(if you get that pun right off, I love you to pieces)
Okay, so another facet of this art of cooking is the use of condiments–sauces, toppings, dressings, etc.–to enhance the flavor of the everyday vegetable. (And, if you haven’t noticed, this cooking art is vegetarian; consider the source and all that.)
Frankly, a farmer’s market-fresh vegetable prepared simply (steamed or roasted) and seasoned only with a bit of salt and olive oil is, to me, a beautiful thing. I’m all about not mucking around with natural flavor.
This practice can get a little boring over time. And if you don’t have fresh veggies available year round for whatever reason and you’re resorting to the freezer section to find you favorites, it’s nice to be able to dress them up from time to time.
Have you ever noticed how some bottles say “tomato ketchup” rather than just ketchup/catsup? Or read an old recipe that listed it like that? The reason, if you’re curious, is that tomatoes are not the only things to be made into ketchup! The name ketchup comes from a Chinese brined-fish sauce that the British colonist of the 18th century fell in love with and brought back home (that’s one theory, at least). And recipes exist for mushroom and walnut ketchups, neither of which I’ve tried but it is intriguing. There’s even banana ketchup!
While ketchup is most often found being paired with fried potatoes of some sort, if you think about its components–tomatoes, vinegar, spices and a little sugar–you might find it goes well with other vegetables, too.
And then there’s the ubiquitous mayonnaise (a popular fry-dip in parts of Europe, by the way). Folks either seem to love it or hate it (and some a little of both, truth be told). I’m on the love side mostly for it’s flavor and ability to make sandwiches not dry. I can’t stand dry bread. But there’s more to this emulsion (the combination of 2 things that usually don’t combine) than just a sandwich schmear. Not only does it form the base of many popular sauces (tartar, remoulade, thousand island, etc.), it’s close cousin, aioli, steps up the lowly salad dressing with the inclusion of garlic, first and foremost, as well as other spices. Aioli is a lovely accompaniment to grilled vegetables (both green and root), fish and meats.
Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered about that sauce they serve at most chicken strip places and wanted to make your own? Combine equal amounts of mayo and ketchup, season with Worchestershire to taste and then, the trick I’ve been told, is to cover the surface with ground black pepper, stir it in, and repeat. Seriously, it’s that simple!
On the not-so-simple front is yet another emulsion but one that’s worth the effort for the culinary dare devils. I’ve never had a problem with making Hollandaise sauce but many fear it it. If not done correctly it can break (separate from it’s emulsion) or the eggs can scramble rather than combine smoothly with the butter and lemon juice, but when done right it’s amazing on grilled fish or steamed asparagus. And it’s tough to make a proper Eggs Benedict without it!
Now those are all creamy sauces and ones I really like because, to me, creamy is right up there with carbs as heaven-sent! But I know not everyone likes cream sauces, so what are some other options?
Vinaigrette comes immediately to mind. A simple combination of oil and vinegar (3 parts oil per 1 part vinegar) flavored any which way you want. You could go simple with salt and pepper or toss in some fresh herbs and smashed garlic. You can also change up your style of vinegar to change the dressing.
Chutneys come in two main forms: the Indian/South Asian style which is highly flavored and usually pureed or pounded smooth by a mortar and pestle or the chunky sweet and tart reductions of America and Europe. The first are often thin sauces relying on herbs or finely chopped fruit and vegetables for their flavor while the latter prefers large chunks bound together by a thick, syrupy sauce. You can make them yourself or purchase them ready-made, but either way they add a lot of variety to otherwise plain dishes. Salsa isn’t exactly a chutney, but it is a lovely condiment that can either be nice and chunky or pureed nearly smooth.
Finally, there are a couple of sauces with odd names that are worth knowing. A gastrique (ga-STREEK), for instance is a sauce of carmelized sugar deglazed with vinegar, flavored with any number of things. Likewise a coulis (koo-lees) might show up on a lot of fancy restaurant menus but all it is is aÂ pureed and strained fruit or vegetable sauce.
This, of course, is just an overview. Did I miss a favorite sauce or condiment that’s a staple in your home? Let me know in the comments!