Only toppings as tasty as these could improve the elemental equation of food plus fire. Bonus: No cooking required
By GAIL MONAGHAN
Nothing defines summer more acutely than cooking over open fire. Nonetheless, by this point in the season, the novelty of grilling has inevitably waned, and I hanker for something extra to enhance my flame-kissed proteins and vegetables.
Heating up my kitchen is not an option. Anything too fussy would be utterly inconsistent with the spirit of cooking en plein air. And so, over the years, I’ve developed a repertoire of quick, highly flavorful, no-cook sauces—from vinaigrettes to fresh salsas to creamy dressings—that dramatically enliven any cookout menu.
With fresh, delicious ingredients like these it’s no wonder the salad dressing wars are heating up. It’s just too hard to compete against taste and freshness with preservatives and food additives. Do yourself a favor and try out one or all of these to find out what commercial salad dressing makers will never know.
Here are six favorites, most of them completely makeable in the food processor and, conveniently, improved if prepared several days in advance so the flavors have time to develop. Thanks Gail for extending Summer all year long.
Most familiar to readers of a certain age will be the old-fashioned Thousand Island dressing, a blush-colored amalgam of mayonnaise, chili sauce, ketchup and an assortment of flavor- and texture-enhancing add-ins (minced olives, dill, horseradish, bell pepper). My mother was given the recipe below in the 1950s, by the chef at Lake Tahoe’s then-legendary Brockway Hotel, where the dressing typically adorned wedges of iceberg lettuce. These days, I prefer it with platters of grilled vegetables, chicken and fish.
Also delicious with fish, especially swordfish and salmon, is the cucumber-dill sauce. Nothing more than sour cream—or Greek yogurt, if you prefer—brightened with dill, chives, vinegar and crunchy cucumber, it’s a staple in my fridge all summer long. Hailing from Syria and considerably more piquant is the muhammara, a red pepper dip enriched with ground walnuts and sweetened with pomegranate molasses. I generously slather this rustic condiment on all sorts of things, my favorite being garlicky grilled peasant bread.
Another enticingly sweet-spicy combination—this one including ginger, honey, garlic and toasted sesame oil—the peanut sauce pairs particularly well with Asian preparations. The same is true of the mango-mint chutney, which is also a good match for many Mexican-style dishes. Its mingling of mango, citrus and cilantro is so refreshing that I even serve it on its own as a salad. Unlike the other sauces here, it is best used the day it is made.
In Argentina, grilled meats are rarely presented without a side of chimichurri, a study in contrasts—chili heat, citrus, garlic, fresh herbs—harmoniously juxtaposed. Traditionally served with beef, it also turns fish, chicken, sausage and most any vegetable into company-worthy cookout fare. Add extra oil and acid, and chimichurri even becomes a salad dressing; add a little sour cream and a mashed avocado, and you’ve got a spectacular dip. Proportions vary from cook to cook, so feel free to tweak as much as you like. The same can be said of all of these sauces. Use the recipes offered here as a starting place, then adapt to suit your own palate and menu.
I frequently put out a selection of these sauces and let guests pick and choose—which they invariably do wisely.
Makes: 2½ cups
In a food processor, combine 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, ¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, ¼ cup fresh oregano leaves, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/3 cup coarsely chopped red onion, 6 cloves garlic, ½ stemmed jalapeño and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Pulse until finely chopped, stopping and scraping down sides of bowl as needed, about 1 minute. With motor running, add ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil in a steady stream. Transfer sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Bring to room temperature and stir before serving. Chimichurri can be stored, refrigerated, up to 1 week.
Try it with: grilled sausages, fish, chicken, steak and other red meats
Old-Fashioned Thousand Island Dressing
Makes: 2 cups
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup chili sauce, ¼ cup ketchup, 1½ tablespoons minced pitted black olives, 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley, 2 teaspoons prepared white horseradish, 2 teaspoons sweet relish, 1 large shallot, finely minced, 2 tablespoons finely minced green bell pepper, 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh dill, 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 teaspoon sea salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let rest at least 30 minutes before serving. Dressing can be stored, refrigerated, up to 4 days.
Try it with: grilled vegetables, chicken, shrimp, scallops, hamburgers
Makes: 4 cups
In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, 1 medium red onion, finely minced, ¼ cup minced chives, ½ cup finely minced fresh dill, 4 tablespoons Champagne or white-wine vinegar, a few drops of Tabasco and sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. When ready to serve, stir in 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice, and adjust seasoning as needed. Sauce can be stored, refrigerated, up to 3 days.
Try it with: grilled salmon, swordfish and shrimp; baked potatoes
Fresh Mango-Mint Chutney
Makes: 7½ cups
In a large bowl, combine 2 large mangoes , peeled and cut into ½-inch dice, 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, ¾ cup julienned fresh mint, ½ cup finely minced red onion, ½ jalapeño , ribs and seeds removed, finely minced, juice and zest of 2 limes and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let rest at least 1 hour at room temperature. Adjust seasoning as needed and serve. Chutney can be stored, refrigerated, 3 days, but is best if consumed the same day it is made.
Try it with: grilled tofu, pork and duck; seared tuna
Makes: 3 cups
In a food processor, combine 1½ cups walnuts, ½ cup breadcrumbs or crumbled sesame crackers, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon sugar and salt to taste. Blend until smooth. Add a 28-ounce can roasted sweet red bell peppers, drained, and blend until creamy. With motor running, add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a steady stream. Add ½ teaspoon red chili paste and pulse to incorporate. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, let sauce come to room temperature and garnish with ground cumin and olive oil. Muhammara can be stored, refrigerated, up to 1 week.
Try it with: grilled lamb kebabs, duck, pork, fish and even bread
Makes: 2¼ cups
In a food processor or blender, combine 1 cup creamy peanut butter, 3 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons peeled and coarsely chopped ginger, zest and juice of 1 large lime, large pinch of cayenne pepper, 2 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 2-4 tablespoons light coconut milk or water, as needed to reach desired texture, and salt to taste. Process on high speed until smooth. Add 1/3 cup chopped cilantro and pulse to combine. Sauce can be stored, refrigerated, up to 1 week.
Try it with: grilled chicken, fish, seafood, pork; soba-noodle salad, raw vegetables
A version of this article appeared July 19, 2013, on page D11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Put a Sauce On It.