Recipe: thai sweet chili sauce
Between trail runs, huckleberry picking, dinner parties, work, and other stuff, we managed to carve out a little weekend for a backpack out of Crested Butte. It had been on the calendar for a couple of months when last week we got wind of an advertising stunt by a “beer” (I use the term loosely) company to be held in the town of Crested Butte for the very same weekend. I emailed Jeremy and asked if he still wanted to go. He replied that no one attending that event was going to be anywhere near the backcountry. So true. So thankfully true.
hiking up from schofield park
we dropped our packs at a junction and ran this quick detour to get a view into hasley basin
at the junction below frigid air pass
We had not hiked out of Schofield Park before, but were familiar with it as a potential emergency “exit” from a previous backpack we did in 2005. Back then we began the Four Pass Loop out of Aspen. It is likely one of the most popular backpacks in the state of Colorado. The route crosses four 12,000+ foot passes in roughly 24-26 miles (depending on where you start and end) and loops around the iconic Maroon Bells through some of the most stunning high country you could imagine. From the Crested Butte side, you can access the loop from Schofield Park. Jeremy and I hiked a few miles of new (to us) trail before linking up with the Four Pass Loop and heading up to Frigid Air Pass. As we rounded a boulder and gained a small bench in the terrain, a little tarn next to a trail junction sign was immediately familiar. I blinked back tears. The last time we were here, Kaweah was with us on her very first backpack. I took a photo of her resting at the base of the sign. The significance was that she was actually resting. She never stopped charging ahead until we set up camp for the day. Then she would curl up, fall asleep, and snore loud enough to scare away the bears.
fireweed looking fiery! autumn is coming
icy cold stream crossings felt great on sore feet
It’s been over two years since our last backpacking trip as Kaweah’s care demanded more attention and time. Our preference is to backpack before or after the crowds of summer. The backcountry becomes that much more enjoyable when we have it to ourselves. Backpacking is one logical extension of hiking. Trail running is another extension of hiking, but in a different direction. Still, all three share the same goal for me – to travel the high country. I feel better when I spend time hiking or running through mountain forests up above treeline and into the alpine meadows. It makes me stronger, clarifies my thoughts, brings me tremendous joy.
jeremy on frigid air pass overlooking fravert basin
looking back toward the maroon bells (on the left)
at geneva lake basin (snowmass mountain on the right)
On the trail, we plucked juicy red raspberries, one enormous sun-warmed wild strawberry (enormous for a wild strawberry, but smaller than a dime), plump twisted stalk berries, and several huckleberries to nosh as we hiked toward our destination at the lake. Once in camp, I was more than happy to get off my feet and fall asleep to a rising moon and the sound of small animals scampering around our tent. I used to stay awake all night in my early days of backpacking, listening for bears, deer, elk, porcupine, mice, anything that would come poking (and nibbling) around camp. Maybe it’s the impenetrable bear canister or the long miles of the day caught up to my body or getting older, but sleep comes easier. Maybe I’m just happier.
my view from the tent
ready for a well-deserved sleep
delicate frost in the morning
Or maybe it was the morning frost that coated all of the plants at lake level? Or MAYBE it was the fact that I had packed jalapeño potato chips on this trip? In summer, we like to do no-cook backpacks if the trip is less than 3 days. It means no stove, no fuel, no cook pot, no clean up. Jeremy tends to select sweet snacks like chocolate, fruity chewy candy, cookies. I go for the savory snacks: crackers, salami, and jalapeño potato chips (Tim’s Cascade is the best brand, just ask Diane). Salt is what I crave on the trail. I must have it! But the spicy is that added bonus. Spicy is happiness. I recently learned to make some incredibly easy happiness – Thai sweet chili sauce – which just makes things even MORE happy.
water, sugar, cornstarch, salt, rice vinegar, water, garlic, thai chilis, fresno chilis
I have had this sauce countless times at various restaurants without ever realizing that it was a sauce, a food, something I could make. The other day as I barreled down the aisles of the Asian grocery store ticking off the items on my list, a bottle of Thai sweet chili sauce grabbed my attention. The hamsters in my brain ran around a few times before it registered that this Thai sweet chili sauce was the same dipping sauce I enjoyed with spring rolls and other delicious appetizers. As I reached for the bottle, the hamsters ran in the other direction. Wait a second… *I* could make this myself, right?
trim the tops from the chilis
place the chilis and garlic in a food processor
A quick search on my smartphone replied that yes, yes indeed, I could make my own sauce. And it was so simple! How was I unaware of this for all these years? I pulled my hand back from the sauce shelf and wheeled my cart to the produce aisle to pick up some Thai chilis. The Fresno chilis required a trip to my local Whole Foods, but I had everything else in my pantry at home.
bring the sugar, salt, chili-garlic purée, water, and rice vinegar to a boil
stir water into the cornstarch
add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce
cook until thickened
Total time on this recipe was 15 minutes including preparation of the peppers and garlic. The sauce is nice and spicy, the way I like it. If you want to reduce the heat, use milder chilis or remove the seeds. Too sweet? Reduce the sugar. This would be a great dipping sauce for fried wontons, spring rolls, egg rolls, pot stickers, fried things (vegetables, meats), grilled shrimp, whatever you can think of that could benefit from a spicy-sweet kick.
your own homemade thai sweet chili sauce
Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
from Closet Cooking
2 Fresno chilis, stems trimmed off
2 Thai chilis, stems trimmed off
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp cornstarch or potato starch
2 tbsps water
Purée the chilis and garlic together until smooth or slightly chunky (I like slightly chunky). In a medium saucepan, bring the chili-garlic paste, 3/4 cup water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let simmer for 3 minutes. Mix the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water together in a small bowl. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and stir. Heat until the sauce thickens (a minute or so). Let cool and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/3 cups.
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