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Get saucy this summer with these simple recipes to elevate your favorite dishes

May 22, 2023May 22, 2023


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It’s hot. You don’t have a whole lot of energy for cooking dinner. Maybe throw something on the grill? Make a salad? A sandwich?

Summer heat can drain your creativity when it comes to putting together a meal. But a simple sauce can elevate a plain old piece of grilled chicken, zucchini , tofu or steak into something exciting and bursting with flavor.

These three sauces — all made quickly using a food processor or blender — can be assembled using just a few ingredients. The sauces are what I call “flavor builders.” They’re in your refrigerator when you need new flavors to boost a dinner that doesn’t feel all that inspired.

The salsa macha — a gorgeous blend of garlic, chiles, sesame seeds, peanuts and vinegar — offers spice, nuttiness and a smoky flavor that goes well with everything from chips and tacos to grilled chicken or shrimp. Spoon a tablespoon onto grilled fish, heat up some tacos, and you’ve got the making of a great dinner.

The summer green herb and tahini sauce is thick, almost like a dip. It can be served with raw vegetables, taco chips, or spread on pita bread with leftover sliced meat, fish, salads, or chicken.

And then there’s muhammara, a Middle Eastern-inspired spread, which bursts with sweet pepper and chile pepper, nuts, cumin, olive oil and breadcrumbs.

All these sauces will last, covered and refrigerated, for several days or longer. (None of them freeze particularly well.) You’ll quickly find yourself relying on them for all your summer cooking, like an old friend that brings new life to the party.

This is a thick sauce, full of fresh summer herbs blended with tahini, olive oil and lemon juice. It works as a dip with raw vegetables or grilled or cooked shrimp. Spread on warm pita bread with slices of grilled lamb or spoon it over grilled chicken.

I made the sauce using parsley, cilantro, dill and summery mint, but you can use any combination of green herbs you like. You want a total of about 1 ⅔ cups.

Use your favorite brand of tahini, one of mine comes from Seed and Mill in New York City.

Makes about 1 cup.



I first experienced salsa macha years ago when a friend brought me a jar home from her trip to Mexico. I fell for it in a big way. What was it? It tasted like a version of Asian chile crisp, like peanut butter and chile oil fell in love. It had so many flavors I adore, all mingled together into one spicy, smoky, nutty sauce.

Originally from the Veracruz region of Mexico, the salsa is made with dried chiles, garlic, peanuts, sesame seeds and vinegar cooked up in oil.

There are so many uses for this sauce: Spread it on tortillas for your next taco, add a spoonful to egg dishes, or spoon it over grilled fish, meat or poultry. It can also be used as a condiment added to stir-fries and stews to add a smoky spicy flavor or added to cold noodle salads or noodle soups.

Makes about 2 cups.


*Chiles can be found in Latin American grocery stores or online.


This red pepper, scallion and pomegranate spiced sauce is incredibly versatile. It’s a classic Middle Eastern favorite and works just as well spread on warm pita bread with chopped tomatoes and parsley as it does spread on a burger, grilled sausage, shish kabob, crudites, chips or sandwiches. Traditionally made with walnuts, I used almonds and loved their crunchy addition.

Makes about 2 cups.



*Aleppo peppers come from the Syrian city of Aleppo. They are a gorgeous dark red color with a slightly spicy, earthy, big flavor.

**Pomegranate molasses, found at Middle Eastern markets, is a thick reduction of pomegranate juice that's been boiled down with sugar and lemon juice. If you don’t have any, you can substitute 1/2 tablespoon honey mixed with 1/2 tablespoon pomegranate juice.

You can find pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper at Middle Eastern markets, gourmet shops or online here and here.


Other favorite summer sauces:

IngredientsInstructionsIngredientsInstructionsIngredientsInstructionsOther favorite summer sauces: