sauce for crudités, a salad dressing if thinned with some water, soy sauce, and/or rice vinegar. You could use it as part of a wrap, layering it with seasoned tofu or tempeh, lettuce, shredded carrot, and cucumber. Really, a good peanut sauce is like a gorgeous scarf in your wardrobe—it can make lots of dishes sparkle, but it can’t carry the meal for you. You need something underneath it to provide the bulk for a proper meal.
Whew! I do go on and on. Let’s cut to the recipe now, shall we? Okay!
Sweet and Gingery Peanut Sauce
Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark
I’ve made this peanut sauce twice now. The first time, I followed the recipe exactly as written, but last night, I took some liberties to use what I had on hand. I’ll make some notes in the recipe below to indicate what I’ve tinkered with (and had good results!), but I do want you to know that the original recipe, without my meddling, is awesome.
1/3 cup natural peanut butter (I use crunchy)
2 tbsp. coconut milk (I’ve used 2 tbsp. of thick, full-fat coconut milk, and I’ve also used 3 tbsp. of thin, “light” coconut milk)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2-inch-thick coin of fresh ginger, chopped (I’ve also used 1/2 tsp. ground ginger here. The fresh ginger is much stronger and hotter, but dried ground ginger will work too.)
1 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (optional—I’ve left this out)
2 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. hot sauce (I use sriracha)
2 tbsp. water, or to taste
1) Throw all the ingredients except the water into a food processor. Buzz to smoothness, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides. Add the water to thin the sauce to your liking. I find that it’s very thick without the water, and adding some water helps to make a sauce that’s more sauce-like and less pudding-like.