TIME: 35 minutes

Though you may be tempted to eat this sauce for dessert, you’ll more likely toss this Thai-style sauce with Chinese egg noodles or pool a couple spoonfuls on the bottom of a plate and top with slices of grilled or fried vegetables or tofu. It also makes a fine dip for celery, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and rice crackers. If you want a smooth sauce, use peanut butter instead of chopped peanuts.

3 hot fresh red chiles, seeded, or cayenne or hot red pepper flakes to taste

3 garlic cloves, peeled

2 shallots, peeled

1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced (optional)

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 tablespoon peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

1 cup coconut milk (to make your own, see Coconut Milk)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts or crunchy peanut butter

Salt

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

Put the oil in a medium saucepan or skillet over medium heat. When hot, cook the chili-garlic mixture 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 store, covered and refrigerated, for up to a week; gently rewarm over very low heat or in a microwave before using.

Variations

Curry Peanut Sauce. Another layer of flavor: Omit the chiles, lemongrass, and turmeric. Instead, put one 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger and 2 tablespoons curry powder or paste (to make your own, see Fragrant Curry Powder) in the food processor along with the shallots.

Sweet Peanut Sauce. Indonesian in spirit: Add 1/4 cup ketchup (to make your own, see Homemade Ketchup) along with the coconut milk.

Lighter Peanut Sauce. Substitute any vegetable stock for the coconut milk.

Simpler Peanut Sauce. More peanutty (and makes less): Omit everything except for 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.