Sweet Chili Sauce

Sweet Chili Sauce

Known as nam chim kai in Thai, sweet chili sauce is remarkably easy to DIY at home. While glass bottled versions from Thailand are widely available in Southeast Asian and Chinese markets in the US, I like being able to control the amount of sweetness and heat in a sauce I use almost every day. Plus, you can find all the ingredients at your local market, and there are no additives or preservatives.

You can use it in dips for appetizers like summer rolls and fried tofu, glazes for chicken or fish, and even salad dressings and desserts. I love using it plain as a dip for raw vegetables or dumplings, a fiery alternative to hummus and soy sauce, respectively. The sweetness is easy to control by varying the amount of sugar, and the heat by choosing the type of chilies you use. Red jalapeños or Fresnos are my favorite because they give a medium heat closest to store-bought versions of sweet chili sauce. If you use spicier chilies like serranos or Thai spurs, you will need to double or triple the number of chilies to produce the same volume and color (and take out the seeds unless you prefer a flaming hot sauce!) You can also experiment with other fresh chilies that you come across. If you’d like to kick up the umami flavor, add a couple drops of fish sauce to your batch. Feel free to double, triple, or even quadruple the recipe.


  • 5 fresh red jalapeño or Fresno chilies, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • ½ cup rice vinegar‍
  • ½ cup sugar‍
  • ½ teaspoon salt‍
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch


  1. In a food processor, combine the chilies, garlic, rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and ½ cup water and blend until pureed.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a medium skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the liquid is slightly reduced. Whisk the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water until the cornstarch is completely dissolved, then stir it into the chili pepper mixture. Cook, stirring, until the mixture has thickened, another 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to a bowl to cool and use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge. The refrigerated sweet chili sauce will keep for up to 1 month.

Reprinted from Red Hot Kitchen: Classic Asian Chili Sauces from Scratch and Delicious Dishes to Make With Them by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019, Diana Kuan.

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