Remember those ingredients that elevate a dish without taking center stage? Ingredients that you add to foods out of habit, and sometimes without even thinking about it? I like to think of them as the unsung heroes of the culinary world. These are the ingredients you constantly rely on, which can always be found in your pantry/fridge – very much present, yet grossly underrated.
I have given this topic some thought recently, and I have come to the conclusion that it is time for me to acknowledge my unsung culinary hero: homemade vegetable sauce. I have used this vegetarian sauce in many dishes with great success, and I will write about some of these dishes in the weeks to follow. I got the recipe from my mother-in-law years ago, and I have been making it regularly ever since. Easy to make, chock full of veggies and versatile, it adds body and flavor to dishes, and it can be adapted to fit your preferences.
1 red bell pepper (I added 2 small green peppers from my garden since I didn’t want them to go to waste)
1 white onion
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
1 cup water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
Chop the onion and put it in a saucepan with the vegetable oil and the water. Bring to a boil and let it simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash the peppers and cut them into 1.5in long x 1/4in wide strips, then add them to the pan:
Peel and slice the garlic cloves. Add them to the pan:
Also add the fire roasted tomatoes:
Add salt and pepper to taste and let it simmer for about 15 minutes or until all the veggies have softened:
This recipe can be adjusted to fit your preferences. You can add chili powder for some kick, or extra garlic for more pungency. For a “meatier” sauce, add 2 large chopped portobello mushrooms or 2 medium-size diced carrots. You can also use tomato paste instead of fire roasted tomatoes – your sauce will lose the smoky flavor, but it will gain a smoother consistency. If you find the sauce is too acidic (from the tomatoes) you can add a pinch of sugar, which will neutralize the acidity.
This sauce is not only easy to adjust, but also usable in a variety of dishes. In the following weeks I will show you a few recipes which benefit from the addition of this sauce. I usually make a big batch and store it in the fridge for a week or so. The veggies get the chance to infuse one another with flavor, and the sauce gets a little bit darker at no expense of taste or freshness.
Sometimes I dip bread into this sauce and eat it as it is, with nothing else added. I find this simple experience very satisfying, and I also enjoy the promise of success this sauce bestows upon me: I know my unsung culinary hero will never let me down.