Apologies to the Beatles, but in the kitchen, all you need is sauce. Vinaigrettes for your salads, creamy purees for your grain bowls, salsas for dipping, glazes for coating. I mean, if you think about it, what is soup, if not a big bowl of sauce? With perhaps some chunks of vegetables and/or proteins swimming in it.
Perhaps that last example goes a little far, but you get my point. When I'm in the mood to make something particularly quick and straightforward, but I need to add complexity of flavor, I turn to a sauce.
Bonus points when the sauce takes hardly any time to put together. That's certainly the case with one from Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi's new book, "Around the World in 120 Salads" (Kyle Books, 2017). They got the recipe for Vegetables a la Grecque from chef Alain Roux of the three-star Waterside Inn in Berkshire, England. It's a breeze to make, and once the sauce is ready, the rest of the recipe is flexible.
The flexible part is the selection of vegetables. Roux suggests babies, and if you can get them, absolutely do. Tiny zucchini and carrots, super-thin French beans, little radishes: They're perfect here. But so is cauliflower, with the florets broken up particularly small, and you can similarly cut other bigger vegetables down to size. The important thing is to choose the freshest specimens you can find, and then to blanch them in boiling water until they're just tender.
The sauce (or dressing, as the authors refer to it), is a simply simmered blend of aromatics and spices, vinegar, oil, water, tomato paste, lemon juice and sugar. I realize that the demonization of sugar in nutrition circles might make its addition a tough sell to some, but it's a small amount for four to six servings, and the sugar balances the sauce into something truly sublime that coats those vegetables. Trust me: You'll want bread for sopping.
Vegetables a la Grecque
Four to six servings
An array of seasonal vegetables bathes in a quick sweet-and-sour sauce. This would be a lovely lunch (served with a piece of crusty bread), a first course for a spring or summer party, or you could bulk it up with beans, poached eggs and/or a grain of your choice for a standalone dinner.
Here, we chose vegetables that would look pretty on the plate: "cheddar" cauliflower, haricots verts, spears of zucchini, quartered red radishes and thin purple carrots. If you can't find true baby vegetables, feel free to create your own mix.
This recipe calls for a bouquet garni, which is a cinch to make: Use kitchen twine (or a small cheescloth bag) to tie together stems of herbs for flavor. The bundle makes for quick and easy removal.
Adapted from "Around the World in 120 Salads: Fresh Healthy Delicious," by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Kyle Books, 2017).
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon salt white peppercorns
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 small bouquet garni (herbs such as parsley, thyme and bay leaf; see headnote)
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch salt, plus more as needed
1 3/4 pounds baby vegetables of your choice, trimmed and cut, as needed (see headnote)
4 ounces small button mushrooms, cleaned and cut into halves or quarters
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish
Crush the coriander seed and white peppercorns using a mortar and pestle, then transfer the mixture a large pan. Add the vinegar, oil, water, tomato paste, lemon juice, garlic, bouquet garni, sugar and salt; cook gently, over low heat, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a whisk to form a smooth dressing.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. You'll use it to cook/blanch the separate kinds of vegetables, except for the mushrooms: Allow one minute for the cauliflower florets, 30 seconds for the green beans, one minute and 30 seconds for the zucchini spears, 30 seconds for the radishes and two to three minutes for the carrots. Drain the blanched vegetables and add to the pan with the dressing.
Add the raw mushrooms to the pan and stir gently to coat all the vegetables; cook for five minutes. Discard the bouquet garni.
Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl with the dressing and let cool a little. Season with salt and black pepper, as needed. Scatter the parsley on top. Serve still warm, or at room temperature.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on six): 250 calories, 3 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar.
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column.