How Condiments Can Make Or Break A Healthy Diet
By Cheryl Forberg, RD
They’re quick. They’re easy. They deliver big flavor in small doses and add the richness we crave to our favorite foods. What’s not to love about condiments? A large salad of crisp greens with fresh tomatoes and bell peppers sounds healthy, doesn’t it? Or what about a chilled platter of crudités for an afternoon snack — fresh cucumber wedges, crunchy carrots and crisp jicama slices? How could you go wrong with a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with sprouts, lettuce and red onion slices? On their own, they’re flavorful and healthy choices, but the addictive flavor and creamy texture of our favorite condiments can quickly turn our well¬ intended “healthy” meals and snacks into a disastrous heap of excess (and poor quality) calories.
Consider the bowl of French onion dip that we enjoy with our crudités, the tangy Ranch dressing that we pour on our salads or the creamy mayo that we slather on our “diet” sandwich. Who knew that a cup of ranch dressing has 1,200 calories? That’s an entire daily calorie budget for many of us. Many people mindlessly polish off a cup or more when dipping veggies (or maybe even, gulp, dipping their French fries. And that cup of ranch dressing has even more calories than a cup of mayonnaise (900 calories) and nearly four times as many as a cup of avocado puree (360 calories) — which is a much higher¬ quality fat, by the way.
Defined as a relish, sauce, dressing or other food accompaniment, condiments can be used in a variety of ways to add zip and zest to any meal. You can use condiments in pre¬cooking marinades and rubs, incorporate them into dishes as you cook, or offer them on the side at the table. Types of condiments include: Relishes, salsas and chutneys. Incorporating chopped vegetables and fruits along with herbs and acidic liquids like vinegar or lemon juice, these accompaniments can be chunky or smooth. Although generally considered condiments for savory dishes, they can have sweetish overtones, or range from mildly spicy to flaming hot. Fruit butters, jellies, jams and preserves. Fruit or fruit juice, sugar, water and sometimes pectin are the traditional ingredients in these spreads; to make them more nutritious, reduce the amount of sweetener to bring out intense fruit flavors, and use a healthy alternative to white sugar, such as honey or agave nectar.
Dressings. A sauce used to top salads and other dishes served cold or at room temperature, dressings can range far beyond the standard oil and vinegar combination. Using aromatic combinations of herbs, flavorful vinegars or citrus juice, and minimal fat can make dressings healthy as well as delicious.
Sauces. Any thickened, flavored liquid that accompanies food qualifies as a sauce — from tomato sauce for pasta to crème anglaise sauce for dessert. Swap rich staples like Hollandaise sauce for healthier alternatives that use fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices to deliver flavor and texture. To achieve richness, use avocado instead of mayo — or combine healthier options for classic favorites that satisfy without unhealthy fats or excess calories, as in the recipes below.
Glazes. A thin coating of intense sweet or savory flavor can add another layer of zest to a dish, without adding fat. Reductions of meat stocks or broths, melted dark chocolate or fruit spread can all be used in sparing amounts to boost flavor without sacrificing health. Marinades — a flavored liquid used to bathe meat, fish and vegetables prior to cooking. The bath of aromatic liquid typically consists of an acidic substance like lemon juice or red wine, plus spices and herbs.
Rubs. Another pre-cooking flavor booster, rubs are a blend of herbs, spices and salt that coat the surface of food — adding a flavor kick with few calories and no fat. The great news is that most condiments are a snap to make — and you can whip up large batches so you have plenty on hand to add to meals on the go. To maximize a condiment’s flavor boost, consider how the taste and texture interacts with the dish it accompanies. Often, contrasting sensations enhance the dish overall. For example, a smooth fruit butter can add richness to the crunch of whole grain toast; a spicy salsa adds zest to the rich buttery texture of a plump, juicy halibut fillet. Always look for lower salt options for these zesty additions to your pantry and if you buy condiments rather than make them, choose no-sugar-added varieties.
The recipe I am sharing with you today is in a category of its own. Vadouvan is a ready-to-use blend of spices that is a French-style of curry spices that are slow roasted with onions, shallots and garlic. It takes a little time to make, but if you’re a curry-lover, this recipe will become one of your favorites. Use this scrumptious blend to flavor marinades or dressings. Add a spoonful to your scrambled eggs or to flavor a creamy dip. It’s also the perfect addition to flavor a last minute sauce for chicken, fish or even tofu.
Yield about two cups or sixteen two tablespoon servings
1½ pounds Yellow Onions, peeled, halved and quartered
12 ounces Shallots, peeled and halved
8 cloves Garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons Grapeseed Oil
2 teaspoons Cumin Seed
1 teaspoon Fenugreek
1 teaspoon Coriander Seed
1 teaspoon Yellow Mustard Seed
½ teaspoon Cardamom Seed
2 teaspoons Smoked Salt
1 teaspoon Curry Powder
½ teaspoon Ground Turmeric
½ teaspoon Melissa’s Hatch Chile Powder
½ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
½ teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
In the bowl of a food processor, coarsely chop onions using pulse speed. Transfer onions to medium mixing bowl. Repeat with the shallots and garlic cloves.
Heat oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit. In a large, nonstick sauté pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add the onion mixture and sauté over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring regularly, until the mixture is soft and just starting to brown. Remove from heat.
In a small sauté pan, lightly toast the spice seeds (cumin, fenugreek, coriander, mustard and cardamom) over medium heat just until fragrant. Remove from heat and grind in spice grinder. Add to the onions along with the ground seasonings (smoked salt, curry powder, turmeric, Hatch chile powder, nutmeg and black pepper). Stir well.
Transfer the mixture to a nonstick sheet pan and spread thinly to an even layer. Cook vadouvan in slow oven for about ½ hour. Turn off oven and leave door closed for one hour. Open oven door and leave vadouvan in oven for 30 minutes longer. Remove from sheet pan and transfer to a pint size jar. Refrigerate for up to one month.
Nutritionals for 2 tablespoon serving
Total Fat 60
Calories from Fat 25
Sat Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 300 mg
Total Carb 8 g
Fiber 2 g
Sugars 4 g
Protein 1 g
Vit A 0
Vit C 10% RDA
Calcium 2% RDA
Iron 2% RDA