Peanut Sauce

Makes 2 cups
Time: 35 minutes

Toss this Thai-style sauce with Chinese egg noodles or pool some on the bottom of a plate and top with broiled or grilled shrimp, chicken, pork, vegetables, or tofu. Or use it as a dip for celery, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and rice crackers. If you want a smooth sauce, use peanut butter instead of chopped peanuts; for a sweeter one, add about 1/4 cup of ketchup along with the coconut milk; for lightness, substitute stock or water for the coconut milk.

3 small dried red chiles (like Thai or piquin), seeded, or cayenne or hot red pepper flakes, to taste
3 garlic cloves
2 shallots, peeled
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced (optional)
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 tablespoon peanut oil or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts or crunchy peanut butter

1. Combine the chiles, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, and turmeric in a food processor and grind and until fairly smooth; scrape down the sides of the machine once or twice if necessary.

2. Put the oil in a medium saucepan or skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the chile-garlic mixture and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Taste and add a sprinkle of salt or a little more soy sauce if necessary. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a week (warm gently over very low heat or in a microwave before using).

Curry Peanut Sauce. Another layer of flavor: Omit the chiles, lemongrass, and turmeric. Instead, put one 2-inch piece of fresh ginger and 2 tablespoons of curry powder or curry paste in the food processor along with the shallots.

Simpler Peanut Sauce. More peanutty (and makes less): Omit everything except the chiles, sugar, soy sauce, and peanuts. Use the food processor to blend, adding a little water or more soy sauce to get the consistency you like. Then gently heat the sauce in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave. Finish with 1/4 cup each sliced scallion and minced fresh cilantro.

Southern-Style Peanut Sauce. Peanut sauce, down-home style: Omit the chiles, lemongrass, turmeric, and soy sauce. You can hand-mince the shallots and garlic if you like, instead of using the food processor. Proceed with the recipe, but use cream instead of coconut milk and lemon juice instead of lime juice.