Basil’s Last Gasp in a Peanut Sauce

We haven’t had a frost yet, but it won’t be long, and the basil, what is left of it, is looking pretty patchy these days. It is time to use it up before it succumbs to the cold. I’ve had this recipe kicking around for a while, and thought I’d give it a try because I like peanut sauces of various sorts, and this one calling for fresh basil leaves sounded very tasty and it is.

When I reflect on my years in the kitchen, now close to fifty of them, in light of the ingredients in this recipe and many others I use frequently, I am struck by how much my pantry has changed. Peanut butter has been with me all my life. I added fresh garlic in my twenties after I left home, and now grow a great deal of it. Soy sauce, but only in tiny bottles for sprinkling, gave way to tamari about thirty years ago, purchase in larger quantities from bulk containers at a coop. Since about five years ago, I’ve kept Thai fish sauce on hand.

I added red pepper sometime in my thirties, and bought limes only occasionally. I certainly never kept coconut milk in the pantry until just the past ten years or so.

Fresh ginger root is still a sometimes thing even though my old Moosewood cookbook recipes call for it pretty frequently. I buy a section from time to time, but I don’t cook with it regularly enough that I can use it up before it withers or molds. And I keep forgetting that I could put a chunk in the freezer to pull out as needed. Maybe if I lived on the mainland instead of an island, I would run out and pick up some whenever a recipe called for it, but I always have dried ginger, so sure enough, when I gave this recipe a try, that’s what I used.

I can’t remember when I discovered basil, but I’ve grown it now for about thirty-five years. I know I never had pesto until my early thirties, but even then, I would never have imagined that I would ever want to combine it with peanut butter.

We liked this marinade on chicken, but it would be dandy on pork, too, maybe even beef. You can skewer chunks of meat to grill, or grill or sauté strips of it after tossing them in the mixture. Reserve some sauce for dipping or dripping.

Peanut Basil Sauce
Serves: 4
  • 24 fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup chunky peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, tamari, or fish sauce
  • ⅔ cup coconut milk
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1-inch peeled ginger root or 2 teaspoons dried ginger
  • ½ teaspoon dried red pepper, or less to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound of chicken or pork, cut into strips or chunks for skewering
  1. Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and puree until it is a smooth paste.
  2. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  3. Set aside about a half cup for dipping sauce
  4. Toss the meat in the mixture then grill or sauté it.
  5. Serve with additional sauce on the side.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.