Life without sauce is a bit, well, bland. So too are the usual weekday dinners. If you're like the average American, the pocket shelves of your fridge door are lined with the usual suspects: Tabasco, HP sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, and all the 1001 varieties perched upon supermarket shelves. The problem with most of those sauces is that they contain a lot of preservatives, unnecessary sugar, and ingredients you can't pronounce. Those sauces and marinades are okay in moderation, but most nutritionists wouldn't recommend daily consumption.
Some sauces are time consuming to prepare and contain a bucket full of ingredients. Those are fine for special occasions. But if you want to dress up an ordinary Tuesday night dinner, you want something quick and easy. That's why we compiled five of our favourite and versatile sauces. They're simple to prepare, contain few ingredients, and keep for a few days in the fridge. And just because they're simple, doesn't mean you can't include them in special meals too. Indeed they impress the taste buds of anyone lucky enough to enjoy them.
Spiced Lemon-Tahini Dressing
This is an in-house recipe that everyone who has tried it loves. When researching spices, I decided to go whole-hog with all my favorites and ended up with this thick, tasty, warming concoction. Aside from the impressive spice blend, few ingredients are needed to make this one. And you can thin it out or thicken it up by adjusting the amount of tahini (more makes it thicker), olive oil, and lemon juice. I find it handy to keep all three base ingredients out and taste test as I go, adding more of one, if necessary. To find out more about each of these spices, check out our Spices Guide, available for free download here.
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp tahini
1 teaspoon of the following *spice blend:
Cayenne Pepper (½ part)
*Use a 1:1 ratio of freshly ground spices. I usually add a teaspoon of each (except for cayenne) to a jar with a tightly fitting lid so I can scoop a little out anytime I need it.
Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini together until smooth and creamy. Add more tahini to thicken it up, if desired. Add the spice blend and whisk until well integrated. If you want to add a touch of sweetness, sprinkle in a bit of brown sugar.
This is THE sauce for pasta––any kind of pasta. With or without meat, this one rewards your taste buds with sweet, plump roma tomatoes, aromatic basil and oregano, and the heated kick of cayenne pepper, which you can add to suit your taste. Many recipes call for skinless tomatoes, but leaving the skin's intact diversifies the texture. If you prefer no skins, peel the tomatoes before chopping. Make sure you use fresh ground spices, cracked black pepper, and the finest quality olive oil you can find.
3 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped
12 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or smashed with a stone mortar and pestle
1 bay leaf
½ cup cabernet red wine
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp fennel seed
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and bay leaf. Allow the tomato juice to reach a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat, and simmer the mixture until tomatoes are soft, approximately 30 minutes.
Stir in the red wine, honey, basil, oregano, marjoram, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, fennel seed, and crushed red pepper. Allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes. A delicious spicy, tangy aroma filling your kitchen indicates that it's almost ready.
Last step, stir in the balsamic vinegar. Serve hot over top pasta or in lasagna.
I recently discovered that pesto isn't just for pasta. Since I learned this homemade pesto recipe, I've been putting it on nearly everything, from grilled tilapia to steamed veggies, or even mixed into quinoa. It's best to use fresh basil leaves, coarsely hand-chopped, and freshly shaved parmesan instead of the prepared stuff. Olive oil is a critical part of this recipe so make sure you choose a high-quality brand.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
½ cup freshly grated romano or parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ tsp sea salt, to taste
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pulse the basil and pine nuts in a food processor. Then add the garlic and cheese and pulse a few more times, using a spatula to scrape the sides in between pulses.
While the food processor is going, slowly add the olive oil. This action helps to emulsify the oil. Scrape the sides occasionally.
Stir in the salt and pepper, adding more if desired.
There are few food gifts greater than peanut sauce. Arguably, it doesn't have to pair with anything at all. It's so mouthwateringly delicious that you could eat it with a spoon. But it's a bit rich so probably best to at least spoon it over top of chicken and rice. Peanut sauce is commonly used in Indonesia cooking (saus kacang) and served up with gado gado, a steamed veggie salad, or chicken sate. Drizzle over top of vegetable sushi rolls, spring rolls, baked into chicken, or stir fried into a beef and vegetable medley––it all works and it's all delicious.
½ cup natural smooth or chunky peanut butter, unsweetened
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp chili garlic sauce, to taste
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tbsp ginger root, grated
2-4 tbsp warm water
Combine all ingredients, except the water, in a large bowl and whisk until fully blended.
As a final step (so easy!), add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until reaching the desired consistency. As a sauce, 2 tablespoons usually does the trick, but 4 is best for a dressing.
Your grilled salmon will thank you, along with the family! We think this pairs best with grilled or baked salmon, but it works well with chicken, tender beef strips, or a vegetable stir fry too. You can even whip it up as a quick and easy salad dressing. It's sweet, sticky, and slightly spicy thanks to ginger's natural heat and belly-warming goodness.
¼ cup soy sauce
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
½" piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and smashed
Using a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic and ginger root.
In a large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, maple syrup, and sesame oil until combined. Add the smashed garlic and ginger and whisk until well integrated.
Use as a glaze for grilled or baked salmon fillets or steaks.
Sauce Up Those Dinners
Like delicious side dishes, a good sauce is one of those key additions to any meal, and it doesn't have to come from a jar featuring a commercial label and dubious ingredients. Fresh, homemade sauces not only taste better, they're easy to prepare and usually include ingredients you already have on hand.
If you've checked out our previous blog on the Cooking Terms Toolkit, read it here to improve your basic cooking know-how.
Enjoy the variety of flavors from the collection of quick and easy sauces. From our kitchen to yours, we wish you saucy times in the kitchen this holiday season!