My refrigerator door is not pretty. Instead of an enticing array of chilled beverages, our limited door space is seriously overloaded with condiments. It sometimes seems like kitchen clutter, but it’s not. Aside from a few duplicate bottles of hot sauce (which I’m “marrying” like we used to do to the ketchup at Swenson’s), there isn’t anything in there I don’t use on a fairly regular basis.
We buy condiments when we travel, and I seem to get lots of condiments as gifts. I love that, and I think owning a variety of condiments is helpful, even essential, to creating tasty, interesting, and varied meals. Whether it’s Dijon mustard for thickening a vinaigrette or Thai fish sauce for stir fry, having these things on hand really opens up possibilities in the kitchen. So, in addition to a cabinet full of oils and vinegars (plus an entire shelf in our pantry devoted to not-yet-opened bottles of hot sauce), we have lots and lots of bottles and jars in our fridge. Here’s a rundown:
- First and foremost is hot sauce. We love it. Some particular favorites from our travels are Marie Sharp’s from Belize and just about any habanero sauce from the Yucatan in Mexico. (This is the only reason I’ve felt hampered by the no-liquids rule on planes; we don’t bring back booze generally, but it sometimes does limit our hot sauce purchases.) We are almost out of that High Desert Farms Smokey Habanero Sauce so need to plan another trip to Arizona. We also love Huy Fong Sriracha chili sauce and order it in bulk. My son is wacky about the green (jalapeño) Tabasco. By the way, I don’t think you need to be a freakish, slightly masochistic person who needs to inflict pain on one’s self or others in order to like hot sauce. A little goes a long way and really makes most things (eggs, pasta, salad, and especially takeout Chinese food) taste better.
- I won’t spend a lot of time on the basics, except to say please read the labels. Did you know regular Heinz ketchup has High Fructose Corn Syrup in it? Get an organic brand or at least the new “Simply Heinz” variety that is HCFS-free. Same with barbecue sauce. We buy Grumpy’s, a local Colorado brand that’s fantastic. I love yellow mustard, especially jalapeño mustard, but also keep some Dijon on hand for recipes. I really don’t like mayo, but it’s handy for the occasional tuna melt. Try the olive oil kind; it tastes fresher to me.
- I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes cheat on recipes by using already-crushed garlic. I buy it in tiny jars and keep in the fridge. Just guesstimate how much to use — a half teaspoon is probably about a cloves’ worth. Thai fish sauce is great in curries, stir fry, and added to marinades. You can buy this in the Asian aisle, and it has a very strong taste so use sparingly. All the same things can be said about Thai curry paste. Tahini makes a great dressing for wraps and (mixed with vinegar or salsa) for salads.
- I love peanut butter, but just like with yogurt and the basic condiments above, make sure to read the labels. Natural peanut butters generally don’t have added oils (which are often the bad kind of oils we want to avoid) or sugar. Same for jams and jellies — you’re probably going to have some sugar in there, but do you need weird gumming agents and corn syrup, too? We use jelly for making sauces for meats; just heat it on the stove with some jalapenos and a little soy. Almond butter is great on pancakes and mixed into smoothies.
- In general, I don’t get why bottled salad dressing is so popular; I mean, there is almost an entire aisle devoted to it, and it tastes more like plastic than anything else. It’s so simple to make vinaigrette and even creamy dressing. Almost every cookbook has dozens of recipes, but really all you need is vinegar and oil and a little salt & pepper. Anyway, all that being said, these two pictured above are tasty and useful. I think I first bought the Brianna’s because I loved the label (artichokes are delicious and cute), but it’s actually a fairly close approximation of homemade vinaigrette. The Annie’s Gingerly Vinaigrette is a key ingredient for a super quick and delicious Crunchy Asian Slaw I made up; here’s how to make it:
- In a bowl, combine: 1 bag broccoli coleslaw, 1 cup (or more) sliced almonds, 1/2 cup raisins, and 1/2 bottle Annie’s Gingerly Vinaigrette. Mix well, and add salt (and more of anything you want) to taste.
Okay, those are the fridge door basics. Add to that some lime juice, salsa, and real maple syrup (all of mine are looking pretty grimy so not pictured), and you’re set for almost anything a recipe tosses your way.