painting depicts ingredients for pasta with peanut sauce

Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce 8″x8″ gouache on paper Sharyn Dimmick

The other day I started to think about what I had in common with kale:

1) I am not always sweet — sometimes I am quite bitter.

2) I am not to everybody’s taste: a little of me can go a long way.

3) I am rough around the edges

4) I am somewhat green.

5) I am tough.

Some people like kale in its raw state. Others like it lightly steamed or sauteed in minimalist preparations. For me to enjoy kale, it requires tender care and the presence of other ingredients that I like. Kale will never make the top of my favorite foods list, so I often resort to what I call camouflage cooking, a technique known to mothers everywhere, where you bury a vegetable in so many other flavors that it no longer calls attention to itself. You still get the nutritional value of the mean green vegetable which is very good for you: what you eliminate is what my Dad called “that nasty vitamin taste.”

Two weeks ago I met my friend Cathy at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley and we began to discuss kale. She told me that she cooks it in a little oil with a little water and throws in walnuts and raisins at the end of the cooking. The raisins sweeten the kale, ameliorating the bitterness and the walnuts add richness and give the bitterness a different edge: it is like forgoing outright cruelty and making use of well-placed sarcasm instead.

Another way to camouflage kale is to turn up the heat: I have chopped kale leaves finely, after removing the ribs and stems, and thrown them into posole — hominy cooked with chiles or salsa, in chicken broth or pork stock, seasoned with lime. Canned Foods Grocery Outlet, Food Maxx and Mexican groceries sell posole in number ten cans: I usually open one, decant half of it into a big jar for the freezer, and throw the other half in a pot. I like to make posole with about half a jar of green salsa (maybe twelve ounces), a pint of chicken stock and the juice of one lime. If I want a sweeter flavor, I add chopped sundried tomatoes to it. The longer you cook the posole the better the kale blends with the other ingredients, melting into harmonious flavor.

The big guns of camouflage cooking with kale are peanut sauce and coconut milk. If you like peanut sauce, you know you can eat it on anything because what you will taste is peanut sauce. I make an instant peanut sauce that I eat on pasta in the following manner:

Put your pasta water on to boil. I like to use short pastas because they catch the peanut sauce (penne, fusilli, farfalle, — also known as twisties and butterflies). I usually use wheat pasta, but you can go authentic and use rice noodles if you want. Get out the bowl in which you plan to eat your pasta. Put into that bowl between two and three tablespoons of peanut butter (Please use natural peanut butter without added shortening). Squeeze one lime into the peanut butter. Add something hot — my favorite addition is Chinese chili paste with garlic, a teaspoon if you like heat, a quarter to an eighth teaspoon for just a hint. Get down your fish sauce or tamari and add a tablespoon. You now have hot, sour, peanut-y and salty. Add some brown sugar: start with a teaspoon and trade up — this will be a matter of taste and opinion about how much sugar you want to consume. We like it sweet. If you want it even sweeter, add some coconut milk from a can — a few tablespoons should be sufficient. To get it right for you, you will have to stir and taste the raw sauce. It isn’t going to hurt you — just don’t eat it all in the tasting phase or you may have to start over.

Before it is time to drain the pasta, I have usually had enough time to julienne some carrots and/or radishes, chop some broccoli or green beans or cucumber. Carrots, radishes and cucumber go directly into your bowl with the peanut sauce. Broccoli or green beans go into the pasta water for the last minute of cooking, after which you drain the pasta and vegetable and add it directly to your pasta bowl. Garnish with basil, Thai basil, cilantro, or chopped fresh mint. Toss madly.

I developed this recipe when I lived and cooked alone. It is an ideal one-person pasta. If I make it for two, I generally stir up two individual bowls of sauce. If I want to make a lot, I start with a big serving bowl rather than individual bowls, use larger amounts of sauce ingredients and might pop it in the microwave for a minute to make sure the peanut butter softens. If you like, make extra: it reheats well if you leave out the cucumber, or it can be eaten cold.

Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce:

Boil water for one serving of pasta

While water comes to a boil, stir together in pasta bowl:

2 Tbsp peanut butter

1 Tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp chili paste with garlic

1 Tbsp brown sugar (or more or less to taste)

Julienne 1 carrot and/or three radishes. Chop some cucumber if you want. Add vegetables to bowl of sauce. By now, your pasta water should be ready. Start cooking pasta.

Cut up some broccoli or green beans. Add to pasta water in last minute of cooking.

Drain pasta and vegetables and add to sauce in bowl. Garnish with basil, Thai basil, cilantro or fresh mint. Stir it thoroughly with your fork. Enjoy.

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