tri-tip chimichurri

Elevate Your Cooking With These Easy No-Cook Condiments

Last Updated on September 29, 2020

Our ongoing mission to eat well without making too much of an effort applies doubly in summer.
One of the ways we do that (besides eating snack plates and hot dogs for dinner most nights) is to steal a little time in the kitchen to mix together a couple of condiments to add to our meals throughout the week.

A simple green sauce made from some combination of herbs, garlic, and oil; or a spice blend stirred together with oil to make a paste are just the things to liven up everyday staples like eggs, grain bowls, and of course, grilled meats.

Cuisines all over the world depend on a stable of condiments, rubs, and sauces to elevate daily home cooking. Here are just a few.

Salsas from Mexico

In her book, Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, author and LA-based restaurateur Bricia Lopez dedicates an entire chapter to salsa—everything from a savory cinnamon salsa to one made from ground grasshoppers. “In Oaxaca,” she writes, “you can’t have a good meal without a good salsa.”

Some fresh and cooked salsas that are ideal spooned over a piece of grilled beef or chicken include a tart tomatillo salsa, a mezcal version made with tomatillos and chipotle chiles, and salsa roja de chile morita, made with fiery, smoky chiles.

hot chili peppers

Regional Chinese Sauces

Many dishes from regional Chinese cuisines get a boost from punchy sauces.

This genius (and Internet-famous) three-ingredient ginger-scallion sauce, traditional in Cantonese cooking, can be spooned over everything from scrambled eggs to poached chicken to grilled beef skewers.

And in her book, Every Grain of Rice, cookbook author Fuschia Dunlop shares a recipe called (liang ban ji) for cold chicken with a spicy Sichuanese sauce. The sauce, which Dunlop says she usually throws together with pantry ingredients, depends on spicy chili oil and ground Sichuan pepper for its tingly, numbing heat. Though this sauce is traditionally tossed with cold chicken, it would also be amazing spooned over salmon, cod, or tossed with slices of cold beef.

Sauces and Condiments from the Middle East

Countries throughout the Middle East are known for their complex and varied cuisines, especially as related to spices.

As Claudia Roden writes in her New Book of Middle Eastern Food, “every household has a favorite spice mixture which they blend to taste and keep in jars as ready condiments or flavorings.” Some of the best-known include za’atar, a blend of sumac, salt, sesame seeds, and dried wild thyme; and ras el hanout, an Egyptian mix of primarily cinnamon, allspice, and cloves—the latter is especially delicious mixed with oil to make a paste and rubbed on chicken, beef, or lamb before grilling.

Harissa, a Tunisian spice paste, is a pepper-based mixture—some recipes call for a roasted bell pepper as the base; others have you soak dried hot chiles before pounding them into a paste with garlic and a trio of spices: Cumin, coriander, and caraway. The result is a fiery condiment that’s delicious rubbed on meat before grilling, or spooned over the top after meat comes off the grill. It’s also great splotched over fried eggs or stirred into a grainy salad for some extra oomph.

Speaking of oomph, zhoug is another potent condiment from this part of the world. Originating from Yemen and especially popular in Syria and Israel (cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi refers to zhoug as “the Israeli national chile paste”), zhoug is a spicy mix of cilantro, parsley, green chiles, garlic, and spices. Use it in the same way you’d use harissa—spooned over anything and everything that needs a lift.

More Green Sauces

Zhoug is one of many green sauces from all over the world that can be made with the herbs and spices on hand—from Italy’s salsa verde made with capers and anchovies, to chimichurri, an Argentine green sauce featuring parsley, oregano, and a splash of vinegar.

The list goes on, but ultimately: That wilting bunch of cilantro or parsley in the fridge? Roughly chop it, throw it in the blender with a couple chopped garlic cloves, an (optional) anchovy, a splash of vinegar, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and some salt and olive oil—it just takes a minute to buzz together a sauce to elevate not only your grill game but your whole approach to summer food. Hot dogs included.

Leigh Belanger is a writer, editor, and content strategist. Her 2018 cookbook, My Kitchen Chalkboard, features a year of seasonal family dinners with menu ideas and meal planning tips to help make home cooking easier.