Peanut butter and improvisation

Several years ago, I worked as a supervisor on a high school volunteer project in Panama.  It was a hard summer, filled with heartbreaking complications.  A couple weeks in, the project staff found out that our local general store sold American peanut butter–the kind choosy moms choose.

I learned an important lesson that summer: there are few situations so awful that they can’t be brightened, at least for a moment, by sticking a spoon in a jar of peanut butter and eating yourself silly.

We bought so much peanut butter we couldn’t eat it all.  So we started making stir-fries for our communal staff dinners, thinning out spoonfuls of peanut butter with bad soy sauce and purified water and tossing it with vegetables and rice.  To this day, whipping up a peanut stir-fry sauce is a quick-and-dirty way to make me feel a little better about things.

This week I had my first dinner guest at my new place (which I’m still glowing about, by the way).  Kate came by for girl talk and fresh veggies, and I had a brand-new jar of peanut butter in my fridge.  The result was my favorite kind of cooking: heavy on improvisation and tasting at every step, with plenty of time built in for gabbing and drinking tea.

I’m going to attempt to write down a recipe for what we did, because it was right tasty.  But you’re going to have to trust me on this–the recipe is not going to work.  I’m going to write down the wrong measurements based on a whole lot of eyeballing and a little guesswork.  Please, take inspiration from the recipe, and then go improvise your own.

Impromptu Peanut Sauce (makes enough to lightly coat about 2 pounds of vegetables)

2 tbsp peanut butter, preferably natural

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated

1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce

1-2 tbsp vegetable broth or water (depending on the consistency you want)

1 tbsp sesame seeds

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet until they become fragrant, then remove from heat and crush lightly, either with a mortar and pestle or by putting in a zip-top bag and hitting with something heavy.

Whisk all ingredients together and adjust for seasoning.  Stir-fry your favorite ingredients, and pour the sauce over in the last couple minutes to warm it up.

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