Recipes: It’s all in the sauce

  • Curried Green Bean and Summer Squash Chutney —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Curried green bean and summer squash chutney STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



  • From left: Mango-Mint Salsa, Tzatziki, and Curried Green Bean and Summer Squash Chutney. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 8/10/2019 12:00:13 PM

If you enjoy shrimp cocktail, which do you like the best? The shrimp or the cocktail sauce?

The cocktail sauce is the partner with the pizzazz. It mingles the zing of horseradish and the tingle of lemon juice in a sweetly comforting tomato base. No surprise if it’s your favorite.

But another answer to the question is that the shrimp and cocktail sauce form a perfect pair. Like fries and ketchup, hot dogs and ballpark mustard, sushi with wasabi and pickled ginger … you can’t have one without the other.

We have a panoply of such tangy relishes, some of them essential partners to particular items, others just delightful things for jazzing up a plate of food. They include salsas, chutneys and piquant sauces, and shine especially brilliantly in summer when they perk up heat-jaded appetites.

Every country has its own favorites, but though their flavors can differ remarkably they share a common base of dramatic tastes. Salt appears in all of them, and sugar in quite a few. Sour vinegar or citrus juice is frequent. Yogurt or sour cream are other tart options. Garlic, onions, chiles or hot ingredients such as horseradish, pepper, and mustard are vital in many, as are fermented items such as beans and fish.

Generally, this cornucopia of relishes is rooted either in the need to brighten up the bland starchy foods – rice, potatoes, breads – that were traditionally the major part of a meal, or to be a sharp digestive aid to tough or fatty meat. Since they were the interesting little somethings livening up so much traditional fare, many became national staples, sometimes even the backbone of the flavor palate as soy sauce is in many Eastern cuisines.

Making soy sauce is quite a production. Soybeans are mixed with roasted wheat or barley, then injected with a yeast mold to prompt fermentation. After this begins salt and another yeast are added for further fermentation. The mixture is stored in vats for many months then filtered before coming to us in bottles. Fish sauces such as English Worcestershire sauce, Thai nampla, and Vietnamese nuoc mam are made similarly using fish instead of beans.

Clearly, you are not going to get into doing this at home. Yet many relishes are essentially domestic rather than commercial. Sure you can buy a jar of salsa or cocktail sauce, but it’s easy to make your own tastier version. In India, cooks make raita and chatni relishes as needed, using fresh vegetables and fruit with just-ground spices and herbs such as mint or cilantro. That pretty pale-green coconut chutney often served in Indian restaurants is made with freshly grated coconut, yogurt, black mustard seeds, cilantro and green chile.

When the British ruled India, they fell in love with chatni because it filled the role of their familiar pickles. Back home, they anglicized the name to chutney, and using ingredients they had to hand turned it from a quickly-made fresh condiment to a preserve. This is not as bizarre a move as it first sounds. In India fresh ingredients are around all year, but in a four-season climate such as Britain’s, preserving summer’s good foods for winter used to be essential and is still useful.

This is another reason why summer is a special time for relishes of all kinds. Right now we have an abundance of wonderful vegetables. Gardeners and community farm members often have more than they can possibly eat immediately. Freezing is one way to store them for later; making them into relishes is another.

Below are two chutney recipes using in-season vegetables. Good now, they will be great to have for winter holidays. There are also recipes for quickly made mango-mint salsa and cocktail sauce plus two national classics: Greek tzatziki and Mexican salsa verde.

Green bean and summer squash chutney

This unusual chutney is good with meat or with Indian food. The ratio of beans to squash proportions isn’t exact; roughly half and half is good, but if you have more of one than the other, that’s fine.

1-pound green beans, trimmed
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound (about 2) yellow summer squash
1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped or pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup light brown or white sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
3-4 teaspoons mild or medium curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated

Cut the green beans into half-inch pieces. Put them in a pan with the chopped onions and salt and pour on just enough boiling water to barely cover. Simmer for 6 minutes or until they have softened. Add the minced garlic then the squash cut into one-inch matchsticks. If you want this to be a hot chutney, also add the jalapeno or red pepper flakes. Simmer for another 3-5 minutes, then set aside.

In another pan mix the vinegar and sugar and bring to a simmer. In a small bowl stir the cornstarch into a thin paste with a tablespoon or two of cold water. Stir in a little of the hot vinegar, then stir the mixture into the vinegar pan. Bring to the boil and stir until it thickens. Stir in the curry powder, then the bean mixture, including about half of its liquid. Finally add the grated carrot. Simmer, stirring often for 4-5 minutes. If too stiff add a little more of the cooking liquid from the beans. Let cool then pour into sterilized jars. This chutney has a lot of vinegar and sugar, which are preservatives, so there’s no need to process in a boiling water bath. Store closed in a cool place for 3-4 months. Makes about 2 1/2 pints.

Tomato and butternut chutney

This tawny chutney studded with golden pieces of squash looks intriguing. If you have enough tomatoes and squash make extra to give as holiday gifts.

1 large butternut squash or pumpkin weighing about 2 1/2 pounds
1 pound (about 3 large) peeled and seeded tomatoes
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered allspice
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups white cider vinegar

Peel the squash and discard the seeds and stringy fibers around them. Cut it into 1-inch cubes. Put the cubes into a large pan such as a pasta pan. Add the other ingredients in the order in which they appear in the recipe. Put the pan on low heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally to distribute the ingredients. Raise the heat under the pan and let the mixture boil fairly quickly, stirring from time to time. Do not cover with a lid. After about 15 minutes the liquid will be much diminished and the chutney will be thickening. Watch carefully and stir often to prevent it sticking. You may taste it at this point and add more salt, pepper, sugar or ginger if you think it needs it. When the mixture reaches a thick jammy consistency it is done.

Pack the chutney in jars that have been sterilized by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Leave half an inch space at the top of the jar so the chutney doesn’t touch the lid. This chutney does not need canning in a water bath because it has preservatives in the form of vinegar, sugar and salt. It keeps well in a cool, dark place for 3-4 months


Herb-flavored yogurt relishes are popular all the eastern Mediterranean and India. In Greece, tzatziki is vital partner on gyro sandwiches and with meat dishes, especially lamb. Though it’s available everywhere, it is considered an inland food because it is never eaten with the fish of coastal regions.

2 Persian or pickling cucumbers, or about half an English cucumber
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
10 mint leaves
1-2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1-2 shakes white pepper (optional)
Few drops lemon juice (optional)

Wash but don’t peel the cucumbers. Slice them thinly, put them in a colander, sprinkle with most of the salt, and let stand for 15 -20 minutes so the salt can draw out excess liquid. When ready to proceed, rinse them with cold water then drop onto a clean kitchen towel. Roll or fold it up tightly and squeeze to dry off the cucumbers. When done, coarsely chop them and put them in a bowl.

Sprinkle the sugar on the mint leaves. Chop them coarsely. (The sugar speeds this along.) Add them to the cucumbers. Also chop the garlic with the salt and add it to the bowl. Now stir in the yogurt. Season with white – not black – pepper if you like. Add drops of lemon juice if you want a tarter tzatziki.

Salsa verde

This classic Mexican salsa is based on tomatillos. (Green tomatoes can be used, though Mexicans often disapprove of this.) Use it in quesadillas, on tacos, or add the whole recipe to seasoned and seared meat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the meat is tender for a casserole-style dish.

1 jalapeno or serrano chile
1 large clove garlic
1 medium while or yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 pound (about 8-10) tomatillos
1-2 teaspoons lard or corn oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth or as needed
4 stems cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Split the chile and discard the seeds, removing the white ribs from the inside, and set them aside. Heat an iron frying pan on moderately high heat. Put the chile pieces, the garlic, and the onion quarters in the pan—without any oil or fat – and toast them until the skin on the pepper chars. Remove everything.

Now add lard or oil to the pan. Remove the papery beige skin of the tomatillos and halve or quarter them. Add them to the pan and stir them around. Add the broth. Coarsely chop the cilantro including the stems and add to the pan along with the salt. Rub the charred skin off the toasted chile and add it along with the other ingredients to the pan. Simmer until the tomatillos and onions are tender. Let cool for a few minutes.

Transfer to a blender, food processor or food mill and process until smooth. If you prefer a spicier sauce, add the ribs of the peppers when you add the toasted ingredients.

Cocktail sauce

This is the essential sauce for shrimp cocktail. You can also add it to marinades for fish or meat.

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or onion
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups diced and skinned fresh tomatoes
Grated zest and juice 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
1/2 cup prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
Few drops Tabasco or small dash of cayenne

In a saucepan mix the shallots, tomato paste, tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, salt and horseradish. Bring to simmering point over moderate heat, and cook for 7-8 minutes or until the onions and tomatoes are tender, stirring often. Then stir in the Worcestershire sauce and sugar and cook for another minute or two.

Let the mixture cool for a few minutes then taste. You can add more salt, sugar, or Worcestershire sauce to taste. Also add the Tabasco or cayenne. Stir and taste again.

This sauce is chunky and can be used like that with any fish dish, or you can whizz it in blender or food processor to make it smooth for use in shrimp cocktail.

Mango-mint salsa

This is very quickly made – a refreshing garnish to hearty grilled fish such as tuna and swordfish, and equally good with chicken and pork.

1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 mint leaves plus more for garnish
1-2 shallots, finely chopped
1 large ripe mango, diced
Pinch salt
Dash cayenne (optional)

Sprinkle the sugar on the mint and chop it. Put it in a bowl with the chopped shallots and the diced mango. Toss gently and let stand for 5-10 minutes, then season to taste with a little salt and a dash of cayenne if you what a spicy zing.

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