Condiments are all over the place. Some of you like them, some of you are embarrassed to admit you use them, and some, including myself, love them because they add another devilish dimension to food. I bet anyone reading this could easily come up with a list of at least 25 of them that we consume on a daily basis without a great deal of effort. Like the mixing pot that our country has always been, they have entered our culture from all over the world, and of course, as our world continues to shrink, the list continues to grow every year with flavors that we didn’t know how we lived with before they gained notoriety.
I thought that it would be fun to compile a shortlist of some condiments that you have hopefully never heard of, and hopefully, through compelling writing prompt you to seek them out, and find some new favorites.
Ajvar (pronounced AY-var) – Ajvar has its roots embedded in Serbian cuisine, although it has found its way into other parts of former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe. It is traditionally made in the Fall of the year when sweet red peppers (which are in abundance) are roasted over wood fires with eggplant. These are then peeled, seeded, crushed and cooked down with garlic, salt, vinegar, and hotter chilies, depending on how hot the final product is desired. The result is a smokey, multi-dimensional spread which is enjoyed on everything from sandwiches to grilled meat. Click here for a recipe that I have developed.
Furikake – Furikake is a mixture of dried fish, seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, and salt. Its precursor was developed in Japan in the early 1900’s by a pharmacist named Suekichi Yoshimaru to help with calcium deficiency. It was widely used to support malnutrition during World War I due to its high protein and calcium content. It was originally developed to be sprinkled over rice…in fact, the etymology is loose “friend of rice,” but it is also excellent over fish. I have used it in the past as a topical garnish, as it is colorful, and adds a depth of flavor to Asian seafood dishes. It is available at Asian Markets, and if you live in Sarasota, you can buy it at Morton’s Market, 1924 South Osprey.
Hovmästarsås (pronounced hohv-mestar-sohs) – Hovmästarsås is a Swedish mustard and dill sauce that is most commonly served with gravlax or other fish. It is a mixture of Swedish mustard, which is more mild and sweet, although Dijon is an acceptable substitution, vinegar, sugar, vegetable oil, salt, pepper and fresh dill. In Denmark, a similar condiment is made using egg as an emulsifier, and the addition of Cognac.
Gochujang – This Korean chili paste has been around for at least 1,000 years and has been an integral part of the Korean diet ever since due to its nutritional properties. Traditionally, red chili, glutinous rice, soybeans, and salt are fermented in large earthen pots under the sun, which produces a wonderful earthy, spicy paste which can be used in thousands of ways. Bulgogi, a dish I wrote about earlier this week is marinated in it. I’ve played around with it as well, and my favorite application is using it as a base for an Asian barbecue sauce that is particularly tasty with fatty fish and pork.
Chakalaka – Chakalaka is definitely the most fun condiment to pronounce on my list, and comes from South Africa. Legend has it that gold miners created this condiment by adding canned beans to any vegetables that they had on hand, as well as spices, including curry. There are many versions of this recipe out there, but they are largely used as a condiment for grilled meats, or to take the fire out of traditional curries.
Banana Ketchup – Banana Ketchup, or Banana Sauce was created in the Philippines during World War II when there was a shortage of tomatoes to make traditional ketchup. It is a mixture of bananas, sugar, vinegar and other spices, often colored red to resemble traditional ketchup. In the Philippines, it is used in much the same way we use ketchup here in The States. It is also an integral ingredient in Filipino Bolognese sauce.
Pebre – Pebre is a simple sauce that is believed to have been brought to Chile by Catalan workers trying to create a sauce similar to Romesco. Pebre is made of spicy chilies, coriander, onion and olive oil. It is served as an accompaniment to meat and potatoes. A Mexican version called Pico de Gallo is very similar. In Brasil, a sauce named Vinagrete is one of the most popular condiments at Churrascadas. Vinagrete is similar, without the heat of the pepper.
Jaew Bong – Ok, so this condiment made my list based on the shock factor…one of the ingredients in addition to chili paste and galangal is dried water buffalo skin. If you’re thinking that “this ain’t from around here,” you’re right…it hails from half-way around the world in Laos. Of all things, there actually is a Laotian restaurant not far from my house…I might just have to go and see how I can score some dried water buffalo skin so I can make a batch of my own. Because much of the food that is readily available in South East Asia tends to be bland (rice for example), highly pungent condiments are served to make the food more palatable.
Tkemali Sauce – Tkemali Sauce is very popular in Georgia…and, not the Georgia famous for peaches and pralines. It is made with sour cherry plums as the base, combined with chilies, garlic, coriander and other spices. It is served as an accompaniment to meat as the acidity of the sauce compliments the richness of the protein.
Salsa Lizano – OK, so my readers that also enjoy surfing, and have spent time down in Costa Rica have most likely heard of this sauce that is awesome with everything from tamales, to eggs, rice, and beans. It was developed in the 1920’s by the Lizano company and is similar in flavor to HP Sauce from The UK or A1 Steak sauce. The brown sauce is made of a variety of vegetables including onions, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, and peppers, combined with sugar, salt, mustard, and turmeric.
I hope you enjoyed this brief trip around the globe. How many of these condiments have you heard of?
I love to learn, so please share your unique finds with me!