Everybody likes a “little something” to top their pasta, potatoes, cake, and sorbet. Freshly prepared sauces taste and look indulgent without adding many calories or much fat. Actually, while nobody’s looking, fresh sauces can add some vitamins and minerals, too.
Fresh sauces are fast to make and can be served cold, warm, or piping hot, depending on the dish. Many fresh sauces can be frozen and used at a later date.
Applesauce is probably the most familiar fruit sauce in the kitchen. You can make applesauce in the time-honored tradition, by simmering for a long while. If you’d like to prepare a fresh apple or pear sauce, select your more ripe fruit, peel, core, and chunk. Then, process in a blender or food processor. If you’re really good with a knife, you can finely mince the fruit rather than using a processor. You can season your cold apple or pear sauce with ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and fresh or powdered ginger. If you need a little sweetness, add apple juice concentrate or maple syrup. This sauce can be quickly warmed in a microwave or in a covered saucepan on high heat.
Use fresh apple or pear sauce to top hot or cold cereal in the morning; serve as a ‘dipping sauce’ for toasted bagels, muffins, or cookies; top sorbet or frozen desserts; or spruce up unfrosted cakes. Think about an apple or pear smoothie, made with a combination of apple or pear sauce, silken tofu, soy or rice milk, and seasonings of your choice. If you go overboard and make a little too much sauce, add a small amount of orange juice to prevent browning and refrigerate for later.
A “coulis” (pronounced ‘coo-LEE’) is the name for puréed fruit meant to be used as sauce. A coulis adds a whole dimension of color and taste to meals without fat. They can be made from any fruit that can be blended to yield a sauce-like texture.
Prepare a berry coulis by blending fresh or frozen strawberries, raspberries, and other seasonal berries until smooth. Add rice syrup and either a splash of white wine or apple juice, and blend to combine. The coulis can be strained if the seeds need to be removed. Bananas can be added to thicken a coulis, and melon or fruit juice can be used for thinning. Frozen fruit used for coulis should be thawed before using. Serve a berry coulis with banana or zucchini bread, sorbet, frozen soy yogurt, or sliced fresh fruit.
Most dried fruit can be soaked and puréed as a quick, fresh sauce. Dates, prunes, and raisins are probably the most popular to use as sauces. To make about one pint (2 cups) of dried fruit purée, place 1-1/4 cups of pitted dried fruit in a blender with 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Purée until smooth. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use. This should last approximately two weeks in the refrigerator. Use this sauce to liven up sliced fresh fruit, fruit salad, cornbread, hot and cold cereal, soy yogurt, and sorbet.
Vegetable combinations can yield ‘creamy’ sauces. Carrots, root vegetables (such as beets, winter squash, and turnips), and potatoes can be cooked until soft and puréed to create soups and sauces that appear and taste buttery and creamy. For example, carrots and potatoes cooked together and puréed with fresh or dried thyme, onion powder, and white pepper make a thick, sunburst-colored soup that tastes full of cream (but isn’t). Puréed potatoes (mashed potatoes thinned with regular, lowfat, or nonfat soy or rice milk) can be seasoned with garlic and rosemary to create both a ‘cream’ of potato soup or a ‘creamy’ garlic sauce for vegetables.
No time to cook? A chef’s secret is to purchase easily puréed vegetables. You can find frozen winter squash, which cooks up very quickly into a creamy mixture, in most markets. If this is too thick for your taste, thin the mixture with a little vegetable broth or soy or rice milk. You can season squash with orange or lemon zest, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg or ginger for a sweet sauce, and serve it with baked white or sweet potatoes, herbed bread, cornbread, or muffins. Season squash with curry powder and white pepper for a tangy sauce or with thyme, marjoram, and sage for a mild sauce. Serve these with roasted potatoes, baked or steamed beans, pasta, or grain or rice pilafs.
Remember, fresh and dried herbs have no calories or fat and enhance the taste and color of menu items. Paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes add color, as do curry powder and turmeric (the ‘yellow’ in mustard).
Frozen, chopped spinach can be thawed and whirled in the blender to create a fast sauce. For a ‘creamy’ texture, blend in silken tofu and season with white pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, and fresh, minced or powdered garlic. For a pesto-like sauce, purée in pine nuts and add ground oregano, basil, and garlic. Spinach sauce is great with pasta, as the sauce for lasagna, over baked or mashed potatoes, or with steamed seasonal vegetables.
Here’s a leftover tip—you can turn an overabundant purchase of fresh spinach, kale, or Swiss chard into sauce ingredients. Wash the extra leaves, pat dry, tear, and freeze. (Since fresh kale and Swiss chard are too fibrous to produce a smooth sauce, freezing softens the fiber.) When you’re ready to prepare a sauce, allow your greens of choice to defrost and proceed as above.
Purée fresh, seeded, chopped green, yellow, and red peppers and create a tri-colored base for grilled or baked tofu or seitan. Finely chop fresh or canned tomatoes (or a combination of the two), and add fresh, chopped basil and green onions for a Mediterranean salsa cruda, or “fresh sauce.” If you don’t have the patience to chop, toss the tomatoes in the blender or food processor. Serve your fresh tomato sauce tossed with angel hair pasta, whole wheat or buckwheat udon, rice or wheat vermicelli, or spinach fettucini or over freshly steamed or grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes, or grilled tofu.
The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.
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