As I continue to build a well-rounded kitchen in my first real-life-adult apartment, I’ve realized one of the most important departments to stock up on is condiments and sauces. I have gotten away for a while with the essentials like EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), hot sauce and salsa, but now understand how much complexity and flavor a few dashes of other speciality sauces adds to a meal. While I could’ve taken out my entire refrigerator and included other classics like mayo, mustard and ketchup, I narrowed down the list to a nine bottled items that are rocking my world lately.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Price varies with quality and size. I usually purchase a large bottle like this for around $8.00. If you’re going to have one thing in your kitchen, let it be EVOO. This is my ultimate go-to for cooking. Whether you’re using it to sear some meat in a pan, coating veggies in it before you roast them, or dressing a salad, EVOO is the most practical and diverse item you could purchase.
Balsamic Vinegar. Typically around: $5.00. You can buy balsamic vinegar in a range of styles and levels of fanciness, but a classic balsamic vinegar (not a glaze) will do the trick. I drizzle this over fresh tomatoes in the summer with a little salt and pepper, use it with EVOO as a salad dressing, or toss it into a marinade for meats.
Red Wine Vinegar. Less than $4.00. This vinegar, unlike balsamic, has a little bit less of a dominant flavor and is even more so multi-functional. Once you have it, you will realize how many recipes call for it: salad dressings, Asian dishes, marinades and more. You could also try apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.
Hot Sauce. Typically less than $3.00. The great debate is about which hot sauce is your favorite. I went through a Tapatio phase, then a Chulula phase and now I’m all about Valentina. I had it in Cabo this summer and thought it was only a speciality of Mexico. I was elated when I found it on the shelves of the ethnic food isle at my local grocery store. It has more of a citrus-meets-chili flavor that’s not actually spicy in my opinion. Looking for something to wow your friends: try this on produce like cucumbers or pineapple. That’s how it’s used authentically.
Salsa. Less than $4.00. Salsa is one of those things that you can have in your fridge without thinking about or using for weeks, but then the minute you don’t have it, you wish you did. Buy your favorite kind and try different flavors (chunky, smooth, mild, spicy, black bean, corn, fire roasted, etc.) There are a million and one varieties. I love having salsa on hand for breakfast-for-dinner burritos, dressing for taco salads or impromptu nachos with friends.
Sriracha. Around $3.00. This sauce became the trendy-all-the rage condiment, but it truly is a kitchen staple. The chili sauce known for the rooster on the front and that bright green lid can be used across the board from Asian dishes to American burgers. Spice up your stir fry sauce with a tablespoon of this, mix it with mayo for a spread on your cheeseburger or a dipping sauce for your french fries. You’d be surprised by the creative things people do with this sauce.
Toasted Sesame Oil: Less than $5.00. I bought toasted sesame oil for the first time this month. I finally caved after trying to go without it in Asian dishes for years. It’s incredible how just a few drops of this (it’s potent) will transform your dish. Use it in sauces for stir fry, noodle dishes, soups or even over roasted vegetables. An investment in a bottle will last you a while.
Soy Sauce. Around $3.00. You can put soy sauce on literally anything to transform the flavor. I buy the kind with less sodium so I don’t feel like I have to 12 glasses of water the rest of the day. I love drizzling soy sauce over a quick stir fry, over steamed veggies or using it when marinating meat.
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. Less than $3.00. This an optional item for rotation and could be swapped for barbecue sauce if you prefer, but I like having one of the two on hand for special occasions. I am all about Buffalo Chicken Dip at summer cook outs right now (everything in moderation), but also like adding this to a chicken salad with mayo or Greek yogurt for a twist. If you’re opting for some barbecue sauce, use that for similar purposes: dips, on burgers or marinating meats.
I would love to know – what are the sauces and condiments you can’t live without in your pantry? Did I miss any that you use all the time? I hope this inspires you to pick up a few new bottles at the grocery store this week. You can get all nine of these condiments for just about $40.00. Initially it’s a pretty big investment, but having these on hand will ensure a great start to a well-rounded kitchen. If you don’t purchase them all at once, collect them over time as needed and it will challenge you to try new recipes along the way.
Love food. Love self. Love life.