The trick to a dish is often just the right twist of flavor. And that can come from just the right condiment. It can also mean the difference between something that's merely tasty to nirvana -- condiment nirvana, that's what we're talking about here.
That's a part of Lynne Rosetto Kasper's new electronic-book, "Eating in with Lynne Rosetto Kasper: The Big Summer Party."
TOM CRANN: Let's define this. We're not talking about sauces. Typically, we think of ketchup and mustard, but what's the definition of a true condiment?
ROSETTO KASPER: A true condiment is something that is highly seasoned. That doesn't mean offensively so, or particularly hot with chili. But it is highly seasoned and it is an accent --it lifts the flavors of the things it touches.
What I love about condiments, especially in summer, is you have delicious flavors all on their own. You don't have to fool around with them. Add the right ingredients, which are really fast and simple, and suddenly you have something that makes anything else on the plate taste good.
CRANN: A skeptic might ask what difference could a condiment really make in a meal?
ROSETTO KASPER: Night and day. Let me give you an example. One of the things I make all the time, but especially this time of year, are these hot sweet tart onion rings. Now this is just, literally, thin-sliced onion tossed with fresh lime juice, a bit of sugar, salt and chilis. Marinate that in the fridge -- it can sit for a week if you want. What will happens is that the onion loses its sulpherous, strong flavor and will wilt, becoming like a relish. When you put this on a piece of grilled fish -- pull the fish right off the grill and put a little bit of these onion rings on top -- the fish tastes richer, it tastes fuller and the delicious onion tends to just take that fish and lift it into the most heavenly... well, you know what I mean.
CRANN: I hear a couple of things. There's tart, there's sweet. What's the right combination for just the right condiment?
ROSETTO KASPER: There are several of them. There are flavor profiles. Everyone loves sweet and tart, it's almost a universal flavor. We're wired to love it. This is one combo that you can go almost anywhere with: sweet, tart, spice. The spice could be cinnamon. The spice could be cumin.
CRANN: And the sweet could be as simple as sugar?
ROSETTO KASPER: But it could be fruit juice. It could be pureed fruit. Such as this recipe for Piquant Peach Ice Box Relish. This is just like the onions. It uses lime, it uses a bit of chili, it uses cinnamon. You can leave the chili out and just use cinnamon. But here's the thing: it uses sliced peaches or nectarines. But it uses a trick: when you have fruit that's sweet, you know how it can get really sloppy because if you mix it up with a dressing or whatever it throws off a lot of liquid?
CRANN: Like a puree, almost?
ROSETTO KASPER: A really old method of avoiding that is to toss the fruit with the sugar the day before you're going to do anything with it. I love the combination of sugar and salt with something like stone fruit because it can be so lush. And sugar and salt is great. In this case we have a generous amount of sugar, a bit of salt, tossed with some lime juice and a bit of chili -- same idea as the onions.
But this time it sits overnight in a colander. It's going to throw off a lot of liquid. You want to give back that flavor, you don't want that to go anywhere. Put a cinnamon stick into that liquid. Pour the liquid into a saucepan and boil it down into a syrup.
Put the peaches that are already cured into a jar, and pour the syrup over them. They'll keep about a week or two in the fridge. They are incredible.
CRANN: What do you serve those with?
ROSETTO KASPER: Would you believe, try those over some cooked steamed green beans, put them on asparagus. They are fabulous in take-out coleslaw, or on a take-out chicken.
There you have that same idea: The balance between sugar and lime juice is a little different, but it's the exact same idea: sweet, tart, spice.
CRANN: Picky eaters, how do they start? Let's say they throw a burger on the grill?
ROSETTO KASPER: Start slow. Do the onions, but with a little sugar, a little bit of lime juice, a little salt and a little pepper. Leave out the chili. We don't want them to suddenly run out of the room. But those onion rings on a burger? Really fabulous, just fabulous.