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  • Writer's pictureMolly

A Thai dipping sauce to elevate turkey leftovers!

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

The other day I was chatting with a friend from culinary school about how Thanksgiving went this year and how much I'd like to cook my own Thanksgiving meal next year. I've never been responsible for anything other than the mashed potatoes and I'd really like put my own spin on a Thanksgiving meal. We talked about how fun it would be to put a Thai spin on it, and of course being Thai himself, my friend had some great ideas for a Thai Thanksgiving. One idea was perfect for Thanksgiving leftovers and I'm embarrassed that I hadn't thought of it myself! "Remember that spicy dipping sauce from Isaan that you liked so much in class," he asked. "Why don't you make that to have with your leftover turkey?" Well, duh!

When I was introduced to this dipping sauce in class, I thought it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. Immediately I knew I needed to keep the recipe in my back pocket, to knock the socks off the hosts of every BBQ I'm invited to from now until the end of days.

The sauce is sour (I love sour!) from tamarind and lime juice, it's spicy from chili flakes and nutty sauce from the roasted sticky rice. Traditionally it's served with Thai style grilled meat and sticky rice. It pairs really beautifully with grilled meat because the lime and tamarind acid cuts through the oiliness of the meat and the toasted rice in the sauce elevates the smokey aroma from the grill. It's just a match made in heaven! And since all you need is rice and a dipping sauce to make this a full meal, it's a quick way to make your leftover turkey taste completely different!

This sauce comes from the Isaan (or Isarn) region of Thailand which is the North Eastern region that boarders Laos. Foods in this region are very sour and spicy, and roasted sticky rice is a staple of the cuisine. Roasted rice is used to impart a smoky aroma to foods, provide textural interest (crunch!) and thickens soups and sauces. To learn more about Isaan cuisine, check out Chef McDang's Youtube series, Eating Thailand.

isarn style bbq dipping sauce

Isaan Spicy Dipping Sauce and Sticky Rice Recipe

Serves 2-3 generously

Isaan Spicy Dipping Sauce Ingredients

3 T fish sauce

3 T tamarind juice (tamarind paste + water)

3 T palm sugar (or brown sugar)

2 T water

2 T fresh lime juice

1 T ground roasted rice (recipe below)

1 t chili flakes (or to your taste)

3 T thinly sliced shallot

1 T thinly sliced spring onion

2 T cilantro or sawtooth coriander

Ground Toasted Rice Ingredients

3 T uncooked sticky rice

Optional Thai sturdy herbs 1 kaffir lime leaf, 1T lemongrass sliced very thin, 1T galangal sliced very thinly

Dipping Sauce Method:

ground roasted sticky rice

To make the ground roasted rice, put your uncooked sticky rice in a dry pan and turn the head to medium. Toast the rice on medium until you reach a golden yellow color, stirring often to avoid burning.

If you have lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves on hand, you can add them to the rice at this point. Lime leaf can be added whole, but lemongrass needs to be sliced very thinly.

Continue to toast the rice until it reaches a deep caramel color and the herbs are dried crispy (the lime leaves dry out fast, so pull them out early if you notice they are taking on color, you don't want them to burn).

Next, grind the rice and dried herbs in a mortar and pestle or a blender until you reach a rough grind that is similar in texture to a very coarse polenta or cornmeal (similar to polenta in coarseness, but this wont be an even grind, you will have all different sized pieces and that's perfect!). If using the blender, pulse it a few times. Be careful not to blend it to a fine powder, the roasted rice adds crunch and aroma to the sauce, so keep it crunchy! Ground roasted rice will loose its toasty aroma after about 2 weeks, so I make it in small batches.

To make the tamarind juice, start with a block of tamarind paste. Break off about 1/3 cup chunk of it put it in a small bowl with 1/3 cup of water. Mash the paste around with the water to mix with the water. Let it sit for a few minutes to soften. Then strain it through a mesh strainer to remove the pulp. You can store this in your fridge for at least a month.

Put the first 4 ingredients in a sauce pan (3 T fish sauce, 3 T tamarind juice, 3 T palm sugar, 2 T water) and warm on medium head until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Once cooled, add the lime juice, sliced shallot and chili flakes. Just before serving, add the cilantro and spring onion and ground toasted rice and mix.

raw sticky rice

Sticky Rice

1 cup sticky rice (may be called sweet rice or glutinous rice)


Any kind of steamer

Sticky rice method:

First step in any sticky rice preparation is to soak the rice from 1-3 hours in room temperature water.

cooking sticky rice

Next is to figure out your steaming set up. I don't have any kind of bamboo steamer so I just figure out my sticky rice cooking situation based on what I've got on hand where I'm at. So currently, I'm at a house with a nice steamer set up. It's the standard large pot with a steamer insert. The only tricky bit about steaming sticky rice is finding something that can keep the rice from falling through the wholes of the steamer. I was lucky that my aunt has a tiny mesh metal colander that fit perfectly in her steamer, so that's what I used to hold my rice. In culinary school, we used damp white cotton cloth, so you could use a damp tea towel if you have that on hand. If this method seems good for you, completely saturate your cotton cloth with water and then ring it out, lay it over your steamer insert and lay out your rice evenly. Make sure that you don't completely cover the steamer's bottom with the cloth, you want some of the wholes of the steamer left uncovered so that the steam can pass through.

isarn style bbq dipping sauce

So, to steam, you bring your water to the boil, then add your rice steaming setup and cover to steam for 6 minutes. At 6 minutes, uncover and check your rice for doneness. Likely it's too chewy, so use a rubber spatula to flip the rice 180' so that the top rice is now closest to the seam and it gets a chance to cook. Steam for about 6 more minutes or until it's nicely cooked to your linking. Sticky rice is very forgiving and really texturally interesting, so don't be intimidated by it!

Plating: A generous portion of dipping sauce and sticky rice with any grilled or roasted meat, especially a leftover turkey leg, will go down a treat! Enjoy!


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