Spicy Summer “Garden Sauce” … (or, the Delicious Dumping Ground)

What is Garden Sauce? I picture it like an “everything-but-the” version of a condiment, utilizing whatever’s fresh and/or readily available. I have a ton of garden herbs and CSA veggies to pull from, in addition to a recent trip to the Asian Market–conveniently less than two blocks from my house–which means I have a copious variety of punchy, potent ingredients. Kind of an asian-meets-backyard bounty approach, or you know, “garden sauce”. In truth, it ends up almost as a garden concentrate and has become an all-purpose flavor booster for many dishes.

What follows is a a laundry list, and guestimated quantities, (ultimately, it’s all done to taste, but I generally try load up on the milder ingredients and go easy on the intense flavors). A hundred other veggies/herbs/roots/leaves/fruits/berries could be subbed in, anything unappealing can be omitted… This isn’t a recipe, it’s more of a delicious dumping ground: pick as many plant-like things you can, chop them all, blend them up, simmer for a while, strain partially, blend again, chill out (the sauce… in the fridge), dig in!

From the garden & CSA share:

  • Serrano chiles (2, deseeded)
  • Cayenne chiles (2, deseeded)
  • Sweet red pepper (1, deseeded)
  • Celery root (1/2 of a root, peeled)
  • Tomatillos (7, husks removed)
  • Garlic (1 full head, medium size, peeled)
  • Sweet onion (2 medium, peeled)
  • Cilantro (about 3 cups chopped–a lot, and especially the stems. This is a great way to use the flavorful but woody late-summer herbs that are getting a little unwieldy. If you are one of the poor souls genetically pre-dispositioned to hate cilantro, basil, dill, hissop, or another bright, soft-leafed herb would work perfectly well.)
  • Garlic chives (medium handful)

From the local asian market:

  • Lemon grass (1-2 Tbs, chopped–I bought it pre-chopped and frozen, just chisel a nice hunk off)
  • Ginger root (2″ piece, peeled)
  • Galangal root (2″ piece, peeled)
  • Hungarian cherry peppers (1, deseeded)
  • Thai red/green chiles (3, with seeds)

Other ingredients

  • Apple cider vinegar (1 cup)
  • White vinegar (1/2 cup)
  • Honey (1/2 cup)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (1/2 cup)
  • Salt, pepper (to taste)

And then?

  1.     Chop all of the veggies, roots, and herbs. Aim for a similar size, but too carefully. Any ingredients that come pre-chopped, just include as-is.
  2.     Working in batches, add a few handfuls of ingredients to the blender, along with 1/3 of each the EVOO, white, and apple cider vinegar (I have a tiny blender, so this took me 3 batches). Blend the ingredients until the toughest items have broken down well (in this case, the lemon grass, celery root, and chile skins). With such a large variety, you may need to be patient with the blender–starting out with pulses helps. I “pulsed” on a low setting for a while before it was smooth enough to let the blender do its thing, it ran for about 1.5 minutes after that.

    Into the blender in batches
    Blend first by pulsing, then using a slower speed, and finally a high speed/food-processor speed.
  3.     Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan. Bring it all to a gentle simmer, and add the honey, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for at least 10 minutes, preferably 20-30.
  4.     Strain about half of the mixture, returning the mixture to the blender and reserving the liquid that strains out for another use (it’s packed with flavor, vitamins and minerals at this point and will taste a bit like a zippy, asian vinaigrette!)

    Simmer and partially strain (or strain all of it if you prefer a thicker paste without any liquid)
    Simmer and partially strain (or strain all of it if you prefer a thicker paste without any liquid)
  5.     Blend this strained portion once more, (be careful–it will be HOT and could explode out the top. Again, work in small batches). You can also blend the unstrained portion left in the saucepan if you would like a smoother texture. I did not do this, mine consistency was similar to curry paste or a fine chutney.

    Spicy Summer Garden Sauce
    Spicy Summer Garden Sauce
  6.     Once the sauce has cooled, transfer it to glass jars. Chill it in the refrigerator for a while–the flavors need some time to meld. After 2-3 hours, give it a taste! Add more salt/pepper/honey as you see fit.

Like I said: Chop, Blend, Simmer, Strain, Blend, Chill, enjoy!

What do to with this concoction? So far I have had great success using it as:

  • Vinaigrette base
  • Soup broth base
  • Chicken and fish marinade (better for slow-cooking, the honey can burn over high heat… or, call it caramelized)
  • Blended with butter over roast veggies
  • Blended with mayo on a sandwich
  • Mashed with potatoes
  • Mixed with lemonade, vodka and a dash of bitters (tasted like drinking a spicy salad salad! Which I happen to enjoy.)
  • Scrambled into eggs

A sauce for any occasion, this sucker packs in tons of allium-type plants (onion, garlic, chives) delivering flavonoid combinations and sulfur-containing nutrients that help our bodies fight disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bacterial and viral infection.

Add to that 5 varieties of chiles, with heaps of capsaicin, to help prevent chronic diseases, reduce inflammation, boost metabolic rate (i.e. heart health and fat-burning properties), and in some studies has even proven effective at reducing the growth of cancer cells.

Of course, the lemon grass, ginger, and galangal (Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine superstars that they are) have their own special properties from more exotic places, but as the veggies are the stars of this sauce, we’ll let the alliums and chiles shine.

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