Thai Cashew Sauce- a delicious Thai Peanut Sauce Substitute

Thai Cashew SauceIn addition to dealing with the ups and downs of being Celiac, I am also allergic to peanuts (there are other things I’m allergic to, but those two are the worst offenders and the ones I have to avoid completely). I am extremely grateful that my peanut allergy was diagnosed long before I ever had an anaphylactic reaction. While the smell of peanuts makes me feel yucky, the worst I get upon accidental consumption is a bad case of indigestion.

I count myself among the lucky.

The only place I find myself really wishing peanuts weren’t so evil for me as at the Thai restaurants we like to frequent around town. Most Thai food is naturally gluten-free, and I find that I prefer the fresh flavors and lack of soy sauce over Chinese food. How can you not fall in love with a bowl of Pho with its cilantro, basil, chile, and lime? And the spring rolls! Mr. Kitchen Diva informs me that spring rolls are even better dipped in the peanut sauce….sigh…That left me with only one choice- make my own substitute.

Cashews seemed like the obvious choice, especially becuase they are so prevalent in Asian cooking. You could easily use ready made cashew butter for this, I didn’t have any on hand, and found it just as easy to grind my own cashews. In addition to using the sauce for dipping home made spring rolls, we discovered it tasted great on gently sauteed kale. I’m ready to schmear it on a piece of toast next!

Below you’ll find the recipe for the Thai Cashew Sauce, and a few basic instructions for making your own spring rolls. Spring rolls, like pizza and pasta, are a great canvas for whatever you like. We filled ours with rice noodles, fresh basil,  and a shredded salad (recipe to come in the future) the Kitchen Divas in Training invented. While we call can use more practice in the act of rolling, the end result was delicious and we’ll be happy to attempt them again in the near future. In fact, the next time I go out for Thai food, I’ll be packing this along in a mini to-go container!

Remember, this month’s GF Baking Challenge is to tackle Le Macaron! Join me and feel free to post your comments or questions. Better yet- send me a photo of your baking experience and I’ll post it on the final month’s round-up!

Thai Cashew Sauce- makes about 3 cups


1 1/4 cups cashews (we used roasted & unsalted, but you could use any kind)

1 can of coconut milk (do NOT use lite coconut milk!)

1/2 cup brown sugar Thai Cashew Sauce

1/2 cup water

4 tbs Thai red chile paste (we used Thai Kitchen- use more for more heat)

2 tbs rice wine vinegar

1 tbs fresh ginger (1 tsp ginger powder would also work)

juice from 1/4 of a lime

1/2 tsp salt (omit if you are using salted cashews)

3-10 drops of fish sauce


If you are grinding your own cashews: Place cashews in a food processor and grind. In order to get a smooth paste you may need to add a bit of oil. We used toasted sesame oil, but you could use grapeseed, canola, or another unflavored oil. I do not recommend using olive oil.

In a medium saucepan, place all of the ingredients- including the cashew paste. Stir over medium heat until well combined and slightly soupy. Mixture will firm up in the refrigerator. You can soften it by adding a bit more liquid, or rewarming. Will keep at least a week in the refrigerator.


For making Spring Rolls

Making spring rolls is easy. Before you assemble them, make sure you have all of your ingredients laid out and ready to go. You can fill spring rolls with pretty much anything you like, fresh vegetables, tropical fruits, tofu, meats..the possibilities are unlimited.

Spring rolls are made from rice paper, which is naturally gluten-free. You can find them in both small and large sizes in the asian section of your market, or at an asian specialty store.

Soften the rice paper round in a bit of warm water. We find a  large dinner plate works perfectly for this. When the paper has fully softened, lift it up, gently shake to remove extra water and lay flat on your prep surface.

Place your ingredients in a mount slightly off of center. To wrap, fold the shortest end of the paper over the filling and pull tight. Next, fold over the sides so that the filling doesn’t fall out. Then roll tightly on itself. Et Voilá!

Thai Spring RollsRolling Thai Spring RollsThai Spring Roll





Stir Fry w/ Mizuna Greens and Glass Noodles

Happy Friday! Today is a cause for a little celebration- it’s my 50th post! Woo Hoo! This is an easy, fast recipe that is very flexible. If you don’t have the specific ingredients I used on hand, use what you have. Give yourself permission to experiment and play in your kitchen!

I learned about a new green last week called Mizuna. One of the many things I love about participating in a CSA is the exposure to new vegetables! Mizuna is an asian green, with a very mustardy flavor. Perfect for a stir-fry. And, since I have so many noodles left from my Japchae post, it was only fitting that I serve the greens over noodles. Of course, I couldn’t just cook mizuna, so I raided the CSA bag and came up with a delicious, farm-fresh meal that’s Japchae-ish. Thank you Farmer Jill! This year my CSA is offering a winter subscription, so I’ll be in cool weather greens and root heaven for some time to come. Thanks for sharing this gluten-free culinary journey with me- I’m looking forward to sharing many, many more recipes! And, if you’re lucky enough to have good weather this weekend, get outside and collect some lovely fall leaves!!

Stir Fry with Mizuna Greens and Glass Noodles

Serves 4


Glass Noodles- depending on the brand you have, you will need 1 1/2-2 individual packages of noodles

1 lb chicken (this could be fresh or left over)

2 carrots, thinly cut

2 white peppers, sliced lengthwise (you could use a differently colored pepper)

1 red onion, cut into thin strips

1 cup reconstituted wood ear mushrooms

1/2 lb of mizuna, or other green of your choice, cut into chunks

4 cloves garlic, finely diced

6 tbs sesame oil

6 tbs soy sauce (I use gluten-free Tamari- same thing but with no wheat)

1/4 cup sesame seeds


Place glass noodles in a pot of boiling water and cook until they are soft- about 5-6- minutes. Drain, do not rinse. Move noodles to a large serving bowl and add 3 tbs of sesame oil. Toss, mixing until noodles are thoroughly coated with the oil- this will prevent them from sticking together. Add 2 tbs of soy sauce to noodles and toss again.

In a large pan, or wok if you have one, heat remaining sesame oil. When you can smell the oil, add the chicken, garlic and onion and cook, stirring as needed so that the chicken and garlic don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook about 4 minutes. Next, add the carrots and peppers, and continue to stir. Add the remaining soy sauce, and if necessary, add a tiny bit more sesame oil. When the carrots have just softened, add the mushrooms. When the chicken is done- about 10 minutes total cooking time (a thermometer should read 170) pull the pan from the stove. Stir in the mizuna. The heat from the rest of the ingredients will wilt the mizuna without overcooking it. To serve, you can mix the veg with the noodles, or you can plate the noodles and place the veg on top. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy! This would also taste great with fresh ginger. If you have fresh ginger, add it at the beginning with the garlic and onions and chicken- it will help flavor the chicken.



Japchae Recipe: A Tale of Remembrance and Redemption

So here’s a funny story: I consider myself to be pretty fearless. After all, it’s part of my Blog title! I’ll try most anything once. That attitude has afforded me many wonderful, funny, and enriching experiences throughout my life. That said, there is one ingredient with which I have had an unfortunate history. In response to a kitchen disaster of what seemed at the time to be galactic proportions, I have avoided this ingredient like the plague, in cooking and in consuming. Cellophane noodles. Even writing the name makes me wince.

Twelve years ago, shortly after I was diagnosed with celiac, I grabbed some cellophane noodles thinking I would make chicken noodle soup. I wanted something comforting and warm, and cellophane noodles were the only gluten-free noodle available in the store. Cellophane noodles are Asian noodles made with mung bean or potato starch, and they turn clear when cooked, also giving them the name glass noodles.  

There weren’t any cooking instructions on the package, so I popped them in the water like a regular noodle, added my chicken soup ingredients, and excitedly cooked away…

By the time the soup was ready, what I had happily envisioned enjoying for dinner looked like a dead jellyfish floating in detritus. To steal a line from Bridget Jones, I had created “congealed gunge”. Hardly appetizing or beautiful. My husband couldn’t even get his spoon into the center of the noodles. It was so bad, that without apology, he looked at me lovingly and deposited the clear blob of what was supposed to be fabulous, gluten-free chicken soup into the trash. Ouch. I couldn’t argue. It was awful. Fast forward to a week or so ago when I told my husband I’d decided to try cellophane noodles again. This time, I was going to cook them properly and therefore make them taste and look delicious.  He cringed.

While I was trying to figure out how to prepare the noodles without destroying them a second time, I learned that they are the key ingredient in a classic and very popular Korean dish, Japchae; traditionally served at weddings, birthdays, and other festive celebrations. Now, my experience of Korean cuisine is limited to the two nights I spent at an airport hotel six years ago in Seoul on the way to and from the Russian Far East. I enjoyed my meals, I actually like kimchi, and the sushi I had was incredible. But that is the extent of my knowledge and experience of Korean food. The ingredients in Japchae actually looked quite delicious, and after a lengthy conversation with a new friend, Jean, who had grown up in Korea, and with help from the wonderful people at the Oriental Market in Overland Park, Kansas, I was feeling brave and confident enough to give it a go!

First stop- my local Asian market. If you’ve never visited one, it is an experience for all your senses. When I stepped in the store, my nose was greeted with the smell of roasting sesame, my eyes lit on a feast of colorful packages, unique sweets, a wealth of cooking and serving items, and a myriad of ingredients I’d never encountered. It was so much fun to wander the aisles, reading packages and wondering what everything was. In reality, I was stalling. I already had my noodles in hand, and was just putting off what a small part of me feared might be more “congealed gunge”

Once I arrived home, it was time to dive in. The secret to cellophane noodles is that once they’re cooked, you need to drain them, then toss them with a little oil. This keeps them from sticking together.  There seems to be disagreement about whether or not to rinse them in cold water. I did not, and the 2 tablespoons of oil I used to coat the noodles worked like magic. There was no “gunge-y” quality to these noodles whatsoever! I could feel myself getting excited, but one ingredient does not a recipe make. As with many stir fries, the key is to cook the ingredients separately, then mix them together at the end. I did this with the rest of the Japchae ingredients, tossed them with the noodles and sauce, and voilà! Before my eyes was a lovely looking dish.

The best part though, was the first bite. The noodles had a great texture- a little chewy and slippery, the sauce- a blend of soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar- was subtle, so I could taste the individual flavors of each ingredient. My husband smiled proudly, my kids asked for seconds. This dish is so easy and delicious I’ve made it twice this week. If you’re looking to explore a new cuisine, I highly recommend trying Japchae. The ingredients are simple, many of them are familiar, and the preparation is very easy. Since I’m no longer intimidated, and I have a grocery sack of noodles to use up, I’ll be experimenting with some different flavor combinations. Although, I have to say that nothing tastes as good as redemption!


Serves 4 with a little leftovers


1 ½ bunches potato starch cellophane noodles.  (Korean cellophane noodles are only made from potato starch. That said, if you can only find the mung bean variety, you can use that too)

3 medium carrots, julienned (about 2 cups)

4 cups spinach leaves

½ medium onion, sliced horizontally-as in ½ of an onion ring (about ½ cup)

1 ½ cups reconstituted wood ear mushrooms (Jean tells me fresh shitakes or button mushrooms will also suffice)

1 bunch green onions, green parts only, chopped small (about 1 1 /2 cups)

3-4 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tbs)

1 lb lean beef, sliced very thin (I used bottom round and cut against the grain)

4 tbs Soy Sauce (for Gluten-free soy sauce, purchase wheat-free tamari. It’s just like soy sauce, but without the wheat)

4-5 tbs roasted sesame oil

2 tbs + 1 tsp sugar

Sesame seeds for garnish


Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Do not salt the water. When the water is boiling, add the cellophane noodles and gently stir as the noodles soften. Let the noodles boil about 3-4 minutes. You can tell the noodles are ready to pull when they plump up a bit. Use a pair of tongs to grab a noodle and taste it- the texture should be soft, but a little chewy.

Pour the noodles into a colander and briefly let them drain. Give the colander a shake to eliminate excess water and pour the noodles into a large bowl.

Drizzle 2 tbs of sesame seed oil over the noodles and toss with a pair of tongs until the oil has evenly coated the entire mixture.

Refill the same pot with 1-2 inches of water and set to boil. When the water is boiling, add the spinach and briefly stir- no more than 30 seconds. The idea is to just barely wilt the leaves. Pour the spinach into the colander and run ice cold water over the spinach. This is called ‘shocking’ and stops the cooking process in order to preserve the color of the vegetable.

Using the same pot (You are welcome to use a different pot, or wok, or skillet, but why dirty another dish?) add 1 tbs of sesame seed oil to the bottom, and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the julienned carrots, and cook until just softened, about 3-4 minutes. Remove carrots from heat and add them to the bowl of noodles. Next, (to the same pot) add the onion and garlic. Stir until you begin to smell their aroma- about 30 seconds You may need to add a tiny bit of sesame oil so the garlic doesn’t stick. Add the meat, 2 tbs of soy sauce and 1 tsp of sugar and stir until well mixed. When half of the meat has browned- about 2 minutes, add the mushrooms and continue to stir. After another 2 minutes, or when meat is barely pink in the middle, add the green onions and mix well. Pour contents of the pan onto the noodle mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk 2 tbs of soy sauce, 2 tbs of sesame oil, and 1 tbs of sugar, until an emulsion has formed (this is when the oil and soy sauce no longer separate when you stop whisking- the mixture will look a bit thicker) Pour over the noodles and accompanying ingredients and toss with tongs until noodles are completely coated. Jean says to use your hands during this process, which is definitely fun, but you have to let the noodles cool a bit more before trying it that way. When adding the sauce, the important thing to remember, is that the noodle is the star of this dish. The ingredients and the sauce should compliment the noodles, not over power them.  You may serve family style from the bowl- just sprinkle about 3 tbs of sesame seeds over the noodles prior to bringing to the table. Or, you may plate individually and sprinkle sesame seeds on each plate.  Do whatever works with your occasion and your family.


Creamy Polenta & Bok Choy

An unlikely yet delicious marriage, bok choy and polenta. The weather was still foul here late last week and out of necessity I reverted to hearty, warming, cool weather dishes. Of course spring veggies and the CSA pick-up wait for no one, so the challenge was pairing hearty winter food with vibrant spring produce. The result was a culture clash of new and beautiful flavor combinations. I’ll be making this again, but this time for sheer pleasure.

Creamy Polenta

serves 6


1/2 onion, diced

2 tbs olive oil

3 cups water

2 cups chicken stock or bouillon

2 cups of corn flour (corn meal is thicker, but will also work)

1 bag of frozen, diced butternut squash, about 4 cups

1 cup half-n-half (if you’re feeling really decadent use heavy cream)

2 cups parmesan


Preheat oven to 375. In a 4 quart pan, saute the onion in the olive oil. When the onion is translucent, add water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine stock and corn flour and allow to stand. When the water begins to boil, add corn mixture and whisk constantly for 2 minutes. Pour half the mixture into a large oven proof dish. (I use my trusty deep-sided cast iron skillet, but a large casserole will also work)

Sprinkle half the cheese over the mixture and add all of the frozen butternut on top. Cover with remaining corn mixture and sprinkle remaining parmesan on the top. Drizzle the half-n-half over the entire mixture and place in the oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until the top is brown and bubbly and most of the cream has been absorbed.

Note: There are other ways to cook polenta, this is just my favorite way. You can make it much more quickly on the stove top by bringing to boil 2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of milk or half-n-half. When it boils, quickly stir in 1 cup of cornmeal or corn flour. Whisk quickly until it’s all mixed in, stir in 4 tbs butter and 1 cup of shredded cheese. Put the lid on and take off the heat. It will be ready in 10-15 minutes. You could stir it constantly until it thickens, but why when the heat from the pan will thicken it for you with a lid on? Then again, if you like stirring…..and sometimes I do!

Sauteed Bok Choy

This method could be used with any spring green from spinach, to kale, to hon tsai tai. Even dandelion greens would taste great this way.


1 large head of bok choy- approximately 4 cups

1/2 onion, diced

3 tbs olive oil

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes- more if you like it hot!


Separate leaves and wash. Cut stems from the leaves and slice thinly.  Chop leaves into small pieces and set aside. Add olive oil to a warm pan and immediately add red pepper flakes. Saute for about 1 minute.

Add onion and saute another 2 minutes. Add bok choy stems and saute for 1 minute. The trick here is to let the stems soften but to not cook them to the point of being mushy. They add a nice crunch if they don’t cook too long. Add leaves and saute another minute before turning off the heat. There should be enough heat in your pan to allow the leaves to fully wilt without overcooking them. Remember, bright green leaves allow for the fullest flavor and nutrient delivery. Besides, nobody likes the look of overcooked, grey-green leaves- it’s why no one likes canned spinach- well except for Popeye- but he wasn’t exactly a food snob.

Serve over polenta and garnish with additional cheese if you like. Remember- use the greens and ingredients you have on hand. Don’t have an onion? Use a shallot, or a leek. Don’t have parmesan? Use cheddar, jack, or what you do have on hand. Give yourself permission to play with the flavors. You’re sure to come up with something delicious!

Hon Tsai Tai

Hon Tsai Tai- what’s that you ask? Only my newest favorite asian green! A mild mustardy type of green that can be consumed raw or lightly cooked, stems, leaves, flowers and all! A member of the cruciferae family (meaning the flowers have four petals making a cross shape- thank you college botany!) which includes such luminaries as mustard, kale, broccoli, cabbage,  brussels sprouts, turnips and watercress. In general these lovely dark-green and purple veggies are jam-packed with cancer preventing phytonutrients and should be a mainstay in any diet. Usually, I go for the kale, brussels and broccoli. But, every now and then you’ve just gotta try something new. How did this beauty end up in my kitchen? Well, it was given to me by my local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmer in my bag of produce this week.

Farmer Jill is an adventurous type- something I admire in eating and farming. In addition to the usual favorites, she and her team are always trying something new. And, when you know where your produce comes from, there’s incentive to eat everything in the bag. Nothing like telling your farmer that all her hard work rotted in your refrigerator.

Last night, I whipped this into a lovely little stir-fry and served it over quinoa. In general, celiacs tend to worry about too much rice. Rice flour tends to be a staple in gluten-free cooking, and like me, many celiacs have other food allergies. I have to work to not eat too much of the same thing. Of course this can be a challenge when you’ve had to cut out a major ingredient like wheat and its byproducts.

Quinoa is a member of the amaranth family and packed with calcium, protein (as much as 9 grams in a cup)and fiber. It also tastes great when it’s cooked. I don’t like it so much as a flour as it has a funny taste that has to be carefully masked. We cook it up to use in place of oatmeal, serve it as a rice substitute in many dishes, and use it cold in salads.

So here you are. A lovely stir fry for a lovely green, Hon Tsai Tai….say that 10 times fast!