A couple weeks ago I blogged about a watermelon gazpacho and I mentioned that my family recently got together for a summer party.
This year – true to my family’s slightly competitive nature – a rib challenge was thrown into the mix. Four “nuclear” families, four kinds of ribs and time for me to perfect my signature BBQ sauce. Each style of ribs was very different from one to another, which made for a nice variety to taste and none that outdid the next. We had: boar ribs cooked sous-vide, maple lacquered ribs, classis southern BBQ ribs and my Mexican mole inspired ribs.
Today’s topic though is not on how to cook ribs, it is much greater than that. In this post I will unlock the mystery on how you can put together a signature BBQ sauce with your name on it, one you can be proud to call your own!
The main reason I wanted to develop my own BBQ sauce (aside from the obvious…) is because I wanted to avoid the added sodium, preservatives or any other unpronounceable ingredient you can imagine. I’ve read many recipes that call for lots of refined sugars, ketchup and soy sauce. I wanted to make my sauce from scratch from fresh/dried/unprocessed ingredients. That is exactly what I will share with you today, the unprocessed basics of BBQ sauce making!
Let me break this down: you need (1) a tomato base, (2) a vinegar, (3) a sugar, (4) some aromatics including onion and garlic, or perhaps other veggies – it is your sauce afterall, and finally (5) a spice blend. The flavour of your BBQ sauce depends on what you choose for each of those items, especially the spice blend. Play around with each of these until you find something that truly represents your palate.
BBQ Sauce 101
2 cups tomato base, you can use fresh tomatoes pureed whole in a blender
½ cup vinegar, play around with cider, red wine, or even balsamic vinegar
¼ to ½ cup sugar, quantity varies on how sweet you like your sauce, but think of combining different types of sugars like brown sugar, molasses, honey, etc.
1 onion, chopped
Crushed garlic cloves, I opted for 6 cloves but choose as few or as many as you like
¼ to ½ cup of aromatics, this is your signature spice blend
¼ cup oil of your choice, or a combination of fats perhaps
1 to 2 cups water
Begin by putting together your secret spice blend: think of combining some hot chillies, fine herbs, nuts or seeds, and don’t forget some salt, even if it just a couple pinches just to balance out the flavours. It doesn’t matter if your spices are whole or ground. After mixing and combining, put all your spices in a food processor to ground it all together. Take the time to play around and taste as you go. Even after you’ve blended your spices you can always add more but remember you cannot remove it once it’s been added – tread carefully.
Bring a large pot to medium heat, pour in the oil, add the onions and garlic, and sauté until soft. Add your spice blend and cook for a couple of minutes. Don’t worry if it sticks a little at the bottom of the pot, because the next step is deglazing. To deglaze, simply pour in the vinegar and stir. You will find that your ingredients and the brown bits begin to unstick from the bottom of the pot; at this point add your tomato base, sugar and one cup of water. Stir well, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about an hour until the sauce is reduced down to two thirds of the quantity you originally had.
Allow your sauce to cool, pour into a blender and process until smooth. If the sauce is too thick to blend smoothly then gradually add some water until it reaches the desired consistence. Return to the pot, taste and adjust any seasonings as needed. If you are adding seasonings to your sauce then bring it to a simmer for another 15 minutes to an hour to ensure the flavours are well combine. Just remember that the longer you cook your sauce, the thicker it gets. It will also thicken when it cools. On the other hand, if your sauce is too bland or too liquid, then cooking and reducing it for another hour will thicken and help concentrate the flavours.
Now you are ready to store it in the fridge, freezer or in jars (for preserving, make sure you follow proper instructions and this is a great place to get started). Makes a great gift and is also fantastic when cooking for a crowd. Not only can you use it on all sorts of grilled meats and vegetables, as a topping for burgers, but it is something personal you can bring to any party. Save a little extra in a mason jar to give as a gift to the host or hostess.
Now, get some people together for a BBQ and get ready to brag about your own signature BBQ sauce!
Every year my family gets together for a summer weekend party, filled with inside jokes, great food, fun in the sun and sometimes someone gets thrown into the water fully dressed. Lucky me, I come from a family of serious foodies. We all love to cook and experience with new recipes and ingredients. I am inspired by each and every one of them for all the diversity they bring to the table. Sure, sometimes it’s not easy to coordinate when you have about a dozen people contributing snacks, drinks and dishes – in the end it all works out.
The debate is always what to bring. The main is often planned well in advance (and there will be a special blog post dedicated solely to this main), therefore all that is left to do is put together salads, sides, apps, snacks, etc.
For a while I’ve wanted to experiment making a watermelon gazpacho, and now I had the perfect occasion to test out a recipe.
- 1 red onion, finely diced – about 1 cup
- 4 celery stalks, diced – about 1 ½ cups
- 2 cucumbers, diced – about 3 cups
- 3 large tomatoes, diced – about 6 cups
- 2 bell peppers, diced – about 1 ½ cups
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 2.5 liters of watermelon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp hot smoked paprika
- ½ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
So here it goes… this recipe easily feeds 12 to 16 people as an appetizer. Though I have included fixed measurements, what is important to note is the proportions so that you can cut the recipe is half or multiply it depending on how big or small your family is. When shopping for vegetables, go to your local farmers market so that you can get the freshest ingredients, and play around with colours and try using a variety of tomatoes – this really gives the dish a lot of subtle dimension.
In a large bowl, combine the finely diced red onion with the lemon juice and a couple pinches of salt and set aside for about 20 minutes or while you prep the remainder of the vegetables. When prepping the other vegetables, cut them up into a small dice and more or less the same size. Strain the juices, keeping only the onion. Combine all the diced vegetables, crushed garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spices.
Slowly add the watermelon juice until the mixture is as chunky or soupy as you desire it. To make the watermelon juice, cut up a melon and process the flesh in a blender until liquid. You shouldn’t have any problem blending the fruit. If you do, simply grab a large wooden spoon and smash the watermelon a bit before turning on the blender.
Once all the ingredients combined, refrigerate and allow the flavours to mingle for at least an hour before serving. You can also make this up to 24 hours before serving. Serve cold and garnish with chives or croutons.
As the evening progresses, wine glasses are filled, dishes are passed around, tasted and recipes discussed.
Finally the night falls, a campfire is lit, the acoustic guitar is played, we all sign along out of tune, and so begins the marshmallow roasting competition…
It seems that I am always returning to the same dressing recipes. The same ones that are mixed up in a second and I never have to think twice about it. Sometimes I want to explore flavours, combinations and experiments but at the end of the day I always end up with the same ones. Many weeks ago, I put together a new dressing recipe that has made its way into my regular cycle. This curried dressing easily became a habit and opened up new salad combinations. See how to make it here and it pairs really well with sweet, so go ahead and try adding pears, grapes, apples, mango, pineapple or even dried fruit to your salads.
Recently I was in the mood for something creamy, garlicky and that certain je ne sais quoi, that umami flavour that sets off cravings for, in this case, for the ultra-fatty-not-so-healthy Caesar dressing. I thought about how to make one without all that egg or mayo or any other ingredient I would rather not know about (I’m talking out standard run-of-the-mill store-bought kind). I was also invited over to a friend’s house who is a rawfoodist, so thought it would be nice to bring a small hostess gift of homemade raw dressing for her. And so, a new dressing recipe is born.
A new favorite ingredient of mine is shiromiso. I used it to make soups and broths, especially good if cooking for vegetarian/vegan crowd – vegetable broths just don’t pack as much flavour. It is a great base for marinades, dips, spreads and dressings. Shiromiso is a white miso, a Japanese condiment that is made by fermenting rice and/or soybeans, and as a result falls into the living food category. When buying miso in general, watch out for preservatives and added sodium (it is naturally salty in flavour) and try to find organic. The kind I buy costs about $5 and last up to two months (and I use it all the time!). When making broth, I use about 1 tbsp per 1.5 cups of water.
Raw Caesar Dressing
- 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 tbsp shiromiso
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy – yup, it’s just that easy. Pour over any salad and fresh vegetable combination. As you can see in the picture above, I combined lettuce, pears, tomatoes, celery, avocado and a sprinkle of blue cheese. I have also used this dressing as a creamy dip for grilled asparagus, that was awesome!
On another occasion, I brought this dressing with a large container of arugula to my office for a potluck lunch and it was a real hit with my colleagues! On the plus side, you do not have to worry about any ingredients sitting out for a prolonged under that hot summer sun.
It’s almost summer. Well, judging by this week’s heat wave you would think that we are right smack in the middle of it! Nonetheless, that means it is time for barbecues, picnics, road trips, hot summer days, camp fires, and sweet summer evenings filled with too much sangria… I can just hear the song Days of Summer playing in the background…
I am also looking forward to a summer filled with fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. Until the crops are in full bloom, I have to work with what is available – and what comes in my weekly CSA basket. It’s still spring, so asparagus season is still with us for another short while, but more on those later. Still lots of citrus delivered this week and even though we don’t grow them inCanada, they still have the taste of summer written all over them.
Fresh, sweet and light this recipe is perfect to pack up for any get together, in the park, on the road, at a barbecue.
Citrus Chickpea Tabouleh
- 1 grapefruit
- 1 orange
- 1 avocado
- 2 cups parsleys, lightly packed
- 1 can chickpeas, rinsed (reach for the low-sodium kind)
or fresh ones if you’re lucky enough to find some at your local market
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Segment the grapefruit and orange (this just means cutting around the pith to only keep the juicy flesh), make sure to keep all the juices. Cut the avocado into large cubes. Chop the parsley. Thoroughly rinse and dry the chickpeas. If you want to go 100% raw, simple replace the canned chickpeas with soaked and sprouted beans of your choice.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper. A coarse sea salt works wonderfully here. Finish with a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil.
Makes a great appetizer, side or even main for the vegan/vegetarian in the crowd! Serves six appetizers/sides or two mains.
Cooking for a crowd? You can easily double the recipe and be sure to check out Potluck.li for organizing all your potlucks in minutes!
A few weeks ago I signed up up for an organic fruits and vegetables delivery with Jardin des Anges. I am loving their service and the variety I get every week, and for the most part I make it through my week’s worth of produce. This past week however, due to a number of social engagements, my tastesbuds have been dining out more often than not. I was stuck with an array of leftover vegetables that needed to be consumed asap, especially considering a new delivery was already on its way!
All that was to say that this recipe really is all about the dressing and spices used to macerate the salad. The rest is all up to you, so feel free to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.
Asian Peanut Butter Dressing
- 1/3 cup peanut butter (I used the crunchy and unsweetened kind)
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 of a lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp sweet chili sauce (can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
- 1 tsp ginger, minced
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp agave syrup or honey
- 1-3 tbsp hot water
I am going to save you some frustration here. Before you even get started with making the dressing, make sure that your peanut butter is soft and oozy, by either warming it on the warm zone of your stove top, in a double-boiler or in a microwave. This will make the process of combining the other ingredients easier – trust me on this one, it took me a while to figure it out!
Once your peanut butter is soft, stir in the other ingredients except for the hot water. If you are having trouble obtaining a smooth and soft consistency, this is where the hot water comes in. Add the water one tablespoon at a time until the dressing is smooth and creamy. You want to obtain the consistency of honey, but without the stickyness. In my case I needed to add three tablespoons of hot water.
For the salad:
- Any vegetables sliced and diced, 4 to 6 cups
- 1/2 of a lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp Chinese all spice
- A pinch of salt
- Scallions and cilantro to garnish
- Cabbage, shredded
- Carrots, thinly sliced
- Celery, cut on a bias
- Red bell pepper, diced
- Zucchini, julienned
- Mushrooms, sliced
- Baby spinach