spicy chimichurri, sweet chile sauce, and thai peanut sauce

3 Delicious Chili Sauce Variations from Simple, Store-Bought Ingredients

Can any homemade Thai food ever taste as good as the real deal? The exotic peppers, delicate balance of hot and cold, and reliance on fresh ingredients make it difficult to replicate in a home kitchen (especially here in Cincinnati).

While some sauces and oils come packaged at the supermarket, they also come with a lot of added sugar. That delicious Trader Joe’s Sweet Chili Sauce in a cute bottle taps in at 5 g. sugar per 1 Tbsp. Not so cute.

Good news is, I wouldn’t be raining on the Trader Joe packaged food parade without a solution. You can make this healthy alternative to chili sauce with basic pantry ingredients.

How to Make Simple Chili Oil

This recipe comes from Abra Berens, author of the popular cookbook, Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables. The book celebrates simplicity – letting food be food and its flavors center stage – as well as reconnecting with real, local vegetables and flavors Abra grew on her Michigan farm.

Decidedly simple, any novice cook with a stove and saucepan can whip-up this flavored oil in just 10 minutes. It will elevate any dish with a richer, spicier flavor when you replace it with canola or olive oil. Personally, I find it tastes best with Asian and Indian dishes like Thai food and curries. Drizzled over roasted vegetables is my personal favorite, but you can use it for stir fries, salad dressings, hummus, and more.

Here’s how it all comes together:


  • ¼ cup red pepper flakes (or variation)
  • 1 cup canola oil


  1. Heat 1/3 cup oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the spices – careful; they may sizzle.
  2. Stir the spices, then let it warm until fragrant (3-5 min.).
  3. Add the remaining oil and turn off the heat. Let rest until cool.
  4. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 months.

Variations on Spice to the Base Recipe

Red pepper flakes give this oil its spice, so add as much or as little as you can tolerate. The more hot peppers and flavors you add to your base oil, the spicier it will be. I would suggest starting with the original or milder flavors because you can always add spice to sauces and dressings later.

Here’s a quick heat and flavor chart based on variations I’ve tried.

  • 2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes = mild
  • ¼ cup red pepper flakes + 2 Tbsp. maple syrup = sweet & tangy
  • ¼ cup red pepper flakes = medium (Abra’s original)
  • ¼ cup red pepper flakes + 2 cloves garlic, minced = chili garlic
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes = medium-hot
  • ¼ cup red pepper flakes + 2-4 small hot peppers, dried = hot
  • ¼ cup red pepper flakes + 1 Tbs. harissa = spicy hot

Have another variation you want to try? Share it with me in the comments below – I’m happy to expand this list!

3 delicious sauces you can make from homemade chili oil

3 Variations of Chili Sauce

Now that you have the base recipe, let’s talk about how you are going to use it. You can sprinkle herbs on top, dip sourdough bread in it, and call it a day. That sounds scrumptious. Or, you can use it to bring your homemade sauces to life.

A note on these sauces: I prefer thin sauces to thick, but I recognize this is like asking people what type of pizza crust they prefer. That said, if you want a thicker sauce, you can edit these recipes without adding extra sugar or losing flavor. My go-to is coconut milk and cornstarch, which I add to the sauce in a pan over medium heat. This can also dull your flavor, so be ready to double your spices, just taste it continuously as you adjust.

Here are three easy sauces you can make from that base chili oil.

simple, homemade chili sauce from store-bought ingredients

1. Simple, Homemade Sweet Chili Sauce

  • ½ cup chili oil
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. ginger, minced or paste
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • juice from ½ lime
  • 3 Tbs. honey
  • ½ cup water, as desired
  • pinch of salt

This is my go-to sauce for stir fry and anything Thai-food related. The honey gives it a kiss of sweetness, and the garlic-ginger combination is adaptable to many different vegetables and meats.

Try It: Vegan Pineapple Stir Fry with Sweet Chili Sauce

homemade Thai peanut sauce that isn't actually bad for you

2. Thai Peanut Sauce

  • ¼ cup chili oil
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. ginger, minced or paste
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • juice of ½ lime
  • 2 tsp. cayenne pepper or red curry powder
  • water to thin
  • pinch of salt

Chicken peanut satay is my weakness when I’m trying to cut back on meat. I feel a little bit better about it when I make this sauce to go with it. Use this as a base for Thai peanut pizza by adding less water to keep it thicker.

spicy chimichurri sauce on enchiladas or as a dip

3. Spicy Chimichurri Sauce

  • 1 bunch (1 cup) cilantro leaves
  • 1 bunch (1 cup) parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup chili oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • pinch of salt

Chimichurri is a garlicky, parsley-cilantro-based sauce popular throughout South America. Closer to a spicy pesto than a sauce or paste, this dressing is great for marinating meats or drizzling on top of roasted vegetables – and nachos, by the way. Definitely try this on nachos.

Try It: Chicken Enchiladas with Spicy Chimichurri


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