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.


Flexible Fire Cider

This apple cider vinegar based tonic has potent, spicy herbs and roots to fight off illness, reduce inflammation, boost immunity and improve circulation. Taking a tablespoon or two each day helps maintain good health through the roughest of flu seasons. 2-3 TBS several times a day will deliver the knock out blow to a nasty virus. It tastes a bit like a concentrated, tangy, asian vinaigrette, delicious on grilled and fresh veggies, and makes a killer spicy martini or bloody mary mix addition.

I flexibly followed Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe for her book, Medicinal Herbs, A Beginners Guide–subbing out horseradish for some other fresh items I did have and cutting the quantity back in case of First Pancake Syndrome. Fire Cider recipes start with a few primary ingredients (garlic, ginger, onion, apple cider vinegar, honey, cayenne, and horseradish) known for their antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial and all around anti-bummer, bad-ass super powers. To these, a slew of other healing herbs and spices are optionally added. I had lemon balm, fresno chili pepper, turmeric and black peppercorns on hand, which bring their own healthful properties to the party.

Flexible Fire Cider

Here’s what used:

  • 1 part garlic
  • 1 part ginger
  • 0.5 part turmeric
  • 3 parts onion
  • 0.5 part lemon balm
  • 1 part fesno chili (fresh, seeds included)
  • 0.5 part black peppercorns
  • A few sage leaves (’cause I had them)
  • Raw apple cider vinegar/ACV (t must be raw/unpasturized) sufficient to cover
  • Honey to taste
  • Cayenne to taste

Fire Cider prep

To prepare it all: grate the ginger and turmeric, mince the garlic, chop the onion and chili. Throw all of this into a glass jar, along with the whole lemon balm, sage leaves and peppercorns. Warm the ACV on the stove slightly–it should be very warm but not too hot to touch–and then pour it into the jar, over the pile of ingredients. Cap the jar and place it in a warm, sunny spot (or near a furnace). Let it infuse for 3 to 4 weeks, turning the jar daily to help it along.

After 3-4 weeks, open her up, strain out the herbs and add in honey and ground cayenne pepper. These are both done to taste, but the final product should be both vibrantly spicy and sweet. I’m guessing I’ll use around 0.5 part honey and less than that in cayenne as I’ve got fresh chilies in there already, but TBD.

I’ll update the post when I crack this puppy open in about a month. What other interesting pieces of knowledge can I drop?

Garlic – there are a million wonderful things that can be said about garlic’s medicinal and culinary applications (and “11 Proven Benefits“). Google them, it’s impressive–but here’s the tl;dr version: Garlic is good, mmmmK?

What I can offer up is a tip to maximize all of those fabulous benefits when using garlic (it’s an old tip, but worth revisiting)…

Wait for 10 minutes after chopping/crushing/slicing garlic before you cook it up!

Many of garlic’s beneficial compounds (allyl sulfides) need time to form after they have been activated by the chopping process, and heat immediately inhibits this formation. By waiting, we allow the garlic’s full, healthy potential to shine and receive all those lovely immune boosting properties.

Lemon Balm – I’d originally planted this citrusy, slightly piny herb at the recommendation of Ms. Gladstar, via the aforementioned book. Why did I choose this aromatic herb? I went back to the book in an effort to remember: herbalists have understood the power of this “elixer of life” balm for centuries, and more recently, so have modern scientists! Volatile oils in L’balm–citronellal and citral, to be exact–help to calm the nervous and digestive systems. In addition to these desirable properties, I love the flavor and knew I could find hundreds of every-day uses.

Bee Balm, as it’s sometimes called, is a mild sedative or tranquilizer, so tea from the leaves can be used to calm a nervous stomach, colic, or heart spasms. As it is very gentle yet effective, it is often suggested for children and babies. Lindsay Wolsey over at Herbal Legacy highlights its ability to inhibit the division of tumor cells and act as an anti-histamine. The plant is chock full of polyphenols–these are little assassins in the war against degenerative diseases and some viruses; specifically useful in treating cold sores (herpes simplex). (Yup, really!). The website Herb Wisdom lists another 50 applications, including: 

“Mental clarity, concentration and relaxation. Lemon balm is widely used to treat anxiety and insomnia in Europe. It reduced anxiety and stress and eases sleep disorders.”

Oooh, right. There it is. I’d been suffering from insomnia and stress-related health issues for over a year, planting an herb and trusting I’d remember it seemed like a legit solution. Lemon balm leaves are also great in a salad or tossed into soup at the very end. Their flavor holds up equally well cooked down in a dish, or prepared in marinades and dressings. Super versatile and delicious. It’s worth picking out the younger/more tender leaves if going for raw, but otherwise just wash and chop. Perhaps the most prolific medicinal preparation is as a simple

Lemon Balm Tea:

Steep 1 heaping Tbs of dried leaves or 2 Tbs of fresh leaves per cup of boiling water.

If you have the time and the climate, make a Sun Tea by placing herbs and cool, filtered water in a covered vessel in the sun for several hours to a day. Strain out the leaves and enjoy! Optionally, add ice, honey, lemon wedge, mint leaves, cinnamon stick, literally any other herb you like or a prosecco floater.

To our health!

p.s. just found that The Nerdy Farm Wife has a great post on 12 Things to Do With Lemon Balm–I’m excited to try the Lemon Balm and Honey Butter idea! Also an important warning from the site, “while it’s generally considered safe for most people, lemon balm can inhibit thyroid function.” If you have an under-active thyroid or are pregnant, check with a doctor before using lemon balm internally in large quantities.

Lemon Balm & Chili Pepper Quick Pickles, and Rough Structure

Obligatory First-Post-Disclamer: I have no idea what this blog will be or how it is supposed to change my life… (see the About page for more on that). I have an inherited (verging on compulsive) affinity for condiments, spices, sauces and other flavor-boosting agents. I like to explore the world of culinary medicine, thinking about how what we eat and grow treats and supports us, using whatever I have readily available along with ingredients chosen for particular properties. And so here we are, ready for the first post.

What’ve I got on hand? Well, at the moment I have a few items I’d like to use, either because I have too much or it’s approaching the Questionable Stage: lemon balm, hot chili peppers, turmeric, young garlic and garlic scapes.

Where’s the inspiration? After I left my job in early April (a whole other story, for a different sort of blog), I purchased three books in search of passion and inspiration. One of these was Rosemary Gladstar’s “Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide”. I skimmed through the book in April–eager as a puppy, just as distracted and more easily defeated. I opened the book twice between April to July. Today, I remembered that she was the reason I’d purchased and planted Lemon Balm in the first place–yes! I love it when I actually come back to things I meant to do. Also, I recently purchased fresh turmeric root (which can be hard to find) and I really don’t want to let it go unused.

What next? Revisit Ms. Gladstar, learn about the medicinal properties of lemon balm and other on-hand ingredients; make something(s)!

I have a planter full of Lemon Balm and Rosemary thanks to RG, and it needed thinning. The balm is where I started, I then found several chili peppers in the fridge (fresno and cubanelle), turmeric root (admittedly purchased to make something medicinal and cool), young garlic & garlic scapes (early CSA share bounty). A pass in the garden offered sage leaves and lavender flowers–though these poor plants have not been prospering, I think they dislike how much moisture the hanging planters hold.

Anyway. I found inspiration in the Fire Cider recipe in RG’s book  (thank you!), and decided to give it a whirl (with a couple substitutions). This experiment results in a beautiful and powerful medicine after about 4 weeks of extracting. Awesome. Now, what else can I make and eat today?

Quick pickles! I haven’t yet met a pickle I won’t eat. I don’t always love them (not a big fan of Bread ‘n Butter style), but I’ll always try them. Today, I took some of those lovely semi-spicy peppers, young garlic, scapes, herbs and some spices/seeds from the cabinet and made two jars of pickled treats. I plan to try these soon… probably in the next hour or two. Quick pickles

Flexible Fire Cider — for health and tangy bonus. (See the next post).

Two jars of quick pickles (refrigerator pickles) — for immediate gratification and fresh produce satisfaction.

Lemon Balm & Chile Pepper Quick Pickles

Strangely, I never wrote down what, exactly, I put into those jars or how little sugar I added… (It was almost none–I prefer a tangy pickle). But, these all made starring appearances: lemon balm leaves, fresno & cubanelle chiles, garlic scapes, young garlic, mini cucumbers and summer squash.

Supporting cast members included: apple cider vinegar (ACV), sea salt, lavender flowers, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, pinch of sugar.

  • Chop up all the staring ingredients
  • Pack the ingredients down into the jars, so they are snug but not too tight.
  • Nestle the supporting spices into the empty crannies (in my case, lavender flowers, peppercorns and seeds)
  • Heat the ACV, salt and (if using) sugar on the stovetop to just under boiling.
  • Pour the liquid into the jars, making sure to cover all of the ingredients.
  • Cap the jars, wait for it all to cool down to room temp and throw them in the fridge (or devour immediately).

Turns out, pickled lemon balm is delicious! Why hasn’t anyone told me of the wonders of pickled herbs?!? The garlic scapes and chile peppers were also tasty treats, and the lavender flowers imparted an earthy, floral aroma that I liked. But, that lemon balm was the real revelation here… I can’t wait to see which other herbs might work–something with a strong flavor to begin with, rugged enough to withstand the heat and complementary to many ingredients… TBA.

Quick pickles 2