We were at Mother’s Dumplings one day, a great Chinese restaurant where dumplings are made fresh on site by the hundreds every day, waiting for plates of boiled, steamed and fried dumplings to hit the table. The small sides we ordered to round out the meal came first, among them a plate of peanuts. Just “peanuts” is what they were listed as on the menu, and maybe we ordered them out of intrigue. Or maybe because “who doesn’t like peanuts?”, I mean outside of the people deathly allergic. Either way, they were more than plain “peanuts”. They were red for one thing, not raw but not boiled down either, slightly spicy but not much. Kind of a condiment or side, kind of something I would snack on with a beer. For something so middle-of-the-road, they were surprisingly enjoyable and memorable, enough so that I made an approximation at home. These are just toasted peanuts in a little sauce. The sauces I chose are sweet, sour and a little pungent but not overwhelming, because I wanted to eat them with food. A compliment, not something competitive. Not the star of the show but a fine little thing to eat between bites, for texture, a little flavour and they look nice on the table too. Though every time I’ve made them I ate about a third right away just standing around the kitchen and they are fine just like that too, needing nothing more than maybe chopsticks. That cold beer doesn’t hurt, as suspected.
Sour Chili Peanuts
1 tsp peanut or vegetable oil
1 c peanuts, shelled, skinned, un-salted, un-roasted
2 tsp chili paste and
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar (or red vinegar or distilled vinegar)
1/4 tsp sesame oil
Kosher salt to taste
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat, then add the peanuts and stir-fry until they are golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, combine the chili paste, black vinegar and sesame oil. Season with salt as needed. Toss the peanuts in this mixture and serve as a snack or condiment. Can keep up to 2-3 days, refrigerated.