Asian peanut chili sauce is a marvel of global cookery: two New World staples, peanuts and chilies, combined with lime juice and ancient nam pla (fish sauce) in an energetic sauce for dipping or dressing.
Chili peppers and peanuts from the farmers’ market, last July. Here put to good use in an Asian chile/peanut sauce for all seasons. Photos © by Rick Wise.
Peanuts, the main ingredient, are a New World ground nut that wended its way from South America to Africa to Asia and across the Pacific Ocean to North America, embedding itself along the way into the cuisines of all those places. Chilies, also a New World native, had a similar tour around the world, and when it got to Asia and the Pacific Islands, married peanuts in many delicious ways: sometimes with hoisin sauce; sometimes with soy sauce; sometimes with Asian fish sauce. Sometimes the sauce is thin and liquid, with the peanuts coarsely chopped and floating; sometimes it’s a thick puree, more dip like. Almost always some sugar is called for.
- A frolicking celery heart taking a dip in peanut chili sauce. Photo © by Rick Wise
The rendition I settled on is akin to a Filipino sauce used for lumpia, a sort of egg roll wrap. I add no sugar to the sauce; the peanuts are naturally sweet enough for my taste. As either dipping sauce or side garnish, peanut chili sauce can dress up beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables, spring or summer rolls, lumpia, and various other wrapped delights. If you prefer to keep the sauce vegetarian, substitute Tamari soy sauce for the fish sauce.
Makes 2/3 cup
1/3 cup chunky, unsweetened peanut butter
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce, preferably 3 Crabs brand
1/8 cup water
1 clove garlic minced or pressed
2 small dried red chile peppers, crumbled (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until thoroughly blended. Use right away or store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.