Center Stage Sauces

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As summer surges into full swing, food preferences follow suit. We seek lighter, simpler fare, but let’s not sacrifice flavor in the process.

Diners often find that they can forego richness and fat if they infuse sufficient flavor into lighter foods. Be it tangy or hot, briny or salty, amping up the flavor can counteract the fact that you are dining on something simple and low in calories.

These three dishes spotlight the sauces — all of which are robust and hearty, but they keep things on the light side when poured over vegetables.


If you are disinclined to make the sauces yourself, we have good news for you. All of these sauces are widely available in many markets. While we are offering them here on vegetables, they could easily top fish, meat, rice or noodles.

Buffalo Cauliflower

This is a vegetarian twist on Buffalo wings, which I always find heavy and messy, despite enjoying the tangy, spicy flavor of the dish. If you have extra sauce, save it for another use: It is great as a dip. If the flavor is too intense for dipping, you can dilute it with cream cheese and serve it with crackers or crudité.

For the cauliflower:

1 head cauliflower, cut in bite-sized pieces

1 tablespoon canola oil

Pinch of salt and sprinkle of pepper

For the sauce:

½ stick butter or margarine

¼ cup hot sauce (Frank’s is traditional, but any brand will do)

1 tablespoon white vinegar

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Heat your oven to 375 degrees. (Use convection, if possible, for quicker, more even roasting.) Place the cauliflower in a baking dish and toss it with oil, salt and pepper.

Roast it for about 25 minutes, until the cauliflower is beginning to brown on the edges.

While the cauliflower roasts, make the sauce: Melt the butter or margarine in a small saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients, keeping the pot on low heat, stirring to blend. Do not boil.

When the cauliflower is done, place it in a serving bowl and toss it with a small amount of sauce. Taste it; if it needs more sauce, add it, but be gradual so as not to overwhelm the dish.

Serves four as a side or two as a main course.

Steamed Asparagus with Hoisin Sauce

Because hoisin sauce is rather sweet, it is a great way to entice kids to eat things they might otherwise refuse.

When our kids were young and we hosted a bunch of their cousins, we often slathered the meat and vegetables in hoisin sauce and sautéed the lot. It was generally a slam dunk with the entire group, and adults who wanted a bit more kick had the opportunity to add some chili oil or Sriracha.

Asparagus gets the treatment here, but any vegetable would work. This sauce doubles as a wonderful marinade/sauté for tofu, steak or chicken. Have extra? Toss it over cooked white rice, use it as a dip for steamed dumplings or drizzle it over grilled fish.

If you do not feel inclined to make the hoisin, there are numerous brands in the Asian section of the supermarket. Soy Vay Hoisin Garlic is my favorite.

For the asparagus:

1 bunch asparagus, rinsed and rough ends trimmed

Pinch salt

Sauce:

4 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sesame oil

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Hot sauce to taste, if desired

Place the asparagus and about ½ cup water into a large skillet with a cover. Sprinkle it with salt.

Cook the asparagus, covered, over high heat until it is bright green and just barely cooked, about three to four minutes. You want it “crisp tender.”

While the asparagus steams, mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and whisk them until blended.

Remove the asparagus from the heat, and place it in a serving bowl. Pour a small amount of hoisin over the asparagus and toss. Add more as desired. Do not add too much; the hoisin should complement the vegetable but not overpower it.

Serves four as a side, two as a main course.

Pan-Roasted String Beans with Olive Tapenade

These string beans have a slight char, which gives them a bit of a smoky flavor, and the quick cooking method means they remain crisp.

The olive tapenade complements them well with a salty, briny taste, while adding texture. Use leftover tapenade on crostini, tossed in pasta or as a topping for grilled anything.

For the string beans:

1 pound fresh string beans, stems removed

2 tablespoons canola oil

Pinch of salt and pepper

For the tapenade:

1 clove garlic, minced

¾ cup pitted black olives, chopped finely

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Juice of ½ lemon

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high and add the beans, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, shaking the pan and checking for doneness after a few minutes.

When the beans have begun to char a bit, shake the pan again to ensure even cooking. When done, remove from the heat. Total cooking time is approximately eight to 10 minutes.

While the beans cook, mix all the tapenade ingredients in a small bowl.

Place the beans in a serving bowl and add a small amount of tapenade, about ¼ cup, tossing to blend. Add more tapenade as desired, ensuring that the beans are still the predominant flavor.

Serves four as a side, two as a main course.

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