The Spicy Coconut Milk Dressing I Love on Everything Lately

Susan S. Johnson

We spent the past week on the west shore of Lake Tahoe not far from where my family would stay each summer when I was young. The cabins along the lake are larger now, the water low. Teens fling themselves from piers into the clear, icy, waist-deep water. When the sky is cloudless, it’s the bluest place imaginable. The first thing I made once we were settled into our camp was a spicy coconut dressing (sauce?) that would go on *everything* throughout the week. It’s a variation on other spicy coconut milk dressings I’ve made in the past, but this version has a lot going on with grilled peppers and minced onions. You can see how I used it here, tossed with rice flake noodles, grilled tofu and whatever needed to be used up in the cooler – roasted tomatoes, cilantro, and lemon.
Spicy Coconut Milk Dressing Over Rice Noodles on a Plate


Here’s a view of the lake. Amazing blue overload. It never gets old.
Picnic Views of Lake Tahoe
The key to this dressing is blistering chiles before chopping and adding them to the rest of the ingredients. It takes the flavor from bright and green to something deeper and less sharp – still spicy though. You can see serrano chiles and Padron peppers below in a wide skillet. I really like to try to get color on all sides if possible.
Spicy Coconut Milk Dressing Over Rice Noodles with Roasted Tomatoes and Herbs
The super-creamy coconut base of this dressing is seasoned with lemon juice and spiked with spicy, blistered chiles. Next, more depth and dimension are added, coming from chopping lots of scallions and onions into juicy oblivion and stirring them in.
Ingredients Arrange in a White Bowl

Spicy Coconut Milk Dressing: What It’s Good On

So, let’s free-style about all the ways to use it. This recipe makes a good amount of dressing. You can use it as a finishing touch on tacos. It’s perfect tossed with just about any noodle or pasta. It’s a game-changer the next time you make potato salad dressing – use the potatoes plus this dressing and build from there. Bonus points if the potatoes are grilled or cooked in a fire. I love the spicy coconut drizzled over corn and grilled vegetables. And it’s great on a structured salad. Last night I put a few dollops in a classic red pasta sauce for a bit of je ne sais quoi and didn’t regret it one bit.

A Jar of Spicy Coconut Milk Dressing

Ingredient: Vegan Fish Sauce

For the salty component in this dressing I call for vegan fish sauce. I’ve been making a homemade version of it lately, using a recipe from Andrea Nguyen’s forthcoming Ever-Green Vietnamese cookbook. I’ve made other versions in the past, but her recipe is the best vegan fish sauce I’ve made. Now 100% my go-to. When the book is out you should absolutely give the recipe a try. In the meantime, there are some good vegan and vegetarian fish sauces available for purchase, including this Ocean’s Halo vegan fish sauce. Or, if you want to make the dressing pronto, swap in soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos for the fish sauce, if that is what you have on hand. Just add it as the last ingredient in the dressing, and add it to taste.
Close up of Platter of Rice Noodles and Tofu


Let me know if you give this dressing a try. Even better, let me know what you use it on! 
If you’re looking for more salad inspiration, here’s where you can browse all the salad recipes. I’m going to use this dressing on this this favorite heirloom apple salad this Fall. Or on this Grilled Wedge Salad as we wind down grilling season.

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