Condiments are key to turning the same old boring fare into something delicious – jerk chicken with pineapple salsa, hamburger with chimichuri, seared scallops with tartar sauce. Relishes, chutneys, pickles, mayo, sauces, dressings and marinades. They’re what make ordinary food special, adding flavor, complexity and variety to what would otherwise be monotonous fare. It’s what prompted Marco Polo to go find the spice route, and urges McDonald’s to serve dipping sauce with their nuggets. But condiments are also costly, which is why I make the ones I used most often.
Mustard is a case in point. In summer, I use grainy scotch whiskey-and-herb mustard to enliven a simple open-faced tomato and cheese leftover steak sandwich. Curried sherry mustard gets slathered on salmon before it’s broiled, added to mayo and chopped bread and butter pickle for a distinctive tartar sauce, and dolloped into lemon juice, Adobo seasoning and olive oil and used to marinate shrimp, which get skewered and grilled and served with sliced avocado, homemade salsa and a wedge of lime or chipotle sauce, and livens up a simple kosher hot dog or sausage with pickle.
Making mustard is easy, and offers all kinds of flavor options depending on personal taste and what’s in the cupboard or the herb garden. Add extra honey and some lavender blooms and you’ve got a great pretzel dipping sauce, for example. Or plump dried cranberries in Pama then puree to create cranberry mustard for turkey sandwiches. Or use a little chili powder and tequila to create a mustard to slather on chicken before baking. Be sure to make extra so the leftover chicken can go into Mexican chicken salad with pineapple, scallions, and pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds) or almonds. Homemade mustard is an easy and delicious base for a lot of different salad dressings, too. For example, mix a teaspoonful with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil to drizzle over a simple lettuce salad with crumbled blue cheese and roasted beets.
To make curried sherry mustard, I start with the recipe for Homemade Dilled Mustard from Renee Shepherd’s Recipes from A Kitchen Garden, then substitute.
1 cup dry mustard
2 tsp salt
1 cup cider vinegar
¾ cup sugar
2 tblsp finely chopped dill leaf
¼ cup water
2 eggs, beaten
For Curried Sherry Mustard:
1 cup dry mustard
2 tsp salt
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup sherry or marsala
¾ cup honey
1 ½-2 tsp curry powder or 1 tblsp minced curry plant (Helichrysum italicum)
¼ cup water
2 eggs slightly beaten.
Mix all ingredients except eggs in the top o a double boiler, cover and let stand for several hours. Heat gently over simmering water. Add eggs, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Pour into containers, cover and chill. Makes 1 pint-plus. Keeps in the frig in definitely.
For grainy mustard, you need to plump the grains to receive the flavors. Either soak them overnight in the liquid you want or steep them in it in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Mine consists of vinegar, scotch and finely minced fresh herbs (sage, curry plant, dash of oregano, chives and a leaf of lavender), a little salt, honey or sugar about 1-2 tblsp to 1 cup mustard. Simmer over the water until liquid is absorbed, adding more if necessary as you would in a risotto. Once the grains are swollen and won’t take any more liquid, it’s time to quit. Store in the frig. It’s nice with cheese and crackers, slathered on a ham and cheese sandwich, or used as a side with a bit of grilled cod and flash-fried cherry tomatoes.
Chestertown Natural Foods can order dry mustard and grainy mustard by the pound.
According to Saveur magazine, this Saturday is celebrated in Middleton, Wisconsin as National Mustard Day. Sample mustards from around the world, and eat all the complementary hot dogs you like provided you slather them with mustard. There’s a $10 surcharge for ketchup. For info: www.mustardmuseum.org.