Condiments are Key
By Cheryl Forberg, RD
They’re quick. They’re easy. They deliver big flavor in small doses and add the richness we crave. What’s not to love about condiments?
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 a 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 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 recipe 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. Marinades bathe meat, fish and vegetables in flavor 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 a whole-wheat English muffin; a spicy salsa adds zest to the rich buttery texture of a plump juicy halibut fillet.
This miso dressing is one of my favorites, loaded with umami, it’s great on any type of vegetable salad, as a sandwich spread, tossed with cold noodles, or drizzled on grilled chicken or fish. The long list of ingredients may look intimidating, but once you measure them into your blender jar, all you need to do is push the button.
Asian Salad with Miso Dressing
This tangy dressing lasts for about two weeks in the refrigerator, though I doubt you’ll have any left by then.
1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
1/4 cup golden miso
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup Melissa’s soft silken tofu
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons Melissa’s blue agave nectar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons natural unsweetened peanut butter
2 tablespoons minced green onion (green and white parts)
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
1½ teaspoons Melissa’s minced garlic
1 teaspoon sesame oil
8 ounces red cabbage, thinly sliced (4 cups)
8 ounces Napa cabbage (or green cabbage), thinly sliced (4 cups)
2 medium carrots, cut into julienne strips
1 Melissa’s Enjoya bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin julienne strips
1/2 large English cucumber, seeded and cut into medium dice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, without stems
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Prepare dressing: Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside. There will be about 2 cups of dressing.
For salad: Place salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add ½ cup dressing and toss to combine. Pass extra dressing separately.