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A Little Sauce on the Side: Your Guide to DIY Condiments

Homemade-Condiment-Collection

Homemade Condiment Collection

For all of the growing and eating of fresh produce most of us do, or aspire to do, condiments often survive our purging of processed and problematic foods. Ironically, many of us are growing the exact ingredients we need to make our own homespun condiments, free of food industry chemicals and additives but stocked with real nutritional value and flavor.

Plus, once the basics are in motion, it’s possible to start playing, making funky varieties like sweet beet ketchup, honey-basil mustard, spicy pepper mayo or creamy avocado salad dressing. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first we need to get some basic recipes under our belts, kick the old Heinz habit, and move into one more element of self-sufficiency without giving up our favorite condiments.

Ketchup from scratch-up

Growing all those delicious potatoes out in the garden would just somehow seem less worthwhile if the subsequent chips were lacking a good wallop of ketchup. But, we’ve barely scraped the surface of how ketchup gets used: on eggs, burgers, sausages, and so on. It’s hard to imagine a kitchen without ketchup.

To make it, we’ll obviously need tomatoes, which are hopefully out in the garden or on twirling around the balcony rail. Blend them up into about a cup of tomato paste (make your own tomato paste, too), add in half a cup of vinegar (make your own vinegar, too) and quarter cups of both water and whatever sweetener is on the go: raw sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, agave, beets, etc. Throw in a bit of sea salt and perhaps some onions, garlic and pepper (powder or fresh).

Slowly simmer all of this for about twenty minutes, until it gets to the desired consistency. It’ll store in the fridge for a month or more.

Herbacious-aioli

Herbacious aioli

Mayonnaise from the yard

Mayonnaise is one of those things that can have some creepy ingredients, stuff with likely ties to GMOs and quality protection compounds. It’s also one of those sauces that has found uses far beyond sandwiches, as it is now prevalent in all sorts of salads, from potato to pasta to those classic Caesars. Some folks have even taken to dipping the fries in some mayo rather than, or in addition to, ketchup.

In truth, mayonnaise should be simple: oil (cold-pressed olive oil for better health), an egg (from your own chicken tractor), some lemon juice or vinegar, a bit of salt and water to texture. Blend it all together, no cooking. Then, to funk it up, one need only thrown in the flavors of choice, a bit of pesto or a tablespoon of hot sauce.

Homemade mayonnaise doesn’t store quite as well, only about five days. As well, for those nervous about raw eggs (or vegans), something will need to replace the eggs, which work to thicken the sauce and bind water and oil. Options included roasted eggplant, silken tofu, or soy milk (make your own GMO-free, organic version).

Mustard from mustard seeds

At some point in history, the world of mustard took a wrong turn and went the way of classic yellow. In truth, as most of us have learned by now, grainy Dijon mustard is the good stuff, with loads more flavor, real ingredients, and nasal-clearing spice that keeps us coming back for more. And, you’ll get to eat the mustard greens in the meantime because, hopefully, the mustard is from the garden!

Mustard is simple to make, really, It’s done with a mixture of mustard powder (maybe half a cup), mustard seeds (a few tablespoons), vinegar (a few tablespoons), salt and water (half a cup again). From there, the flavors can be added, either using different types of vinegar (think white wine or champagne) or dried herbs (dill does it right) or sweetening agents. A little oil might keep it smoother for spreading.

All of the ingredients get blended together, no cooking necessary, but the mustard does need to sit for a couple of days or more before eating. It’s bitter at first.

About-to-be-hot-sauce

About to be hot sauce

Hot sauce from fresh peppers

Spicy peppers bring some beautiful color to the garden, many of them are perennial plants (fitting in with the permaculture mindset), and they are what make for a wonderful hot sauce. In fact, any hot sauce without them, even processed, is something to be seriously concerned about. To the point, hot sauce is a staple condiment on many a table, for many a meal. Skip the preservatives and make it at home.

Spicy peppers come in wide variety, from the ever-popular jalapeno and Cajun cayenne to ones–habanero or ghost peppers—that swing for the fences on spiciness. The simple hot sauce is peppers, vinegar and salt. From there, flavor option can get really fun, suggesting regional cuisine, such as tropical fruits for that feel or carrots and onions for a downhome feel or cinnamon, cloves, garlic and ginger for a Caribbean jerk vibe.

Hot sauces can be simmered to subtlety, the components roasted beforehand, or liquefied raw from more health benefits.

Barbecue sauce from other condiments

Barbecue sauce is the summertime condiment and half the reason firing up a grill is so damned rewarding. To be completely honest, there are lots of strains of barbecue sauce, some richly sweet and thick with tomato, others a spicy, tangy swirl of pepper and vinegar. All of them have the time and place and particular qualities of inducing Sunday barbecue happiness.

To make a good barbecue sauce, it’s not a horrible idea to start with about four parts ketchup to two parts vinegar and one part mustard. Generally, some garlic and onion powder (or cooked down version of the real things), healthy dashes or dollops even of cumin and chili powder will add some personality. Hot sauce doesn’t hurt. From there, the same idea of incorporating particular ingredients to capture specific types of cuisine will make endless varieties of barbecue sauce.

Also, don’t forget that cooking down some veggies in a skillet with barbecue sauce is an awesome way to get the flavor without the rigmarole.

Avocado-pesto

Avocado pesto sauce

Herb blends from the spiral and lettuce beds

All those herbs leafing out in the garden are good for far more than sprinkling into pasta sauce and warding off pests. In fact, nearly all of them have insane medicinal powers, including anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that prevent all sorts of modern-day medical issues. They are also amazingly flavorful and worthy of becoming their own condiments.

Most of us have heard of pesto (basil, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil), some of us have heard of chimichurri (parsley, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil) and it’s also possible to just throw a healthy mix of herbs and greens (chard, hibiscus leaves, mustard greens) into a blender with…you guessed it…olive oil, lemon juice and garlic to come out with something good on the other end.

Use these herb blends to spread on sandwiches, scoop up with flatbread or garnish a bowl of beans.

* * *

Let’s be honest: Life without condiments is much blander. They aren’t the only thing in every movie bachelor’s fridge for no reason, but that doesn’t mean we have to be like those bachelors. Firstly, we can fill our fridges with produce from the garden, and now the condiments in our fridge doors can be of the DIY variety, yawping the extents of our self-sufficiency and prowess in the kitchen. We may not all be gourmets, but our sandwiches aren’t going to be dry!

Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.

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