My nephew Seth and his friend Marie discovered this little peanut sauce for pasta. As young people in a hurry, they really liked how easily it went together and how tasty it was in a Thai fashion. They found they could make it spicier or milder as their mood dictated, and they loved all that pasta. Being well past the age where carbohydrates are my friend, as usual I was looking for a way to “veggie” it up.
It turned out that a hefty pile of greens and vegetables — a few florets of broccoli, plus French-cut green beans, shredded cabbage, kale, chard, spinach, broccoli rabe or bok choy, with onions and garlic sauteed in a little sesame seed oil were a terrific addition tossed with the peanut sauce-drenched pasta.
The first time I tried this recipe, the vegetation was gleaned from the garden. As increasing cold made it harder to protect plants with tarps, Jamie merely pulled in whatever remained, a wild mix of late-season greens and overgrown mesclun too tough now for salad. Eleven green beans, seven stalks of chard, a handful of broccoli side shoots: What’s a mother to do with that stuff? As it turned out, this little pasta dish just swallowed it all up.
This week I used frozen kale, some frozen green beans, plus freshly shredded cabbage, some leeks and brussels sprouts. If you haven’t a home-stored supply, you’ll find a decent selection of fresh greens such as collards, broccoli, kale, among others at the store.
Almost every household has peanut butter, but generous quantities of soy sauce, toasted sesame seed oil, rice vinegar, fish sauce and other more or less exotic ingredients might be harder to come by, especially if you live in rural Maine.
Lots of recipes using vegetables interestingly, inexpensively, and healthfully prepared call for these ingredients. Storefront cooperatives often sell them in bulk. Best of all are ethnic grocery stores. Whenever I get to a larger city, even Portland, I head to an Asian grocery store where I can buy large containers of good soy sauce, special oils, all kinds of wonderful Asian noodles, rice, sesame seeds and spices for much less than smaller quantities cost in a standard grocery store.
Middle Eastern markets also often have good quality but inexpensive olive oil, a wide variety of nuts, dried fruit and spices.
Feel free to mix the vegetables in any proportion you like. Clean out the fridge. I like sauteeing them in the toasted sesame seed oil because I was using the oil in the pasta dish, too. You could use any vegetable oil, but add onion, garlic, a sprinkle of vinegar or squeeze of lemon to give it a bit of oomph. You can mix the vegetables into the pasta dish or serve them on top or at the side. Just cook them long enough to be tender.
Obviously this dish could take the addition of cooked chicken, pork or shrimp, too, and you can keep it economical if you already have some on hand. You can spice up the sauce with red pepper flakes, or your favorite hot sauce. This recipe will give you enough sauce for a pound of pasta — spaghetti, fettuccine or Asian-style noodles.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
Yields 4 servings
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 pound pasta
Assorted greens and vegetables
Small onion chopped
Clove of garlic (optional)
6 scallions thinly sliced
Whisk the peanut butter and soy sauce together in a saucepan over low heat. Add brown sugar, sesame oil, ginger and red pepper. Heat and whisk only until you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
Cook pasta according to instructions on package. Chop or shred vegetables. Heat a little sesame oil in a heavy skillet or wok; stir in chopped onion and minced garlic if desired. Then saute the vegetables in the oil, first the tougher ones such as broccoli, green beans and kale, until they begin to become tender, then the others, such as chard, spinach and cabbage until they wilt.
Stir the peanut sauce over the cooked and drained pasta. Top with the greens or toss together. Sprinkle the scallions on top and serve.
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