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Homemade: Peanut Sauce

November 30, 2011

I’m a peanut sauce convert. There I said it.

It’s true, I never liked peanut sauce.

It probably has to do with the fact that my mom always served peanut sauce with boiled vegetables, i.e. the popular Indonesian dish gado- gado. C’mon, do boiled vegetables sound appetizing to you? I didn’t think so. To my 8-year-old self, gado gado’s only saving grace was the crispy shrimp crackers (krupuk) crushed and scattered atop this mound of rubbery greens.

Peanut sauce plus boiled vegetables=Gado-gado

In the U.S., however, it seems people don’t have such prejudices and just about everyone is enamored with peanut sauce. This fact is, of course, reflected on the menus of Southeast Asian restaurants all across the country. Without fail, you’ll find Swimming Rama (the Thai version of gado gado) on page 1 or 2, and if you look a little further down you’ll find the ubiquitous satay (grilled skewered meat) accompanied by its faithful companion–peanut dipping sauce.

Heck, even my husband adores peanut sauce!

Thankfully, I have seen the light in recent years. My peanut sauce awakening came in the form of a soba noodle salad tossed with a peanut dressing singing of ginger and rice vinegar. This was when I decided I could like peanut sauce after all. A quick call to my mom and a few days later I was making peanut sauce from scratch.

Many peanut sauce recipes start with peanut butter as a shortcut. Not for me. In fact, I’m so dead serious about making it from scratch I pass on the food processor and grind the peanuts using pure muscle power instead. (Ok, ok, so our food processor is in storage).

Indonesian cuisine has a dizzying array of peanut sauces, each with subtle nuances. Each region has its own version and a different dish to go with it.

By tweaking the basic recipe below, you can make a sweet and sour sauce for a dish called asinan comprising salad leaves, eggs, tofu, cucumbers, and cabbage tossed with the sauce. Just add dried shrimp (dry-fried in a wok) and enough sugar and vinegar for the right balance of sweet and sour.

Or mix in sweet cloves of garlic, pounded to a paste, vinegar and petis udang (black shrimp sauce), for tahu telor, a tofu omelet of sorts. I asked my mom how much garlic to add and she told me, “Supaya wangi bau bawang putih,” until it is fragrant with the smell of garlic. I love how poetic that sounds!

You could add any of the above ingredients to flavor your peanut sauce regardless of what you want to eat it with.

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Toss the vegetables with the peanut sauce and top with shrimp crackers and fried shallots, and your gado-gado is ready to be eaten


As a healthy veggie-eating adult, I usually toss the basic peanut sauce with a medley of vegetables like green beans, cabbage, and beansprouts (yes, they’re all boiled), and top it with fried tofu, potatoes, and/or hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes, I’ll rebel and use fresh vegetables like Romaine lettuce and cucumbers. Or I’ll mix it in with vermicelli rice noodles and tofu.

A light drizzle of kecap manis, plus the mandatory shrimp crackers, and lunch is ready.

~~~

Peanut Sauce
peanut sauce

The raw shelled peanuts I buy at the Asian market usually come with their skins on, but don’t worry, the skins aren’t noticeable once they’re all ground up. The 12 oz bag makes 2 cups of ground peanuts but since I like to make my peanut sauce in small batches, I only use 1 cup of ground peanuts at a time (half the total amount). I’ll fry the entire bag of peanuts at one go, grind them up and refrigerate the remaining cup. If you prefer to make the sauce all at once, just double the amount of water and increase the seasonings judiciously.

Makes: about 1 cup sauce
Time: 30 minutes

1/4 cup oil (or just enough to coat the peanuts)
1 (12oz) package raw peanuts (about 2 ¼ cups)
2 to 3 kaffir lime leaves
Sliver of shrimp paste (terasi), toasted (optional)
1 tablespoon seedless wet tamarind, or lime juice
3 tablespoons Indonesian palm sugar or packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chili paste like sambal oelek(or to taste)

Pour the oil into a wok or large skillet. Heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the peanuts and stir-fry them until the skins turn a darker shade of reddish brown and the insides turn golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss them continuously so they cook evenly and don’t burn.

When the peanuts are done, scoop them up with a slotted spoon and leave to cool on a plate lined with paper towels. Remove any burnt peanuts, they will taste bitter.

When the peanuts are cool enough to handle, grind them until fine like sand, in a food processor or pulverize them with a mortar and pestle like I did, in which case, grinding them till the texture of coarse sand will do. Otherwise your arm might fall off!

In a small pot, combine 1-1/2 cups water, the lime leaves, shrimp paste, tamarind, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, breaking up the shrimp paste and tamarind pulp. Inhale the intense fragrance of the lime leaves!

Using a strainer or slotted spoon, remove the leaves and any remaining tamarind pulp. Add 1 cup ground peanuts and bring to a boil. Save the remaining 1 cup for later. Simmer until thick and creamy like gravy, stirring often so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the sambal oelek. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve the peanut sauce with vegetables, over soba noodles, or as a dipping sauce with grilled meats like satay. Garnish with fried shallots, fried shrimp crackers, and kecap manis.

Pat’s note: The sauce will keep for up to a week in the fridge. To reheat, add a little water if it’s too thick, and warm on the stove or in the microwave.

~~~

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2012 2:05 am

    Glad to see you back, Pat. Hope the news from your husband is all good -

  2. March 13, 2012 1:25 am

    Hi Pat, the first time I made peanut sauce, having never tasted it – I decided after seeing it in a recipe that I had to try it, I traipsed all over the twin cities with my two year old to find the ingredients – never could locate the tamarind, so someone told me to use lime juice with a teaspoon of molasses. Found the peanuts at a health food store. The recipe had lemon grass in it, instead of the lime leaves, which I did find at a grocery store. The book said it was Indonesian, so being young and stupid (the 2 year old is now 20) I never thought to look in an Asian market (10 blocks from me!)

    Your recipe is a lot like it (except for the lemongrass/lime differences and the shrimp paste) and you’re absolutely right, using the real peanuts do make a huge difference, and now we have tamarind right in the regular grocery store. (But not kefir lime leaves…)

    The biggest thing I’ve learned today is that I’ve never toasted my peanuts enough! I think that will make a HUGE difference in the way mine tastes.

    All that being said, I do make an American version of peanut sauce, too, when I’m in a hurry or don’t have everything on hand. It is good, and the kids really like it, but it’s like comparing a Kia to a Jag. I made it tonight for dinner, and when I sat down at the computer, I thought, “I should have checked Pat’s site for her recipe, first!” Now I’m inspired, again, to make a real peanut sauce next time!

    Thanks for posting!

    • April 28, 2012 12:25 am

      Ha ha, thanks for a fun story! You are quite progressive trying an Indonesian recipe 20 years ago! There are so many variations to peanut sauce so whatever tastes good for you. I’ll have to try out the lime juice and molasses as a substitute for tamarind.

  3. December 5, 2011 8:37 pm

    huduh.. jadi laper malem2 liat ginian.. i wish i have ulekan right here.. they only have this thai ulekan in Germany, the one where you stomp instead of grind.. :(

    • December 8, 2011 11:26 am

      Hi Radi,
      My mom actually brought her cobek from Singapore to Seattle in her luggage! Yeah, the Thai version is made from wood (?) and doesn’t work the same way. Can you mail order? If not, a food processor is fine and is a lot less work. Thanks for stopping by!

Trackbacks

  1. July 3, 2013 – Cold Asian Peanut Noodle Salad, cost $3.67 | Frugal Hausfrau's Blog

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