Everything Tastes Better With Peanut Sauce

September 3, 2007

I have always been an excellent and thorough eater. The Mom professes that my first word was “eat” (although I wouldn’t put it past her to pull my leg on that front). She also reports that with the onset of mastication came exclusive and vociferous demands for cheese, grapes and baguettes. The Dad, big fan of pre-dinner nibbles, lavished paté and shot glasses of wine on my burgeoning palate. I ate the three vinegary piles of shredded beets, carrots and zucchini that accompanied the croque monsieur at my favorite childhood café, not because of a grudging acceptance of the nutritional value of veggies but rather an early-established affection for a cleaned plate. And, according to the two meal-providers of my formative years, even when I was still demanding a cup of crayons along with my appetizer I was routinely ordering the best items on the menu.

As stated, this appreciation for foods and ability to pick the doozy off of any menu did not necessarily go hand in hand with refined tastes. Case in point: at age 6, already filled to the knee socks with snobbery, I ran out of mayonnaise one bread slice into a turkey sandwich. Shortly thereafter I was spreading peanut butter on the other slice of bread, having thought no further than "what else in this kitchen is spreadable?" Peanut butter popped up before mustard, so peanut butter it was. And I kept making my sandwiches this way. For awhile. Now, peanuts have a place alongside cream and meat, but the point is that my brain went no further than mayonnaise = spreadable = peanut butter. A more recent example: A couple weeks ago (faced with a nearly empty kitchen and very empty wallet) I spread honey mustard on one side of a two-month-old spinach tortilla and cracked brown mustard on the other, evenly distributed slices of packaged provolone on the canvas, and, as an afterthought, added a spattering of sweet and tangy simmer sauce before heating the whole thing in a skillet. And I have been considering making this again.

I don't know if I'll ever hone this baffling combination of discerning and completely blind taste, and in my heart of hearts I think I'll always have these bursts of fondness for utter crap. Not "bad for you but still so good" crap like fried dough balls and jaegerschnitzel, but "who in their right mind puts those ingredients together and calls it a success" crap. Consequently, I'm going to try to be careful with what I post here and indicate if something falls into the "only appreciated by the bat-shit crazy or ageusiac" category. Now on to the recipe:

Though there will be a great deal of homaging to fromaging in the days to come, I'm going to kick off with one of my favorite non-cheese toppings to virtually any dish: peanut sauce.

I decided on this peanut sauce partly because it required me to get more Bragg's, which is always exciting, and partly because I was almost out of sesame oil so had even more reason to try a new market in Chinatown I've had on the list (which in turn allowed me to stock up on enough soba noodles to hold me until April and suspiciously took me close enough to Prosperity Dumpling that it was pure obligation that forced my foot in the door*).

But ultimately I chose this as my first recipe posting because the first time I made this sauce is my first memory as a "grown-up" of having produced something from scratch that made lots of people happy. It wasn't until I lived in a co-op my sophomore year of college that I began to really discover the kitchen. Cook crew involved 4 people preparing a meal to feed approximately 80, which was daunting but infinitely satisfying. The first time around it was purely daunting, left me all but paralyzed with anxiety, and with half an hour left to go I struck upon this recipe for peanut sauce and thought wildly "everyone likes peanut sauce! They can slather peanut sauce all over everything and all will be delicious!" The resultant 5 pitchers of sauce dogged me for the rest of the year, but the constant invocations of “that peanut sauce” were, I like to think, equal parts teasing and hope for another batch.

Spicy Peanut Sauce
(originally tweaked from a recipe in Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest)

This recipe is fail-proof and infinitely tweakable depending on your penchant for spice. Though not one who can lay claim to a spice poker face (being more prone to immediate sweating, reddening and worrisome gasping when confronted with even the slightest excess of chili dust) I like this sauce to rate a "crisp brow beading" on the spice sweat meter. While any spicing agent is acceptable, I have had the best results with crushed arbol or pequin chiles (exercise caution with the seeds!)

1 cup peanut butter (I prefer creamy unsalted)
1 cup boiling water
4 tb rice or cider vinegar
1 1/4 tsp salt
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
4 tb honey or sugar
2 tb Bragg's or soy sauce
4 tb sesame oil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (to taste)
Place the peanut butter in a medium sized bowl.

Add boiling water and stir patiently until uniformly blended (add water gradually for more control over viscosity).

Thoroughly stir in remaining ingredients and adjust to taste.

makes approximately 3 cups and keeps in the fridge
suggested uses: top any noodle concoction, slather on bread, eat straight out of the jar

* I finally pinned down the proprietor on the mysteriously never available "stuffed sesame pancake" which is rumored to be phenomenal. And by "pin down" I mean exited with a series of cagey and vague answers that didn't leave me any more enlightened than before I put him on ice. This is a rough approximation of the interrogation:

"Do you ever have the stuffed sesame pancake?" "Sometimes."
"Do you know when you'll next have it?" "I don't know."
"Are you ever going to have it?" "I...don't know."
(desperate now)"If I come first thing, when you open, will you have it???" "...I....don't know."

Appearing to feel both guilt and embarrassment at my distress and unsightly piteousness, he followed this last "I don't know" up with "It is very hard to make....so sometimes, if someone wants it, I'll make it" accented by a shrug of the shoulders. Ah-ha, I thought, now we're getting somewhere. It seems I am not one of the hallowed few who merits a stuffed sesame pancake. Having harassed the poor man enough, I trundled away perfectly content with my usual sesame pancake with vegetables. I am however planning a friendly but determined ambush at the crack of opening and will continue the assault until I get my hands on one of those stuffed pancakes.

1 comment:

Cereal Lady said...

Although I have yet to try it and honestly I most likely won't, it seems you are not alone in your fondness for the combo of peanut butter and mayo. On the all recipes website the peanut butter, mayo and lettuce sandwich rates 4 1/2 stars!