Dipping sauces can take the same basic meal template and jazz things up to keep you from suffering from FBS (Food Boredom Syndrome). Plain chicken and broccoli again? Drizzle on some Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce. Need an accompaniment for some beautiful cooked, chilled shrimp? This one does the trick, too. It does have honey (so don’t go overboard and eat gallons of it) but if you’re looking for something to stave off FBS, feel good that it doesn’t contain weird chemicals or high-fructose corn syrup like most of the prepared sauces in the market.
No arrowroot powder? You could use tapioca flour as a thickener. Wish to avoid those completely? You can gently reduce the sauce until it thickens a bit, though it won’t have the same texture as arrowroot or tapioca.
Think back to the best meal you’ve ever had…go ahead, I’ll wait a moment. What was special about it? The flavors…complex yet subtle, layered by the chef to compliment each other left you with an experience. Far from plain chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, right? With a little know-how and a bit of creativity, you can make super tasty, rockstar-status meals.
It’s all about balancing flavors (this could be a long lesson but I’ll keep it to the basics). For novice cooks, try working with this simple triad: salt, acid and aromatics. For example, if a dish just tastes flat, try adding an acid like vinegar or citrus juice to brighten it up.
If you want to go a bit further, you can play with notes of bitter, savory (umami) and spicy.
You can create big flavors, too and it’s as simple as having these five Paleo-friendly, taste-tickling juggernauts on hand. These are my must-haves that I always have around my kitchen.
The options are pretty endless here and it’s generally accepted that vinegars (except for malt vinegar…derived from grain) are Paleo-friendly. Besides the obvious use in dressings or condiments, vinegar is a great way to add a bright note to veggies or heavy dishes like stews.
Okay, this one can be controversial. Some folks who follow a very strict Paleo template don’t use any salt. At all. I tried this when I started Paleo 4 years ago, and it made food pretty boring. By avoiding processed foods, the amount of sodium intake in your diet is already substantially lower. As someone who enjoys cooking and my food, salt is part of the game. I use regular salt during cooking to adjust the overall flavor and sometimes flavored finishing salts as a very light sprinkle before serving. Which type of salt is best? Read this article from Chris Kresser for a comprehensive answer.
Another option for adding a note of acidity or brightness to your food. Besides the obvious lemons and limes, you may want to experiment with others like grapefruit for savory foods (one of my favorite ceviche recipes uses grapefruit juice). If you’re throwing the zest out with the spent fruit rinds, though, you’re missing a gold mine of flavor! The outermost, colored layer of the skin (not the white pith underneath) contains the citrus oils that make the fruit so fragrant. I use a microplane grater to remove the zest and toss it in everything from dressings and marinades to desserts.
My favorites: lemons, limes and grapefruit
These form the backbone of your dish…the flavor foundation everything’s built on. Used in cooking from cultures around the world, they can be used as a dominant note (think garlic chicken) or as a subtle layer. I always have plenty of aromatics hanging around! The powdered / ground form is useful for some dishes (especially where you don’t want to introduce a lot of extra moisture) though I lean toward the fresh variety just because the flavor is so much more pronounced.
Fresh herbs are so great! Not only are they relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to grow your own no matter your space constraints, from pots on a balcony to huge backyard gardens. Heartier fresh herbs like rosemary hold up well to cooking (like in Rosemary Balsamic Butternut Squash) while more delicate leaves like cilantro do better in cold applications (because they’ll wilt otherwise). They’re great to sprinkle on top of a finished dish for another layer of flavor or to brighten up the colors on a plate.
My favorites: flat leaf parsley, mint and rosemary
Let me know what your flavor-making essentials are in the comments below!
Full credit for this idea goes to one of my awesome readers, Krista from Kansas. On my Whole30 tip #4 about how to handle social drinking, she wrote, “I love Club Soda with lime, but I’ve also recently discovered that flavored Balsamic Vinegars mixed with sparkling water is the shizz.” I love this woman already, and this mocktail* is dedicated to her.
The concept is simple: sparkling water plus a splash (or a bit more) of flavor-infused balsamic vinegar plus ice and a fruit garnish. Tangy with a hint of sweetness! The flavored balsamics are generally not as harsh as what you’d pour over a salad and are infused with different layers of flavor. Read below for my combinations.
Prep time: 5 min Cook time: 0 min Makes: 1 serving
Ingredients for Easy Paleo Mocktails
4 large ice cubes
1 oz flavor-infused balsamic vinegar
4 oz sparkling water
Herbs or fruit to garnish
Directions for Easy Paleo Mocktails
In a 6 oz Glass
Place 4 ice cubes in the glass.
Pour the vinegar in the bottom of the glass.
Slowly pour the sparkling water on top. If you do this carefully enough, you’ll be able to create a vinegar layer at the bottom and the sparkling water in a layer above (because the vinegar’s more dense…SCIENCE). This makes the flavor more intense as you keep sipping. Or, just stir it all up!
Garnish with your choice of fresh fruit or herbs.
You can experiment with different amounts of vinegar. 4 parts sparkling water : 1 part vinegar was where my tastebuds were happy, but you may want more or less.
My flavor combinations were orange-vanilla white balsamic with fresh blackberries and a slice of orange for garnish and lemongrass-mint white balsamic with muddled mint and a garnish of lemongrass leaf (not edible). Krista also tells me that lemon balsamic with a bit of lemon olive oil floated on top is amazing.
The flavor-infused vinegars can be found online (the good people at The Tasteful Olive got me my order FAST) or at some gourmet food stores. Yes, they can be a bit pricey BUT think of these as special occasion drinks, and maybe the splurge is worth it. If not, you could play around with plain sparkling water and different fruits / garnishes or even freezing fruits and herbs like mint into ice cubes.
*I know we always talk about not trying to Paleo-ify bad food choices – like eating Paleo pancakes and cookies on your Whole30 and perhaps the same argument could be made against the mocktail. However. Many folks are reluctant to start a Whole30 because there’s a ___________ coming up this month (fill in the blank…birthday, anniversary, holiday, wedding…). Choosing something like this would give you a sparkling to hold and sip on and mingle with so you can feel like you’re part of the celebration with your fancy beverage.
This four-ingredient dipping sauce, perfect for chicken, has the right balance of sweet and sour without using any added sugar. Even better, apricots are in season during late spring / early summer so finding them fresh in the market should be easier now than at any other time during the year. Score!
Prep time: 10 min Cook time: 10-15 min Makes: a little over 2 cups
Ingredients for Paleo Sweet and Sour Sauce
4-5 large ripe fresh apricots, pitted (about 2 cups chopped)
1/2 cup fresh mango, chopped
1″ piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Directions for Paleo Sweet and Sour Sauce
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook the apricots, mango, ginger and apple cider vinegar until the fruit softens, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Fish out the ginger slices with a spoon (or if you want a bit of spiciness to your sauce, leave a few slices in).
Puree the mixture using an immersion blender, food processor or blender. If you want a smooth sauce, puree until there aren’t any chunks of fruit.
To thin the sauce, add a bit more apple cider vinegar. To thicken the sauce, reduce over low heat in the pan until it’s to your desired consistency.
Serve as a dipping sauce, warm or cold. Also, I brushed a baked chicken with the sauce in the final 5 minutes of cooking and broiled it until it browned a bit.
Zucchini noodles are rad. I made this simple cold salad by tossing them with a drizzle of olive oil and white balsamic, then serving them with tomato and olives. With warmer weather upon us, this would be a great side dish for a BBQ or picnic lunch. If you want to be fancy, you could chop up the olives and tomato or add canned artichokes or even a few leaves of fresh basil.
Prep time: 30 min Cook time: 0 min Makes: ~5 cups
Ingredients for Cold Zucchini Noodle Salad with Tomato and Olives
5 medium zucchini
~2 teaspoons sea salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 cup cherry tomatoes, whole or chopped
1 cup pitted black olives (I like kalamata), whole or chopped
Directions Cold Zucchini Noodle Salad with Tomato and Olives
Peel zucchini with a julienne peeler (like this one), sprinkle evenly with salt (I mix it by hand to make sure it’s evenly distributed), and place in a colander to drain for about 20 min. The salt pulls moisture out of the zucchini, making a more tender noodle. Put the colander in the sink because it’ll leak all over the countertop if you don’t.
Rinse thoroughly with water to wash away the excess salt and squeeze to remove the extra moisture.
Drizzle the noodles with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Toss to combine.
Add the tomato and olives. Stir in or leave on top…it’s up to you!
I know this sounds bizarre: smoky bacon simmered down with sweet maple syrup, tangy apple cider vinegar, dark coffee and of all things, chocolate to create a thick jam-like texture. This recipe is modified from one I found on allisoneats.com, but I really wanted to cut down on the amount of sugar and add some cinnamon and nutmeg to give the jam another dimension of flavor. The result is pretty awesome on just about everything and goes extremely well on top of a nice, juicy grass-fed burger. It takes a bit of time due to the simmering but other than that is pretty simple to make. You could also create this and leave out the chocolate which would make the bacon jam pair nicely with some sunny side up eggs.
If you’ve never had jicama, it’s got an interesting texture that’s like that of a crispy apple but neutral in flavor. I’ve sliced it into salads and even slow cooked it until it took on the resemblance of home fries. Recently, I ordered a salad at one of my new favorite eating spots – Craft & Commerce in the Little Italy district of San Diego – and it came with what I guessed was pickled jicama. It was tangy and crunchy and definitely better than regular pickles. I set out to recreate them at home, but my first batch wasn’t great – I used regular pickling spices, and it just wasn’t the same. So last week, while dining at C & C I asked the waitress if she could find out the ingredients for me. She came back with the info from the kitchen: rice wine vinegar, salt, sugar and chilies. I modified it a bit and this is the result.
1 small jicama, cubed
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 a jalapeño pepper, minced
Peel the jicama with a knife and cut into small cubes, and minced the jalapeño (be sure to wash your hands after handling the pepper).
In a small saucepan on medium heat, add the vinegars, honey, salt and pepper. Stir until combined.
Pour the hot vinegar over the jicama cubes, and add the chili pepper.
Pack into a quart-sized mason jar and refrigerate. Tastes best when it has marinated for at least 24 hours but you can make a quick pickle out of it by letting it sit for about 30 minutes.
Sometimes the CSA box is full of, well, random veggies in such quantities that it’s hard to know what to do with them. Last week, the box came with a half-pound of hot peppers. I remembered a few weeks ago that Suzie’s Farm had posted up a recipe for sriracha on their blog and decided to give it a try.
In essence, the sriracha (or rooster sauce if you prefer that more PG moniker) is nothing more than hot chilies cooked with a few spices and blended. Although Suzie’s recipe was pretty good, it wasn’t paleo. This version reflects a few changes I made. I halved the recipe based on the number of peppers I received, but I’ll give you the full-size version here.
Makes: About 1-1/2 cups
Ingredients for Homemade Sriracha
1 pound hot pepper mix (the box had mostly red, purple and green…as for specific varieties, I recognized some red jalapeños)