Feeling Saucy

Sauces are the unsung heroes of every meal. Quietly, selflessly, they accept their role as the supporting actors, and yet they’re often the most flavorful element in the whole production. The same old boring dishes can be reinvented with just a few small tweaks to the sauce, no further modifications necessary. Take, for instance, stuffed shells.

Plate provided by Steelite

A fool-proof formula of pasta, “cheese,” and tomato, the staples upon which Italian food is built. However, if I were to tell you that the pool of red sauce seen above was not a mere marinara, but one infused with lemongrass, ginger, and a bird’s eye chili, among other exotics, wouldn’t it up the ante for the average meal that much more? Proof positive that the magic is all in the sauce, the ordinary meal became something truly memorable with a small deviation from the norm. Creamy coconut milk helps to tame the burn of hot peppers, making a velvety but delightfully chunky red sauce that’s mellow enough for even those with more timid palates to enjoy. Rather than following the usual path for dinner, give the sauce some much-deserved attention next time, and see where it can take your meal.

Thai Spiced Marinara

2 Tablespoons Olive or Coconut Oil
1/2 Large Red Onion, Chopped (1 1/2 – 2 Cups)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 – 1 Inch Ginger, Minced (About 1 Heaping Tablespoon)
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Lemongrass
1 Bird’s Eye Chili
2 Kaffir Lime Leaves, or 1 Strip of Lime Peel
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 12-Ounce Jar Roasted Red Peppers, Rinsed and Drained (or 2 Roasted Peppers)
1 – 2 Tablespoons Red Curry Powder or Paste
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce

Begin by heating the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add in the chopped onion, garlic, and ginger, and saute until the onion is translucent and the whole mixture is very aromatic. Allow the onion to take on a bit of brown color around the edges; about 10 – 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, gather together the lemongrass, chili, and kaffir lime leaves or lime zest, and bundle them together in a tea bag or reusable tea ball. I find that this makes it easier to remove these items once they’ve imparted all of their flavor into the sauce, rather than fishing around with a strainer and hoping you got all of the fibrous bits. Set aside for the time being.

Once the aromatics are beginning to brown, stir in the diced tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure that all of the flavorful caramelized bits get incorporated as well. Pour in the vegetable stock, and toss in the sealed tea bag or ball (if using a tea ball, clip it to the side of the pot for easier retrieval.)

Toss the roasted red peppers, coconut milk, curry powder or paste, and tamari into a blender, and thoroughly puree. Once perfectly smooth, pour the mixture into the stock pot as well. Bring everything up to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low so that the sauce simmers gently, uncovered. It may seem a bit watery now, but give it time; 60 – 90 minutes should thicken it up nicely.

Remove the tea bag or ball, and discard the contents. Serve the marinara hot, or let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

Makes About 5 – 6 Cups Sauce

Printable Recipe


28 thoughts on “Feeling Saucy

  1. This sounds so wonderful, Hannah. I love lemongrass. It doesn’t get utilized near often enough.

  2. Hannah, this sauce looks delicious, love the spicy and the Thai flavor in it…epecially the lemongrass.
    Awesome picture as always…hope you are having a great week :)

  3. Wow. I could totally give or take stuffed shells… unless they appeared in front of me with this sauce!

  4. I love these combinations of flavors and from the look of your photography I would have no idea it had Thai infusion flavors. Yum. By the way that starting photo is just gorgeous. I wish we lived closer so you could teach me some of your photography techniques. Take Care, BAM

  5. Oh, see now I feel a little bit embarrassed because, in all honesty, I wasn’t interested in that dish until you said the part about lemongrass and chilli. Blame the Asian influence in Australia’s cuisine and my mum’s allergies to tomatoa dn wehat (and dairy). :P

  6. I love the Asian flavors in this sauce! Ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves sound like the perfect additions…I bet it’s so much more flavorful than an average red sauce!

    1. No dumb questions here! I really aught to have explained that one further, so I’m sorry to leave you handing. Bird’s eye chilies are tiny, extremely hot Thai chilies. They pack a whole lot of heat into a small package, so you always want to use them sparingly. You could always substitute with two fresh cayenne peppers, or 3 – 4 serrano peppers. Or, of course, you can take the heat down a notch and just add powdered cayenne pepper, to taste.

    1. Hmm… that cut off half my comment! ANYWHO, I was saying that these ingredients sound amazing… makes me want to go home and make these TONIGHT!

  7. I’m probably going to some kind of Italian hell for writing this…but if I could, I’d choose Thai flavors over italian anyday. Except now…I don’t really have to. LOVE YOU.

  8. Very cool recipe. And you’re right, looks can be deceiving. I’ve never mixed Kaffir lime with tomato so I’m going to give it a go!

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