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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Condiments, Sauces, and Dips and Three Fabulous Examples

Remember the impressive bargaining I did at the beach for my salad bowl?  This is the other piece that Isobel wanted to sell me with just two spoons.  When I told her it would look like a naked orphan, she laughed and gave me all three for about U.S.$11--her original price.  After my bargaining.

Condiments, Sauces, and Dips and Three Fabulous Examples
by Victoria Challancin

Clearly, the nomenclature surrounding culinary terms can vary according to location.  Take the terms "condiments," "sauces," and "dips."  What do they really mean?  The definitions are vague, and cross-overs common.  And ultimately, perhaps it doesn't matter.  But just because I enjoy words, etymology, and usage, I wanted to take a look.

  • Condiment:  An edible substance used to import a particular flavor, enhance its flavor, or in some cultures, to complement dish.  Originally, according to Wikipedia, the term described pickled or preserved food, but has changed in meaning and use over time.  Applied by the individual diner, condiments are often passed separately or in the modern, fast-food world, handed out in individual packets or servings.  Yikes!  That is a pretty skimpy interpretation of what I consider to be the piece de resistance, even if others see it as a mere dollop of flavor
  • Sauce:  a thick liquid served with food, usually savory dishes, to add moistness and flavor; a creaming or semi-solid food served on or used in preparing other foods.  Not generally consumed by themselves, they add flavor, moisture, and visual appeal to another dish.  The term comes from the Latin salsa, which means "salted."  This early term probably referred to the  Roman garum, a fish sauce that may be the precursor to Worcestershire sauce.  The French refined the term to include the five "mother sauces" (Bechamel, Veloute, Tomate, Espagnole, and Hollandaise).
 If added to salad, a sauce is called" salad dressing"; if deglazed, usually by wine, it is  called a  "pan sauce"; if thickened with flour and pan drippings and served over meat, at least in Britain and America, it is called "gravy."
  • Dip:  I will always think of Mexican food maven Diana Kennedy when I see "dip," because she wonderfully described it as something like "that dreadful American word."  Simply put though, a dip is basically a sauce into which food is dunked.  I can live with that.
Whatever we call them, these often pungent flavor-kicks can transform the simplest of food, nudging it from the mundane to the sublime.  The three sauces below are examples of just that, simple concoctions that enliven whatever they touch, adding a fillip of excitement as they do.

Tahini Sauce:  This is a simple sauce used throughout the Middle East with fish, pita bread, and falafel.  Sometimes I thin it with extra lemon juice and water, depending on what I am using it for.  It is a staple in most homes throughout the Middle East, and in mine!

Zhoug:  This fieryYemeni sauce can be killer spicy.  I often tone down the amount of chile, but an authentic version is truly scorching.  You can use it as a sauce for meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables.  Believed by Yemenites to keep away illness and strengthen the heart, a typical zhoug recipe might call for up to a pound of hot chiles to only a couple of cups of herbs and a small amount of oil.  I chose the following by Chef Greg Malouf simply because it is more user-friendly, and because I love his recipes in general.

Harissa:  I wrote fairly extensively about the popular North African condiment harissa in an earlier post (click here for my version which I served with an Eggplant Bisque)  While I like Chef Elizabeth Falkner's recipes in general, I admit that I prefer my own, which seems a bit more authentic.  She provides this version, which includes ancho chiles, pimentón, and sherry vinegar--clearly Spanish influences, in her newest book Cooking Off the Clock:  Recipes from My Downtime.  My own uses caraway and other flavors in a version I learned to make in Morocco from a dear friend.

Each of these sauces can be used to perk up the simplest food, from bread, crackers, bland cheese, rotisserie chicken, yogurt--the possibilities are limitless.

Tahini Sauce, Zhoug, and Harissa

Recipe:  Tahini Sauce
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup juice lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch cayenne (optional)

Place all ingredients in a bowl and blend, with an immersion blender or use a regular blender.  Check and adjust seasoning.

Variations:  Add 1/2 cup chopped parsley,mint, or cilantro--or a mix of these.  Add 1/2 cup yogurt.  Instead of, or in addition to the cayenne, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin.

Recipe:  Zhoug--A Yemeni Chile-Herb Sauce
(Recipe by Chef/Cookbook Author Greg Malouf)
Serves 6

4 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 cups fresh coriander (cilantro), roots removed
6 cloves garlic
4-6 serrano or bullet chiles, seeds removed and scraped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Splash of water

Crush the cardamom pods, peppercorns, and caraway seeds in a mortar and pestle, then sift to remove the husks.

Wash and thoroughly dry the coriander.  Put the chiles, coriander, garlic, salt and water in a blender, add the spices, and mix well.

Can be stored in a jar covered with 1 tablespoon olive oil to prevent discoloration

For my own version of Harissa and a bit of history and photos of harissa in Morocco, click here.
Recipe:  Harissa--A North African Condiment
(Recipe by Elizabeth Falkner)
Makes about 2 cups

4 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 medium roasted red bell pepper, or 4 ounces piquillo peppers
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
1/2 teaspoon rose water (optional)
3/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Cover the chiles with boiling water and let sit uncovered to rehydrate for 5 to 10 minutes.  Drain and put in a blender with the bell pepper, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, tomato paste, cumin, cayenne, pimentón, and rose water.  Puree, then slowly add the olive oil.  Adjust the seasoning with salt.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Parting Shot:
Roses.  My husband.  No reason.  Nice...

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


Eha said...

What a fabulous way to begin a sunny Sunday morning here with a lesson which will make me return to learn and to try! Let's leave dips aside: methinks I kind'of outgrew them some time ago. Absolutely love your beautiful condiment tray with the sauces - these are very interesting recipes I want to try soonest. Zhoug is entirely new to me: cardamom and caraway together: I have to taste that :) ! Just learned another version of harissa from Ottolenghi's Med series a few days back - quite frankly, m'dear, I think yours more interesting! Could not have named all the 'Mother sauces' ere today . . . I have a bit of a problem with the hot ones: love what you call 'pan sauces', absolutely hate what most call 'gravy' - perhaps had too many made with a horror story called 'Gravox' when i first came to Australia! My sauces are reduced ones or slightly thickened/glazed with cornflour in some Asian recipes!!

Joan Nova said...

A good condiment can change a meal from just ok to lip-smacking good! This trio is packed with flavor.

My Kitchen Stories. said...

Great selection of delicious sauces, and my that bowl is gorgeous. Did you buy it from the lady at the market?

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I do love reading about the etymology of words and you're always great about sharing that with us :D I just returned from a trip to the Middle East where we had condiments, sauces and dips and the most divine hummus you could ever dream up! :D

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun said...

Yes, Tania, that was the second piece I bought from Isobel in La Manzanilla, Mexico. A fun process.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I think I would prefer your harissa recipe because of the caraway. I hove not heard of zhoug but would definitely prefer your milder version. said...

What a threesome...I like a mild sauce as the heat makes me cry and cough...Not good for a food lover.

Nancy said...

I love condiments like yours. The salad bowl and spoons are so pretty. Good for you for bargaining and getting the complete set.

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun said...

Chiles affect many people that way. Stay away from the zhoug. It is killer! But the others are yummy.