Getting a healthy meal together quickly can be a challenge. Getting a healthy tasty meal together even more so, especially if you have some finicky eaters in the family.
My solution? Take some time on the weekend every now and then to put together delicious, heart-healthy condiments to perk things up. Set them out alongside a roast chicken or a bowl of noodles and less adventurous eaters can ignore them, while those who love a little bit of spice can pour them on.
Here are two of my favorites, a traditional Mexican Adobo Sauce, and a slightly-simplified and less salty version of the magnificent Chili Crisp Sauce found in The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying (which, if you love cookbooks, should be on your shelf – it’s terrific).
Adobo sauce is used in a zillion different ways in Mexico, especially when it comes to cooking meat. Try slathering it over boneless country pork ribs before putting them in a hot oven or on the grill. When they’re done, let them rest a few minutes, then slice them up for tacos topped with sliced onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
Crispy Chili Sauce will become a go-to every time you cook an Asian dish. Try mixing a spoonful of it with some Chinese black vinegar and a splash of soy sauce to use as dipping sauce for steamed dumplings. Or whisk it into vinaigrette to pour over sliced cabbage and carrots for a spicy slaw.
And don’t be put off by the lists of ingredients for these recipes. Market Basket is an excellent source of the dried Mexican-style peppers for the Adobo Sauce; you’ll find them in the produce section. I haven’t found dried chipotles there, but they stock canned chipotles. You can leave them out of this sauce, if you like, though they do add a delicious, smoky flavor.
As for the Crispy Chili sauce, I have found all the ingredients for it at the small Asian-African markets that have opened in Concord and Manchester in recent years. These markets are great resources for inexpensive and interesting legumes, grains, produce and cooking implements; definitely worth a visit to one near you.
one 3-ounce package ancho chilies (around 8 chiles)
one 3-ounce package guajillo chilies (around 8 chiles)
one chipotle chile (either dried or canned) (optional)
3 dried cloves
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
one 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon oregano or marjoram
20 cloves garlic, skin-on
1 cup good quality vinegar (cider or sherry vinegars are both good)
Remove the stems from the peppers and shake out the seeds; discard stems and seeds. Cut or tear the peppers into pieces.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the chiles and let them brown for 30 seconds to one minute, just until they give off a nice scent – don’t brown them. Remove from the pan, place in a bowl and cover them with warm water; set aside to soak.
Heat the skillet again and add the garlic cloves. Cook, turning the cloves occasionally until he skin has some black spots and the flesh has become soft. Set the garlic aside to cool.
In the same pan in which you toasted the garlic, toast the cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves and peppercorns for about a minute. For the final 10 seconds or so, add the oregano to the pan. Tip the herbs out of the pan into a small bowl.
Drain the chiles, but save some of the soaking water. Remove the skins from the cloves of garlic and discard the skin.
Place the garlic, chiles, toasted spices and vinegar into the jar of a blender and cover. Pulse the ingredients, scraping down now and then, until you have a thick, fairly-smooth sauce. If needed, add a bit of the soaking water to thin it out.
The sauce will keep in tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for a few weeks and in the freezer for a few months.
Crispy Chili Sauce
(based on The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook)
3 or 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon crumbled dried seaweed (I used laver)
2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
one 3-ounce package cayenne peppers (found in Asian markets) or chiles de arbol, about 4 cups, stems removed but seeds intact
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 star anise
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 black cardamom, smashed with a pestle or knife
15 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3½ cups oil suitable for high heat (like sunflower, grape-seed or peanut)
½ cup sesame oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
Remove the stems from the shiitakes (save for soup, if you like). Chop or break the caps into pieces, combine with about 1 tablespoon of crumbled seaweed, then pulse in spice grinder to powder. You should wind up with about ½ cup of mushroom-seaweed powder.
Place the powder and all the other ingredients, except the oils and fish sauce, into a large pot with high sides – the oil will bubble up when added so make sure there’s room.
In another pot, heat the oils to 375 degrees. When they reach temperature, very carefully pour them over the ingredients in the other pot. The mixture will bubble and release some steam, so be very careful. Stir well with a wooden spoon or chopstick.
Allow the mixture to cool. Strain the oil from the mixture, reserving it to use as chili oil. Remove any big chunks of spices from the mixture (like the anise and cinnamon) and discard them. The rest of the mixture, place in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have a thick, chunky sauce. Taste and stir in the fish sauce if you would like a little saltier/funkier.
Store the sauce and the oil in jars in the refrigerator. They will keep at least two months sealed tightly.