Condiments Bring Life to Food (Use Liberally)
Exploring my favorite condiments to bring life to vegan food: Green Zhug, Garlicky Lemon-Walnut Crumble, Spicy Pickled Cucumbers
One way to bring life into the food you prepare is by using condiments to enhance flavors, introduce new textures or create a balance in tastes. This custom of adding condiments to food is an ancient practice – as old as cooking itself.
Condiments originally meant nothing more than using certain foods as a way to preserve another food. Over time, condiments slowly took on new meanings to include any preparation added to a food to impart a specific flavor, enhance flavors or to complement the dish. Modern uses of the word condiment have broader definitions to include anything added to the preparation to introduce textures or to somehow harmonize the flavors. This could include spices, seasonings, sauces, fruit, nuts and various cooked or uncooked preparations.
As noted in Larousse Gastronomic, a distinction is made between a seasoning and a condiment. Seasonings are substances added to food while it is being prepared, whereas a condiment can be either an accompaniment (mustard, pickles or ketchup), or an ingredient (truffles, dried fruit, alcohol, herbs, spices), or a preserving agent (vinegar, salt, oil or sugar).
One important concept professional chefs learn early on is how to enhance, support, texturize and collaborate with ingredients to make delicious dishes that go beyond just tasty – they become memorable. Most condiments can be made over a few hours spent in the kitchen during a quiet weekend. The results can be stored for weeks and used liberally during a busy week to lift an otherwise bland dish to new heights.
Here are three of my regular favorites – one to bring spice, one for texture and one for adding a sweet-sour note. All three are simple to prepare and versatile in their use. Included below is a list of more condiments published on the myfreshattitude.com website.
Please let me know if you made any of these recipes and what you thought about them. You can leave a comment below, reply to this email or share your creations on social media sites (mentions appreciated). I’m always thrilled to hear from my friends, readers and critiques – so please don’t be shy.
Zhug is a kind of relish (or salsa if you prefer) originating from Yemen. It is extremely popular in Israel, which is where I first met this fiery condiment.
Most people enjoy a bit of zhug on flatbread as an appetizer…perhaps with some sliced tomatoes…or to accompany anything that is coming off a hot grill. I use it liberally in soups or stews to elevate the flavor of a particular dish. But mostly, I am addicted to a breakfast of flatbread, Sicilian tomatoes, a healthy dose of hot green zhug and a small splash of fruity extra virgin olive oil – that alone transports me to a sunny Mediterranean coast…and I think that’s a great start to any day!
You can easily make this relish in a food processor in a matter of minutes. Alternatively, carefully and aggressively pound everything using a mortar-pestle and as the great food writer Paula Wolfert once described, “while cursing the whole world and your miserable fate!”
Yield: makes about 3/4 cup
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and grated
120 grams (about 4 ounces) green chili peppers
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup (about 60 grams or 2 ounces) flat leaf parsley
1 ½ cups (about 90 grams or 3 ounces) fresh coriander
Sea salt and ground black pepper
About 60 ml. (1/4-cup) extra virgin olive oil or water (see tips below)
Place the grated garlic in the bowl of your food processor. Chop your chili peppers (remove the seeds to tame the heat if you want) and add them to the food processor. Pulse once or twice, then scrape the sides of the food processor.
Add the remaining ingredients and blend well to make a rough paste – leave a bit of texture in the relish rather than blending until completely smooth.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, then place the zhug in a jar and refrigerate. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary after one day.
This is a versatile recipe – you can make it as hot as you like or make a milder version by incorporating mild green chili peppers. I usually like using one poblano chili (quite mild) and 2-3 jalapeno peppers (quite hot).
You can make a red version of this relish by using red chili peppers instead of green varieties and adding about 5 medium-sized tomatoes (pureed and strained) with a bit of ground sweet paprika.
The extra virgin olive oil is optional. Simply use water to replace the oil. You may need to adjust the seasoning a bit if using just water – maybe more salt as your zhug may taste too bitter. The use of oil will also heighten the fiery nature of your chili peppers, so keep that in mind when deciding on the type of peppers you want to use.
Store zhug in a sealed jar for weeks in the refrigerator. I make sure to top off the zhug with a bit of oil to keep oxidation to a minimum. Alternatively, you can make a large batch and freeze it in smaller portions.
You can make zhug entirely from parsley if you are not a fan of coriander. If this is you, then consider adding a one or two bunches of dill with your parsley to replace the coriander.
Freshly made zhug is a wonderful and unusual gift idea for those who like spicy food…and a good amount of coriander.
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Garlicky Lemon-Walnut Crumble
Warm earthiness…a slight crunch…spicy touches of garlic teasing your nose…and just the slight hint of something resembling cheese. This is what you can expect from this versatile crumble topping that is more than happy to infuse your soup, pasta dish or roasted vegetable with a bit of texture and flavor.
Toast your walnuts and breadcrumbs, give them a pulse in your food processor and mix everything else into your nutty combination – that’s it! Keep this mixture around for 3-4 days, and best refrigerated.
Yield: makes about one cup
100 grams (3 ½ ounces) walnuts
100 grams (3 ½ ounces) breadcrumbs
100 grams (3 ½ ounces) nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
60 ml. (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice from one lemon
Place the whole walnuts on a baking tray and place the tray into a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 150°C (325°F) and set your timer for 30 minutes. Your walnuts will be perfectly roasted at this point, just set them aside for a few minutes to cool a bit.
Place your breadcrumbs on a baking sheet – just use the same one you baked the walnuts on – and adjust the temperature to 150°C (325°F). Toast the breadcrumbs lightly for 12 minutes (make sure you use a timer – it’s easy to forget about them in the oven until it’s too late).
Place the toasted breadcrumbs and walnuts in a food processor. Pulse the mixture several times to chop. Make sure to leave a bit of texture and avoid making them too fine. Place the nutty breadcrumb mixture into a bowl.
Add the nutritional yeast, grated garlic, extra virgin olive oil, seasoning and lemon juice. Stir well to combine – in fact, go ahead and get your hands in there and really mix everything well with your fingers.
Put into an airtight container and store refrigerated until ready to use. The crumble will keep about 2 weeks.
You can vary the crumble by changing the nuts (almonds and pecans) or creating a mixture of different nuts. Play around with different combinations to find what works best for you.
I like to use panko-style breadcrumbs, but really anything will do. If you are making your own, make sure to use old, dried bread and give it a good grating. Keep freshly made breadcrumbs in the freezer for several months.
You can use gluten-free breadcrumbs in this recipe to replace the panko-style ones I used.
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More Condiment Ideas
Much more vegan food and cooking information at myfreshattitude.com
Spicy Pickled Cucumbers
The first time I made these spicy pickled cucumbers I was intrigued. The next time I made them I became addicted to this simple-to-prepare summer recipe.
The cucumbers stay crunchy – especially if you don’t let them pickle too long – and the mild spiciness works extremely well with the sweet and sour vibe in the pickling brine. Just be sure to choose the correct cucumber – the long ones with the thin and smooth skin. These offer the best combination of small seeds and thin skin…and that works perfectly in a quick pickle.
One other point – don’t confuse these pickles with any store-bought jarred pickle. These are quite different…really almost Asian in style with a unique flavor. The store-bought pickles often used in sandwiches or garnishes are made from a cornichon (gherkin) that are often smaller and more immature than the cucumber I use in this recipe.
I enjoy spicy pickled cucumbers as a snack, a refreshing side salad or in a sandwich or wrap.
Yield: makes about one liter (one quart) size container
2 long English cucumbers
1 tablespoon sea salt
120 ml (1/2-cup) brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
5 tablespoons sugar
2-3 small red chili peppers, seeds removed and chopped fine
240 ml (1 cup) just boiled water
1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
Wash the cucumbers well and make sure they are dry. Slice them about 1/2-cm (1/4-inch) thick. Lay all the slices out on a clean towel. Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 tablespoon of sea salt.
In a large bowl, combine the brown rice vinegar, 1/2 tablespoon sea salt, white wine vinegar, sugar, chopped chili peppers and the just boiled water. Stir the contents well to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the chopped cucumbers to the warm liquid. Top with the sesame oil if using. Allow the cucumbers to pickle for a minimum of 30 minutes and ideally, for about 4 hours (keep refrigerated in summer). The pickles are ready to eat as soon as you think they are…longer pickling will result in a stronger flavor, less color and less crunch – you decide where you want to land on the pickling scale.
Strain the pickles (keep the leftover brine – see tips below) and store them in a sealed container in your refrigerator for 3-5 days.
English cucumbers are long with a thin skin and small seeds in the center. There are other varieties that are similar and those will work in this recipe. Try to avoid the thicker skinned ‘Nostrano’ varieties; these have thick skins, have plenty of larger seeds and generally have a bit more bitterness running through them.
You can replace the brown rice vinegar with rice vinegar, mild white wine vinegar, herb vinegar or even a white balsamic vinegar.
Substitute 2 tablespoons agave syrup (or your favorite liquid sweetener) for the sugar if you wish.
Make sure you save the leftover brine. You can use it again to start your next brine. It will keep refrigerated in a sealed jar for months.
Variation to try… Add one grated clove of garlic to the brine to really add some punch to your pickles. You can also add fresh herbs – thyme springs to mind – if you want an herbal hit. To make them more Chinese in style, add 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns (be sure to heat them first in a frying pan).
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