Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

My brother Ed made this for the first time for me back in the 90’s. 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. The photo shows my pan as the sauce was simmering. It’s redder than usual because I was a bit gung-ho with the sriracha. That was some spicy pasta!

pasta thai peanut butter sauce recipe

Thai Peanut Butter Pasta

  • ½# pasta – I usually use whole wheat linguine, fettuccine or penne.
  • 1 medium or large onion, sliced
  • 2 cups of sliced or chopped vegetables – Broccoli (florets and stems), bok choy, greens, red bell pepper, carrot and zucchini are all good choices, use what you have.
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced
  • ½ tsp allspice – Use any type of spice you wish. I used to add Chinese 5-spice all the time but when I ran out I switched to allspice.
  • 1 tsp ginger powder or 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 1 Tbsp (or less) sriracha or other hot sauce
  • ½ cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • ½ cup or more milk or cream
  • Pasta water
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp 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 liquid ingredients. You can always let your sauce sit a bit and wait for the pasta to be ready, but 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 will need more time to cook than the others, start those first, or steam them a bit first before adding them to the pan, 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, allspice, ginger and any other 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 a few ladles of the pasta water and reserve it in a small 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.


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