Kitchen & Cooking

7 flavorful sauces for easy meals

Homemade options for when you’ve got time, store-bought for when you don’t.

Fly By Jing Zhong Sauce doused on noodles. Credit: Fly By Jing

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A year into the pandemic and we’ve officially hit the dinnertime doldrums. The novelty of bread baking, air frying, or throwing everything into an instant pot isn’t feeling so novel anymore. And whether you’re caring for aging parents or feeding little ones, we’re thinking you could use a little meal inspiration.

My solution? 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. Egunsi Foods Ata Din Din

egunsifoods
Credit: Egunsi Foods

Shop Egunsi Foods on the brand’s website, or check your local Whole Foods.

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.

Get the 4-pack of Ata Din Din from Egunsi Foods for $80

2. Homemade pesto

pesto
Credit: Getty Images / Pinkybird

A mini food processor is the perfect tool for making 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.

Get the KitchenAid Cordless Food Chopper on Amazon for $99

3. Fly By Jing Zhong Sauce

What is chili crisp
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

These sauces are made with all natural ingredients and no food additives.

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.

Get Fly By Jing Zhong Sauce for $15

4. Homemade peanut sauce

peanutsauce
Credit: Marion's Kitchen

Peanut sauce can be used for dipping or dressing, depending on the dish.

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.

Get the ChefSoki Mortar and Pestle Set on Amazon for $24.17

5. Homemade aioli

aioli
Credit: Getty Images / cheche22

Transform aioli to match your dish; mix in pesto, roasted garlic, or hot sauce.

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.

Get the Hamilton Beach Seven-Speed Mixer on Amazon for $99.99

6. Mina Shakshuka Sauce

mina_shakshukasauce
Credit: Mina / Instagram / @mina

This super savory sauce makes dinner a cinch.

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.

Get Mina Shakshuka Sauce on Amazon for $11.91

7. Homemade miso dressing

misodressing
Credit: Food 52 / James Ransom

Whip up a batch of homemade miso dressing to pair with seasonal springtime veggies.

Spring is the perfect time to roast fresh, seasonal produce in your favorite sheet pan. Serve with a side of steamed rice, made in a rice cooker for a time-saving method or stovetop if you prefer.

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.

Get the OXO Good Grips 11-inch Balloon Whisk on Amazon for $9.99

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