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A Tale of Two Sauces

Some recipes are clearly simple. Other recipes are clearly complicated. Then there are the recipes that just seem simple. A tablespoon of this, a teaspoon of that, some chopping, some stirring, and you’re done. Except “this” has 20 ingredients of its own, and “that” has to be made 3 days in advance.

Ginger Lemon Syrup and iced vodka.  Totally BFFs

Ginger Lemon Syrup and iced vodka. Totally BFFs

Last weekend, I was tasked with preparing Mother’s Day lunch. We had seared ahi, some stir fried green beans, and this scallion, radish, and cucumber salad with cashews and vermicelli. If you look at the salad recipe, two of the five ingredients in the dressing are followed by the ominous “(recipe follows).” To make the salad, I had to make the dressing. And to make the dressing, I had to make two other sauces. And then I only used one tablespoon of each.

Sesame Paste and mayo... perfect for a burger

Sesame Paste and mayo... perfect for a burger

And that’s how I ended up with big containers of Sesame Paste and Ginger Lemon Syrup in the fridge. The thing is, both of these sauces are so good, I’m looking for things to put them on (other than a spoon, of course).

The ginger lemon syrup, mixed with an equal amount of soy, would make a great sauce for grilled chicken or shrimp. Add in some tomato paste and it would be great on a flank steak. With rice vinegar, oil, and some fresh herbs, it would make a great salad dressing.

The same syrup is great in seltzer or green tea. And it’s dying to join vodka and fresh mint on a sunny afternoon.

The sesame paste would also be perfect on grilled steak, or maybe a pork tenderloin. Mix it with an equal amount of mayonnaise, and you’ve got a great topping for a turkey burger or a homemade banh mi. With some vinegar, this would make a great dipping sauce for potstickers. Or anything fried.

Both recipes come from Simon Hopkinson’s The Vegetarian Option, via Serious Eats. Each calls for grated ginger, and one calls for lemon zest and the other lemon juice. So making both sauces together is easy.

Ginger Lemon Syrup
- makes 2 cups-

2 C sugar
1 1/2 C water
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 C peeled and coarsely grated fresh ginger

1. In a 2 qt sauce pan, dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat. Turn the heat up to high, bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately add the lemon zest and ginger and stir together. Bring back to a boil for a few seconds then pour into a bowl. Cover and leave to infuse overnight.

2. The next day, strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer or chinois.

3. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up 3 weeks.

Sesame Paste
- makes about 1 3/4 cups -

2/3 C sesame seeds
3 Tbsp finely grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, peeled
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp mirin
1 to 2 tablespoons chili oil*
1/2 C sesame oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 C warm water
1 Tbsp sugar.

* I didn’t have chili oil on hand, so I swapped in some prepared chili garlic sauce, and it worked great.

1. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Stir or shake the pan while you’re toasting, and watch carefully, because burned sesame seeds are no good. It just takes a few minutes.

2. Add the sesame seeds and all ingredients except the sesame oil to the blender and puree. With the blender running, slowly add the sesame oil. It will come together as a thick, smooth sauce.

3. Transfer to an airtight container and pour sesame oil over the top to cover. This should keep in the fridge for a few weeks, but you could also split it into smaller containers and store some in the freezer.


    1. Jenn says:

      I bet the lemon-ginger syrup is good with club soda and/or tonic too — will be trying! :)

    2. Margot says:

      Syrup would be great on some fresh fruit too. Maybe I’ll give it a try when peaches are in season as I love the combo of peach and ginger – yum!

    3. dan says:

      Ginger and peach sounds like a great combo.

      Since posting this, we’ve been putting these sauces on everything. Last week, I mixed 1 part sesame paste, 1 part ginger syrup, and 1 part light soy, and used it as a basting sauce for broiled shrimp. Last night, 2 parts sesame paste, 1 part dark soy, and a dash of fish sauce as a quick marinade for cod.

      Cook’s Illustrated has a recipe for roasted brocolli that I love. Simple — heat a sheet pan at 500 degrees, toss cut up broccoli in olive oil, salt, and sugar, then put it on the hot pan and roast for 8 minutes. I replaced the salt with light soy and the 1 tsp sugar with 1 Tbsp of ginger syrup, and that came out really well too.

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