When I was first learning to cook, a sauce just meant something I tossed my pasta in or gravy I poured over my mashed potatoes. Vegetables got sauteed in oil with my favorite herbs and spices. Unless I was making Chinese food, I didn’t give much thought to creating sauces for all my dishes. But the more I learned about cooking, the more I realized that it’s not only easy to create a quick sauce for a dish, it elevates the food to another level. Making a sauce means adding flavor and depth to whatever food you are cooking. Now I feel that if I don’t make a sauce, my dish is unfinished. The idea of making sauces can seem intimidating but it’s actually not. You don’t need to buy bottles and jars of store-bought sauces. You can make your own simple saute sauces with just a few ingredients. Here are ten simple saute sauces that you can try at home.
- If you are using tofu, tempeh, seitan or any vegan meat, be sure to cook it first until crispy before adding the sauce to it.
- For vegetable dishes, saute your veggies first in aromatics (onion, shallots, garlic, ginger, scallions) before adding the sauce to them.
- The arrowroot slurry is optional in all sauces. Use it if you want a thick, glossy sauce.
- Feel free to change up the ingredients in any of the sauces to suit your preferences.
- Double the recipes if needed. Many can also serve as marinades.
1. Basic Stir-Fry Sauce
The first sauce everyone needs to have in their repertoire is a basic stir-fry sauce. Whether you are making a big veggie stir-fry or just sautéing up some green beans, this is a good go-to Chinese sauce. I also use this sauce when I make lo mein. For detailed stir-fry advice, check out “How to Make Delicious Stir-Fry Vegetables in 7 Easy Steps.”
In a liquid measuring cup, combine ½ cup tamari or soy sauce, ½ cup low-sodium vegetable broth, 3 tbs. brown rice vinegar, 1 tbs. toasted sesame oil, 1 tbs. agave nectar, 1 tbs. minced garlic, 1 tbs. minced ginger, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. In a separate bowl or mug, combine 1 tbs. arrowroot powder or cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water to make a slurry. Add the sauce to the pan of whatever you are cooking. Let simmer and reduce. Add some of the slurry, stir and cook until the sauce thickens. Add more of the slurry if necessary.
2. Spicy Orange Sauce
This is the sauce I use to make a vegan version of the Chinese dish Orange Chicken. It works well with tofu, tempeh or any vegan chicken. If you use seitan, it makes a vegan version of Orange Beef. Be sure to marinate and cook the tofu, tempeh or seitan first until crispy before adding the sauce.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine ½ cup orange juice, 1/3 cup brown rice vinegar, ½ cup tamari or soy sauce, ¼ cup lemon juice, 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 tbs. fresh grated ginger, 4 minced garlic cloves, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. In a separate bowl, mix 1 tbs. arrowroot powder or cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water to make a slurry. Add the sauce to the pan of whatever you are cooking. Let simmer and reduce. Add some of the slurry, stir and cook until the sauce thickens. Add more of the slurry if necessary.
3. Mango Pineapple Hoisin Sauce
This sauce combines fresh juice with sweet Chinese barbecue sauce and spicy hot sauce. You can use whatever fruit juices you like but they should be balanced so choose one sweet fruit like mango and one more acidic fruit like pineapple.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine ¾ fresh mango juice or pureed mango, ½ cup fresh pineapple juice, 1/3 cup hoisin sauce, ¼ cup tamari or soy sauce, 2 tbs. brown rice vinegar and 1 tbs. Sriracha hot sauce. Add the sauce to the pan of whatever you are cooking and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.
4. Sweet and Sour Sauce
I typically find most sweet and sour sauces too cloying. My version of Sweet and Sour Sauce is a perfect blend of savory and sweet. It’s delicious over tofu, tempeh or seitan but my favorite way to have it is with sauteed cauliflower. Usually, I cook the sauce in a separate saucepan with sauteed onion and garlic but you can also simply add it to your saute pan of veggies which would already have onion in it.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine ½ cup pineapple juice, 1/3 cup ketchup, ¼ cup brown rice vinegar, 2 tbs. tamari or soy sauce, 1 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce, ¼ cup brown sugar, 2 cloves minced garlic and 2 tsp. grated ginger. Add the sauce to the pan, bring to a simmer and cook , stirring, about 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tbs. arrowroot powder or cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water to create a slurry. Add some of the slurry, stir and cook until the sauce thickens. Add more of the slurry if necessary.
5. Citrus Sauce
This sauce is a combination of bright, sweet citrus and hot Caribbean flavors. It is perfect with tofu, tempeh, and seitan or served or any vegetable or rice. This is not a thick sauce, so you don’t need to make a slurry for it. This sauce would taste awesome on this Early Summer Light Veggie Saute.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine the zest and juice of two oranges and two limes, ¼ cup tamari or soy sauce, 2 tbs. olive oil, 1-2 tsp. hot sauce, 1 tbs. minced ginger, 1 tbs. minced garlic, 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. dried thyme and ½ tsp. allspice. Add the sauce to the pan of whatever you are cooking. Let simmer until heated through.
6. Thai Curry Coconut Sauce
It doesn’t take a ton of ingredients to make a quick curry sauce if you start with curry paste. It comes in red, green or yellow curry flavors and contains all the specialty ingredients such as lemongrass and chiles. Green is my favorite, but you can use whichever one suits your needs. Be sure to read the labels to make sure the curry paste contains no fish sauce or other animal ingredients. Alternatively, you can learn to make your own curry paste. I love this sauce over noodles or sauteed eggplant. Garnish your dish with fresh Thai basil.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine 2 cups canned coconut milk, 4 tbs. curry paste, ½ cup low-sodium vegetable broth, 3 tbs. tamari or soy sauce, 1 ½ tbs. brown sugar, 1 tbs. arrowroot powder or cornstarch, and the zest and juice of one lime. Whisk well. Add the sauce to the pan and cook until thickened.
7. Spicy Peanut Sauce
Peanut butter is such a perfect food. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. It’s also wonderful as a saute sauce that is easy to make. Serve it over noodles, vegetables, tofu or anything you desire. It is delicious hot or cold.
In a food processor or blender, combine ½ cup canned coconut milk, ½ cup tamari or soy sauce, ¼ cup water, ¼ cup peanut butter, 2 tbs. brown rice vinegar, 1-2 tbs. spicy chile sauce, 1 tbs. arrowroot powder or cornstarch and 1 tbs. minced ginger. Process or blend until smooth. Transfer the sauce to the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened. If the sauce gets too thick, add more water.
8. Balsamic Dijon Pan Sauce
Pan sauces are the easiest to make. Anytime you saute something, you have the opportunity to make a pan sauce. Whatever you cooked usually leaves little brown bits in the pan; this is called the fond. These brown bits have flavor so use them. After you remove the sauteed food, add an aromatic such as chopped garlic or shallots and cook them until they soften. Deglaze the pan with a liquid such as broth, vinegar or wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add flavor such as Dijon mustard, capers or herbs and finish the sauce with a pat of vegan butter. Return your sauteed food back to the pan and toss in the sauce. Try this with tofu cutlets, seitan steak, sauteed Brussels sprouts or any vegetable you like.
My favorite go-to pan sauce is a Balsamic Dijon Sauce: remove whatever you cooked from the pan and leave the heat on medium. Add one minced clove of garlic and cook for just one minute until softened. Add about 1 cup of broth (depending on how much sauce you want) and 2 tbs. of balsamic vinegar. Use a flat wooden spoon to scrape any cooked brown bits off the bottom of pan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid reduces by half. Add 2 tsps. Dijon mustard and 1 tsp. chopped thyme. Cook for another minute. Turn off the heat. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Melt in one tablespoon of vegan butter to finish the sauce and make it glossy. Return the food to the pan to reheat in the sauce.
9. Lemon-Olive Pan Sauce
I love Moroccan flavors: the heat of cumin, the brightness of coriander, the spice of cinnamon and the tangy salt of olives. This sauce only takes a few minutes to cook but the flavors are rich and deep. I love making a double batch of this sauce to serve over pasta, rice or couscous but it’s also amazing as a pan sauce with tofu or your favorite vegetables.
Remove whatever you cooked from the pan and leave the heat on medium. Add four minced cloves of garlic and ½ cup chopped pitted green olives and cook for just one minute until softened. Add about 1 cup of broth (depending on how much sauce you want) and one lemon that has been cut into slices. Add 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 cinnamon stick and 1 fresh bay leaf. Use a flat wooden spoon to scrape any cooked brown bits off the bottom of pan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid reduces by half. Turn off the heat. Remove the bay leaves and the cinnamon stick. Add the juice of a 2nd lemon and stir in 1 tbs. fresh chopped parsley. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Melt in one tablespoon of vegan butter to finish the sauce and make it glossy. Return the food to the pan to reheat in the sauce.
10. Savory Vegan Diane Sauce
This sauce comes from a classic, American dish called Steak Diane, which is steak that is served with a pan sauce of butter, mushrooms, mustard, shallots, cream, truffles and Worcestershire sauce. Usually, it gets flambéed with brandy and poured over the steak. I made a vegan version of this sauce to serve over seitan steak (without the flames). We loved it so much, it’s become a favorite sauce to serve with other dishes as well. It’s a savory sauce so it does well with hearty foods such as potatoes, mushrooms or broccoli. Note: if you don’t have vegan Worcestershire sauce, you can substitute equal amounts of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.
In a blender or food processor, combine ¼ cup low-sodium vegetable broth, 1 tbs. minced shallots, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 2 tbs. vegan Worcestershire sauce, and 2 tbs. tomato paste. Blend or process until the shallots are well-incorporated. Add the sauce mixture to the pan of whatever food you cooked, scraping up any brown bits. Bring the sauce to a boil and allow to thicken, about 3 minutes. Take the sauce off the heat and whisk in ¼ cup of non-dairy creamer and 1 tbs. fresh chopped parsley. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Return your food to the pan and toss to coat in the sauce.
Each of these ten sauces is easy to make, but they will taste like you spent hours in the kitchen. Once you get used to making your own sauces, get creative and combine your favorite ingredients to come up with your own recipes for amazing, simple sauces.
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