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10 of the Mediterranean’s best dips, sauces and condiments

10 of the Mediterranean’s best dips, sauces and condiments

by Great British Chefs 28 September 2018

Fresh produce is at the heart of the Mediterranean diet, but it’s the delicious extras that really make dishes from this part of the world sing with flavour. Take a look at these ten tasty ingredients which all contain an instant taste of this sunny part of the world.

If you think about it, Mediterranean food has it all. It’s lauded for its health benefits, puts quality ingredients above all else and – most importantly – is bursting with flavour. With a combination of fish, seafood, meat, vegetables, pulses and grains to choose from, it tends to cater to all diets, and there are huge variations in flavour from dish to dish and region to region.

One thing that marries all the different flavours of the Mediterranean together is olive oil, which is used in abundance throughout the area, but it’s the way different countries use pastes, dips, sauces, condiments and marinades that really makes Mediterranean cooking exciting. Whether it’s a fiery North African paste, a fragrant aromatic Italian herb sauce, a Middle Eastern nut butter or a salty-sour preserve, these are the secret weapons Mediterranean cooks keep in their larders at all times.

Take a look at the most important and commonly used dips, sauces and condiments used across the Mediterranean and bring a little bit of sunshine into your own kitchen.

Aioli

Garlic, salt and olive oil – that’s all that’s needed to make this universally-loved sauce. Originally from Catalonia (where it’s known as allioli), but also found in France’s Provence and parts of Italy, it involves bashing raw garlic cloves and salt together in a pestle and mortar to create a paste, before whisking it with olive oil until emulsified and thick. Today, a lot of aioli (and the French version) is in fact garlic-flavoured mayonnaise, as adding egg yolks makes emulsifying the oil easier, but a true aioli is made by pouring oil drop by drop into the garlic-filled pestle and ‘whisking’ it with the mortar. In Catalonia it’s served with meat or potatoes to create patatas bravas.

Chermoula

This North African sauce is a celebration of fresh herbs, garlic, lemon and spice, and is generally used either as a marinade for fish, meat and vegetables or a dipping sauce served alongside dishes. Recipes tend to vary depending where in North Africa you are, but they almost always include garlic, cumin, coriander seeds, olive oil, preserved lemons, salt and a mix of fresh parsley and coriander leaves. Everything is finely chopped and mixed with oil until a loose sauce is formed. Sometimes chilli, capers, saffron and paprika are added, but the main flavours of this sauce come from fresh herbs, earthy cumin and tangy preserved lemon.

Harissa

Another North African sauce that’s at the base of many Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian dishes, harissa is a fiery combination of roasted red peppers, chillies, garlic and coriander. These are bashed together in a pestle and mortar (the name harissa comes from the Arabic word harasa, which means ‘to pound’) until a paste forms, which is then lightly loosened with oil. It’s an incredibly versatile sauce which can be used as a dip, as a marinade or stirred into stews and sauces. It also sometimes contains rosewater or rose petals, for a more aromatic, floral flavour.

Preserved lemons

This is a beloved ingredient in Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean countries which makes its way into dressings, sauces and spice pastes that require a strong acidic kick. Whole lemons are partially sliced open and rubbed with salt before being placed into a jar and squeezed so the juice is released and creates a brine. The jar is then sealed and left for at least a few weeks, allowing the lemons to ‘pickle’ in their own juice with the salt helping to soften the peel and add even more flavour. When they’re ready to use, preserved lemons can be finely chopped and added to dishes like tagine, but the liquor created in the jar is also an excellent addition to salad dressings, as it has a deeper, more interesting flavour than standard lemon juice.

Romesco

Another Catalonian sauce which is now famous across the Mediterranean, romesco is a combination of almonds, garlic, red peppers and olive oil. If you’re in Tarragona, the birthplace of romesco, then the peppers will be the dried nyora or hot bitxo variety, which are bought dried then rehydrated before being made into the sauce. Some recipes call for breadcrumbs for a thicker texture, or add pine nuts as well as almonds. Originally created to be eaten with fish, it’s now most famously served as a dip during the springtime when calçots, a type of Catalonian spring onion, are harvested and barbecued, or dolloped on top of a salad called xató.

Salsa verde

This sauce can be found all over Europe in various guises, but it’s mostly associated with the Mediterranean countries of Spain and Italy. A huge amount of parsley is finely chopped up with garlic, capers, anchovies and sometimes onion. This mixture is then combined with plenty of olive oil and wine vinegar, to create a loose sauce that can be dolloped onto meats, fish, vegetables – pretty much anything that would benefit from a touch of piquant, fresh, zingy flavour.

Tahini

Possibly one of the most widespread Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients in the world, tahini is a simple paste made of ground, toasted and hulled sesame seeds. It’s a key ingredient of hummus, but is also used to make the sweet delicacy halva and is often loosened with water, lemon juice, salt and crushed garlic to make tahini sauce. This sauce is then used as a dip or to drizzle over dishes such as falafel, or can be spread on toast much like peanut butter.

Tapenade

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Originally from the Provence on France’s Mediterranean southern coast, tapenade is also prepared in many parts of Italy. Black (or sometimes green) olives are finely chopped with capers and olive oil to create a deeply savoury paste, which is then spread on toasted bread or used as a stuffing. In Italy anchovies are often used in place of capers, sometimes with a little vinegar for extra acidity.

Za'atar

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This mixture of dried herbs, seeds and spices is sprinkled generously over a variety of Middle Eastern dishes, as well as being mixed with olive oil as a dip for bread. A combination of sesame seeds, sumac, salt and Lebanese oregano (or hyssop), although it can also contain dried thyme and sometimes cumin, it’s generally added to dishes just before serving as a type of seasoning. Za’atar can also be mixed with oil to create a spreadable paste, which is often used to flavour breads.

Zhoug

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Zhoug (or zhug) is a spice paste that originated in Yemen but has become an integral part of Israeli cuisine, making it an important Mediterranean ingredient. A thick, vividly green mixture of coriander, parsley and green chillies, it’s spiced with cloves, cardamom and cumin and added to dishes like falafel or shawarma for a spicy kick. Red zhoug is a variation on the traditional recipe where red chilli peppers are used in place of green, and there are some regional recipes which call for tomatoes to be added as well.

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