hai Basil Cashew Dressing

Thai Basil Cashew Dressing


The combined flavors of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter is what makes Thai food taste so fresh and irresistible, especially here in the tropics where temperatures really soar during the hot season. There is nothing more refreshing than a sweet, sour, salty and spicy Thai papaya salad (som Tam) or a pomelo salad (yam som O) (click here for recipe) to beat the heat. Thai salads inspire a whole new approach salad making in general.

That said the recipe that follows is for a dressing, or sauce if you will, that uses the five pillars of Thai flavors in an east west vinaigrette. Ideal for fresh greens salads, cold noodles, sates, or even western style “wrap” sandwiches.


Thai Basil Cashew Dressing/Sauce     Makes 1 cup

  • 1 cup Thai sweet basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
  • ½ cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice + more to taste as needed
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla) 
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 4 tablespoons light vegetable oil
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped Serrano or jalapeno chilies
  • 3 teaspoons thinly sliced red Thai chilies including seeds
  • ¼ cup fresh coriander leaves

Place the basil leaves, minced garlic, minced shallots, chopped cashews, and 4 tablespoons of lime juice in the work bowl of a food processor.

Place the fish sauce, palm sugar, and a little water in a small pan set over low heat. Heat just until the sugar is melted and then add the mixture to the other ingredients in the food processor. Pulse the processor until the ingredients are broken down, scraping down the sides of the work bowl several times until the mixture resembles a coarse paste. Then, with the processor running add the vegetable oil through the feed tube in a slow steady stream until the mixture is emulsified with an even, somewhat thick texture. Then with the processor running add the salt and the cold water in a slow steady stream through the feed tube until the texture has thinned out somewhat but still stiff.

Add the chopped green serrano or jalapeno chilies, the sliced Thai red chilies, and the coriander leaves to the work bowl. Cover, and pulse several times to just mix those ingredients into the dressing/ sauce without chopping them up.

Stop the processor and taste the sauce and add more salt and/or lime juice if needed.

Transfer the dressing/sauce to a non-reactive container and refrigerate until serving time.

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