by Pam Vukelic
I’ve seen books with titles along the lines of “One Thousand Foods to Eat Before You Die” or “Eat Your Way Around the World.” The tasks seem quite daunting to me! But, I do like the idea of experiencing international cuisine, and want to propose an easy way to accomplish it.
Our supermarkets and specialty grocery store shelves are stocked with wonderful prepared sauces, pastes, and condiments that can easily transform a starch such as a baked potato, rice, or noodles into a very tasty ethnic dish. Incorporated in soups, meat items, or vegetable dishes these ingredients dramatically change the flavor of an ordinary recipe. In addition, many “sauces” are easily prepared in your own kitchen.
Miso (Japanese) is fermented soybean paste. It provides a slightly salty umami flavor. Available in different colors (white, yellow, red, and black) depending on length of fermentation and added ingredients, the yellow is the most versatile. One of the common uses of miso is in soup where you would use it just as you would concentrated chicken bouillon. It can be added to stir fry dishes and I’ve seen it on many restaurant menus as a glaze, for example, for salmon. Miso is considered a highly nutritious food.
Sriracha (Thai) hot chili sauce has, in recent years, become very popular. In our neck of the woods we are most likely to see it in a plastic bottle with a green cap and a rooster drawing as artwork. This brand, created by Huy Fong Foods in California, is a derivative of the original, which came from Sri Racha, Thailand. The sauce packs quite a punch, but is different from other hot chili sauces in that there is also a bit of sweetness. It is the consistency of ketchup, but uses are much more diverse. It is commonly found as a drink ingredient, in soups and marinades, and used straight, as a dipping sauce.
Gochujang (Korean) has been described as the “new” Sriracha. It’s a hot pepper paste that, when combined with soy, rice wine, and brown sugar, makes a terrific dipping sauce (as for pot stickers). Its consistency, which is similar to miso, contributes to its versatility. Since the degree of heat varies by brand, check the label to see if there is a heat indicator so you know it will be to your liking. Gochujang is also a common ingredient in marinades and soups.
Chimchurrri (Argentinian) is most often associated with meat. This green sauce typically features parsley, garlic, oregano, and vinegar. It is easy to make at home and is a good way to use extra parsley growing in your herb garden. As always, reserve your curly-leaf parsley for garnishes and use flat-leaf parsley as an ingredient.
Pesto (Italian) is another herb sauce readily available at your grocery store but it is very easy to prepare at home. Basil is the primary ingredient and it is a terrific way to take advantage of zealous basil plants. Pesto can be frozen, so the shelf life of your basil can be dramatically extended. Pesto also typically includes parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic. Pesto can transform “blah” pasta into something special. Stir in a bit to create a sauce for your favorite hot pasta with the added benefit of adding tons of flavor with few calories. We were recently served pesto at a tapas restaurant as a dipping sauce for hard rolls.
Mole (Mexican) typically contains so many ingredients, including the signature chocolate, I recommend buying it ready-made. Other ingredients are chiles, garlic, cinnamon, and sometimes raisins and almonds, along with many other spices and aromatics. A locally available brand is Dona Maria. Mole Poblano (a chicken recipe) is the classic mole dish. Other uses are in chili and slow cooker meat recipes.
Criolla (Creole) is considered a South American version of salsa and is often used as a meat or fish sauce. The primary ingredients are usually tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and celery, and something to provide an acidic kick, such as vinegar, lime juice, or even pickled beets, and various other spices. At a restaurant we visited recently I ordered pork cubes in criolla sauce and bitter oranges. Served over rice and black beans it was delicious.
Sweet Chili Sauce (Thai) is truly one of my favorites, due not only to its flavor, but also its versatility. A common brand found locally is Maggi. Exceptionally spicy food does not appeal much to my Norwegian taste buds and this is a sauce that adds flavor without heat. It can be used right out of the bottle as a dipping sauce for egg rolls, pot stickers, and spring rolls and also works well as a noodle sauce or in stir fry dishes. I’ve also combined it with mayonnaise for a sauce for crab cakes. Although I haven’t tried it, I’ve read that it can be used in place of tomato sauce on a pizza. With toppings of chicken, feta, and sun dried tomatoes, this sounds like something worth a try.
Worcestershire (British) sauce has been around for nearly 200 years. Most people are familiar with it as an ingredient for foods and beverages but aren’t aware that anchovies (which many people purport to hate) are one of the flavor-producing ingredients. Perhaps the biggest mystery about Worcestershire is its pronunciation – WOO ster shur. There are numerous YouTube clips addressing the pronunciation if you prefer an audio explanation. (What is NOT on YouTube!?) I pulled out an old favorite family recipe recently for Porcupine Meatballs and added twice the recommended amount of Worcestershire for the extra roundness of flavor. Lea & Perrins is one of the oldest brands. They say their product is gluten free, something that is not true for many sauces.
Tabasco (American) has been made by the McIlhenny family on Avery Island in South Louisiana since the 1860s when it was first “packaged” in perfume bottles. The main ingredient is tabasco peppers, and of course the remaining ingredients are big family secrets. The process includes aging in white oak barrels for up to three years. I’ve seen tiny miniatures of Tabasco included in Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) provided to soldiers. In recent years many varieties of Tabasco have been produced. They include Green Pepper, Chipotle, Buffalo, Habanero, Garlic Pepper, and Sweet and Spicy. The latter is their mildest version (perhaps 600 on the Scoville scale compared to 5000 for the original) and, as the name suggests, is the first version specifically designed to be used as a dipping sauce. For something new, look online for a Tabasco chocolate recipe, for example for brownies, sundaes, and cookies. Sounds a bit like a take-off on a mole sauce.
Many sauces are named for their place of origin (e.g., Sriracha, Worcestershire, and Buffalo). It’s fun to imagine what the ingredients would be in Double Ditch or Fort Lincoln concoctions!
Pam Vukelic is an online FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) instructor for the Missouri River Educational Consortium.