7 flavorful sauces for easy back to school dinners
Homemade options for when you’ve got time, store-bought for when you don’t.
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Whether you're balancing back to school schedules or getting back into the swing of your morning commute, there are a few things you could be doing to make meal time easier. You could snag the best air fryer we've tested—the Philips Premium Airfryer XXL—for dinners that are ready at the push of a button. Or, throw all your ingredients in a pressure cooker and let it work its magic.
And if you're still in search of additional meal inspiration, I've got you covered: make a sauce! A steady and rotating supply of sauces can make everything from a sheet pan meal to a pot of braised beans taste new and exciting. Below you’ll find a combination of homemade and store-bought sauces for when you’ve got time to cook, and for when you don’t.
1. Homemade pesto
Pesto is incredibly versatile and a great way to use up herbs like cilantro, dill, parsley, or the classic basil. Olive oil acts as a natural preservative, which is why the sauce can last up to two weeks in a sealed container in the fridge. To give your pesto an even longer shelf life, pre-portion and freeze in ice cube trays or small baggies for ready-to-go dinner savers.
I love this New York Times recipe by Mashama Bailey of The Grey in Savannah because it subs traditional pine nuts for pecans. A small food processor like this KitchenAid Cordless Food Chopper we tested makes this pecan pesto a cinch. Layer over fish or thin your pesto with a little more oil and use as an herbaceous dressing for greens.
2. Egunsi Foods Ata Din Din
While I live for those lazy days where I have the luxury of letting sauces cook low and slow, that’s not always an option. Enter: Ata Din Din, a Nigerian sauce by Egunsi Foods made of caramelized peppers, tomatoes, onions, and a bit of habanero for kick. Known for its rich, complexity of flavor and mild heat, this sauce is terrific when used as the base for stews, marinating chicken, or as a topping for grilled fish and veggies.
'Yemisi Agowan created Egunsi Foods to bring her favorite West African flavors to the U.S. using locally-farmed produce. The flavors in this sauce are rich yet subtle and will make you wonder where Ata Din Din has been your whole life.
3. Fly By Jing Zhong Sauce
Chili crisp is having a moment, appearing on everything from eggs to dumplings to ice cream (trust us, it’s delicious). I could probably go through a jar a week.
Fly By Jing is a brand we love that ships its chili crisp nationwide, but it’s the Zhong Sauce we’re recommending here. Inspired by the classic Chengdu street snack Zhong Dumplings, this sauce is a blend of aromatic soy sauce that’s slow-brewed with brown sugar, mushrooms, garlic, and a special blend of spices. The resulting concoction is umami-rich and great on everything from noodles to the aforementioned dumplings.
4. Homemade peanut sauce
Peanut sauce is a crowd pleaser and I especially love this recipe from Marion’s Kitchen—it’s usually half gone by then end of the day whenever I make a batch. Marion’s recipe pairs peanut sauce with dumplings, but I love to drizzle this on sliced cucumber for an addictive side.
The recipe calls for a mortar and pestle as it’s a great tool for crushing whole spices. The ChefSoki Mortar and Pestle Set is the best value pick we tested because it’s under $30, heavy duty, and includes a nonslip pad.
5. Homemade aioli
In my opinion, this truly iconic blend of egg yolk, garlic, mustard powder, and oil can elevate any dish from simple to sublime. Despite what many cooking averse believe, it’s super simple to make. This version from Bon Appetit takes five minutes to make thanks to the help of a stand mixer.
If you’re looking for a stand mixer that won’t break the bank, check out the Hamilton Beach Seven-Speed Mixer. It’s our best value pick because we found it to be easy to use with great mixing results during testing.
6. Mina Shakshuka Sauce
Mina Shakshuka Sauce is a nod to Morocco’s centuries old culinary traditions and is utterly delicious. Made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and six secret spices, it’s also a great way to pack a lot of flavor into a fast brunch, lunch, or dinner.
A traditional Moroccon Shakshuka is always cooked in a large cast-iron skillet and served sizzling hot from the oven. I love adapting this dish for more people simply by adding in more eggs and lots of fresh baked bread on the side for dipping. Alternatively, this is a great sauce to use with pasta.
7. Homemade miso dressing
I love finishing my roasted veg with miso dressing, like this recipe for No-Frills Miso Dressing from Food52. A whisk is the best tool for the job here, and we recommend the highly-rated OXO Good Grips 11-inch Balloon Whisk.
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