My brother Ed first made this for me back in the ’90s. Ever since, it’s been the dish I make when I have leftover vegetables and cilantro in the refrigerator and a craving for comfort food.
I use the word “Thai” here with some literary license. Although I’ve had peanut and sesame flavored noodle dishes in both Thai and Indonesian restaurants, I’m not claiming that this dish resembles anything found in Thailand.
When I make pasta I never measure ingredients so the amounts here are estimates. If you think you want more peanut butter flavor, go for it. You can play with the ginger and garlic too. Don’t feel obliged to use the sauces (soy, fish, sriracha) that I do. Use the flavors that appeal to you. You can add shrimp, chicken or pork. The recipe is very flexible. If your sauce gets too dry, add more milk or ladle some of the pasta water into it to loosen it up a bit.
Thai-Style Peanut Butter Pasta
- 1/2 to 1 pound of pasta – fettuccine, linguine, whatever you like
- 1 medium or large red or yellow onion, sliced
- 2 cups (at least) of sliced or chopped vegetables – broccoli (florets or stems), bok choy, greens, red (or yellow or orange) bell pepper, jalapeno, carrot, and/or any other vegetable you have hanging around
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon (at least) fresh ginger, minced or grated
- Sprinkles of any other spices you fancy, maybe cinnamon, cayenne, coriander, whatever
- 1 tablespoon (or more) sambal oelek, sriracha or other hot sauce
- 1/2 to 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- Milk or cream — the amount will depend on how long you keep the pan on the stove and how creamy you want it to be
- Pasta water
- 1/4 cup (at least) chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Optional – chopped scallions
- Optional – chopped peanuts
Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water once your vegetables are nearly softened and ready for the peanut butter and other ingredients. Let your sauce sit a bit and wait for the pasta to be ready. If your pasta sits and waits for the sauce to be ready, it will either overcook or, if drained, get sticky and cling together.
In a large pan, saute the onions and other vegetables on medium heat. If you are using any vegetables that need more time to cook than the others, start those first, so everything will be ready in the pan at the same time. About one minute before the vegetables are softened, turn the heat to low and add the garlic, ginger and any spices. Saute just until the garlic starts to golden.
Turn the heat to medium and add the hot sauce, peanut butter, soy sauce and fish sauce. Stir in the peanut butter so it melts and blends with the other ingredients. Then add the milk and stir to blend all the ingredients. The sauce will thicken as it cooks. If it gets too thick, add some milk or water from the pasta pot. Taste as you go. What is it missing? More hot sauce? Peanut butter? Salt? Add a little of this and that to get it where you want it.
Before draining the pasta, take out several ladles of the pasta water and reserve it in a bowl. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan along with the cilantro. Mix it all up and let it meld together. Add more pasta water if it’s too dry. When it’s ready, drizzle a little sesame oil over the pasta.
Serve in huge bowls. If you’d like, garnish each bowl with some chopped scallions and peanuts. If you have leftovers, add some reserved pasta water to the container before you store it.