When my daughter was a teen, she hated my habit of engaging strangers in conversation. Whether standing in a line, sitting next to someone, or asking for directions, I can’t help myself. I frequently “chat up” whoever is nearby. But she was wrong. I’ve met some amazing people through these encounters. Usually I leave the conversation with a smile on my face. In this case, I also got a bonus – this recipe for peanut curry sauce.
A Misunderstanding Had its Benefits
My friend Jessica van Dop DeJesus left DC after many years. I was sad to see her go, even though her move (to Brussels) will be great for her and her family. Our friendship began at a dinner and it seemed only fitting that this chapter should end with one.
Just before her departure a few weeks ago, Jessica arranged a going away party. She chose Makan as the locale. Although my beloved and I were sad for the departure, we looked forward to toasting Jessica at what promised to be a delicious dinner. I had never been to Makan before and knew that any place Jessica picked would be fabulous.
Unfortunately, somewhere between the initial invite and our online calendar, we switched the restaurant from Makan to Maydan. So when the evening came for the party we went to the latter, a Middle Eastern restaurant about a mile away from the Malaysian/Asian one our host had chosen. Luckily, after a flurry of texts and calls over the crossed signals, we straightened out the mix-up.
Once at Makan, we felt sheepish about our mistake. But our server, Dallas Warren, took pains to make us feel welcome. Dallas is Indonesian rather than Malaysian, but the countries are neighbors in Southeast Asia and her familiarity with the regional cuisine helped us make fabulous choices for our dinner. We laughed and I chatted with her as we ordered our dinner. Before I knew it, Dallas offered me her own recipes for peanut curry sauce for gado gado and satay. Of course, I eagerly accepted.
After that lovely evening (the restaurant is marvelous and you should definitely go there if you’re in the DMV), Dallas and I corresponded over Instagram regarding the recipe.
I was pleased to find that this recipe reminds her of her grandfather and that she thinks of him every time she makes it. We may come from different backgrounds and generations but her gado gado recipe (as she calls the sauce) and my Greek salad both have grandfathers smiling at us from somewhere above. I like that image. Food really is common ground.
The ingredients and process in the recipe below are as Dallas gave them to me. I have used my own descriptions in the instructions and added times where Dallas, like any good home cook, simply uses her own experience in lieu of definite seconds or minutes. Dallas’ directions yield a thick, spicy but not searingly hot, sauce. The crunchy peanut butter gives it a nice consistency and the coconut milk and rice water give it a nice complexity.
Tips about Peanut Curry Sauce for Gado Gado and Satay
- This is just one of many versions of peanut sauce. Peanut sauce is a common feature in Southeast Asian cooking. Each region has its own version and I wouldn’t be surprised if each cook claims that his/hers is the best. After all, isn’t that how all of us feel about our specialities? If this one is different from others you have tasted, be brave and try it. You won’t be sorry and you may even add a new version to your repertoire.
- Finding Asian ingredients. If you can, find an Asian grocery store where you can shop for the ingredients. (If not, you can find them online.) You can also make your own kecap manis, a thickened and sweet soy sauce.Dallas said she got her curry pastes at H Mart and she recommended that I mix 2 different ones. The moment she mentioned H Mart, I realized this was going to be an adventure taking me out of my comfort zone. That store makes me want to cry – and not for the reasons that Michelle Zauner writes about so movingly in Crying at H Mart. The Korean-American supermarket chain carries an incredible array of Asian and Latino specialties, many unfamiliar to me. While I love shopping there, it takes patience to sort through products with labels I can’t read. And courage to find someone willing to help me when I am lost among the products I cannot distinguish. But the sense of accomplishment when I completed the shop and the fun I had strolling through the store made it worthwhile. I even bought an extra curry type of curry paste when I wasn’t sure which to buy. At less than $2 each, it was better to be safe than sorry.
- Mise en place helps. The first step in making the sauce is to quickly fry the ginger, garlic and curry paste. Moving quickly from that frying to the second step is essential to keep the ginger and garlic from becoming bitter. That means you have the other ingredients already measured out and ready to pour into the pot for the second (simmering) step. The French call this preparation mise en place.
- The consistency of the sauce. This sauce is rather thick in the end. You can thin it out with water or more coconut milk. And if it separates, just reheat and stir the sauce. After cooking, the sauce lasts in the refrigerator for a week and you can freeze it, so don’t be afraid to make this large batch and save most of it for future meals.
- Uses for the peanut curry sauce. We enjoyed the sauce on both salad and satay. Gado gado is an Indonesian composed salad that typically features protein such as fried tofu and a crunchy element such as prawn crackers. Satay is a protein, usually thinly cut chicken, pork, or tofu, skewered and grilled. The peanut curry sauce works as a dressing for the salad and a dipping sauce for the satay. I don’t have a lot of experience with Southeast Asian cooking, but now I’m anxious to try my hand at other dishes from the region, especially those that feature peanut curry sauce.
Peanut Curry Sauce for Gado Gado and Satay
A mildly spicy and quite delicious Indonesian version of peanut sauce. Use it on gado gado (a mixed salad with vegetables, protein, and often something crunchy) and as a dipping sauce for satay. Also great with noodles.
- 3-4 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil 1 oz/30 g
- 2 tablespoons curry paste Preferably 1 tablespoon each of red and yellow (Dallas recommends Maesri brand)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger 1 & 1/8 oz/35 g
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic 1/2 oz/15 g
- 1 can coconut milk 14 fl.oz/400 ml
- 1 cup rice water (water from rinsing rice) 8 fl.oz/225 ml
- 2/3 cup chunky peanut butter 5 & 3/4 oz/165 g
- 2 tablespoons kecap manis (thick, sweet soy sauce) 1 & 1/2 oz/ 45 g
- 2 tablespoons sambal oelek (Indonesian chili paste) - hot sauce 1 & 1/8 oz/35 g
- 10 splashes fish sauce About 2 teaspoons
- 1/3 cup fresh lime juice About juice of 2 limes/ 3 oz/75 ml
Warm the ghee or coconut oil in the large pan. Add the curry paste, ginger, and garlic, frying them for about 60-90 seconds until they are fragrant.
Add the coconut milk, rice water, peanut butter, kecap manis, and sambal oelek. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture is well combined and reduced.
Finish the sauce with the fish sauce and lime juice. Pour over gado gado (salad) or satay.
Refrigerate any remaining sauce for 1 week or freeze.