Last month when I traveled down to San Diego to visit family, my aunt sent me home with a generous tub of bi chay (a vegetarian version of a very porky dish) and verbal instructions on how to prepare its accompanying sauce (nước chấm chay). I was a little nervous about making nước chấm chay with neither my mother nor my aunt supervising, but with some peer assistance from Tam of A Little Bit Burnt, it turned out well-balanced and very delicious.
After I polished off the bi chay, I used some of the leftover sauce to saute green beans and on a different occasion, to stir fry noodles. The best pairing though was with the hobak jeon (Korean zucchini pancakes). It’s really impressive how versatile this spicy, sweet, and tangy sauce is. After such a terrific first batch, I soon whipped up another because I love the way it brightens up every dish it’s paired with.
- 1/2 cup soy-based seasoning sauce (like Golden Mountain)
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 1/4 cups hot water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 limes, freshly squeezed
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons chili paste or finely chopped fresh or dried chilies
Dilute the sugar with hot water and set aside to cool. Once it is cooled, add the vinegar, lime juice, and soy sauce. Lastly, mix in the garlic and chilies.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning as needed: If the sauce tastes too concentrated, dilute with a little water. If it tastes too sweet, add more lime juice or vinegar, then add soy sauce to balance. If it tastes too sour, add a little more sugar and soy sauce, and a bit of water to balance.