Our New Favorite Condiments (and a Cookie We’re Obsessed With)
These ready-made pickles and spreads make everything better; so does the cookie
Achaar is the broad class of Indian oil pickles, rich and pungent, sometimes dangerously hot and salty. But Brooklyn Delhi's achaar is delightfully balanced, a substantial improvement over most mass-market brands in Indian grocery stores. A classic tomato version is as good spooned over daal as on avocado toast, and the rhubarb-ginger flavor may be your new favorite sweet-and-savory yogurt topping. Brooklyn Delhi Achaar, $8.75 for 6 ounces from Brooklyn Delhi
Allow us to introduce you to the beloved trio of Mae Ploy curry pastes—yellow, green, and red—from Thailand-based Theppadungporn Coconut Co., which has been bringing Thai staples like coconut milk, sweet chile sauces, and seasoning packets to tables for half a century. No, they aren't artisan-made or small-batch, but they are delicious—and affordable and widely available, attributes that can sometimes provide a nice break from the quest to find that one-of-a-kind sauce deep in the bowels of an ethnic-food enclave. Mae Ploy's flavor builds off a base of lemongrass, garlic, shallots, galangal, and kaffir lime peel, and, unlike other mass brands, the line has no additives or stabilizers. One spoonful rubbed on meat or stirred into a pot of vegetables will transform a weeknight meal with almost no effort. The yellow is a beginner paste on the spice scale, simple and vegetarian; one step up is green, which gets added oomph from shrimp paste; and finally, the red imparts a kick. Mae Ploy Thai Curry Paste, from $6 at amazon.com.
Like maple syrup? It's only the beginning. For the past 25 years in Trafalgar, Indiana (population 1,100), husband-and-wife Gordon Jones and Sherrie Yarling of Hickoryworks have been using an old Native American recipe to make syrups with the barks of local Shagbark Hickory and Poplar trees. Tree bark syrup is made from the bark itself. It's aged and then boiled with nine different sweeteners until it cooks down to a syrup that's slightly thinner than maple. The shagbark hickory is nutty and smoky, the poplar lighter and more floral. Pour them over pancakes, or get mixing and put them to work in cocktails. In 1997, the couple sent Julia Child a bottle of hickory syrup on her 85th birthday, and she replied with a postcard saying she loved mixing a few drops into whiskey or bourbon to form a smoky marinade for ribs. The syrup can also be poured over pancakes, added to baked goods, and mixed into sauces—basically used any way you would use maple syrup. But Gordon's favorite? 'I love it with baked beans.' HickoryWorks Tree Bark Syrups, $15 for 8 oz. at hickoryworks.homestead.com.
Tangy, floral, and velvety-smooth, Monkeypod Jam's passion fruit—or lilikoi in Hawaiian—curd is made simply from eggs, butter, sugar, and Kauai passion fruit juice, and it's perfect. Slather it on layers of a special-occasion cake, your weekday morning toast, and everything in between. Monkeypod Jam is a Kauai-based company founded by former schoolteacher and jam-lover Aletha Thomas, who works with more than 25 Kauai farmers to make 55 seasonal preserves with the island's bounty. Every bite you take, you're not only treating your taste buds, you're benefiting local Kauai agriculture. We like to think of it as a curd you can feel good about. Monkeypod Jam Lilikoi Curd, $13 for 6 oz. at monkeypodjam.com.
Some of the best ginger and turmeric in the world is produced in Fiji, on the 2,200-acre Wakaya Island. Unique breeds, crossbred over the course of five years from different seeds found in the Fijian archipelago, are harvested by farmers who have been working the island's volcanic soil for generations. Wakaya Perfection dries its turmeric and ginger at an unusually low temperature, allowing moisture to dissipate and flavor to remain intact; the resulting powders are among the best we've ever come across. Wakaya Perfection Organic Spice Powders, from $51 for 6.7 oz. at amazon.com.
'It's my secret weapon,' says Sean Brock about Maggi seasoning, the century-old, Swiss-invented MSG sauce with intense umami powers. The dark, soy-sauce-like mix of water, salt, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein (monosodium glutamate) gives a deep, complex flavor punch to just about anything it hits. 'The key is not to taste it in the dish,' says Brock, 'but to use it in really small doses just to add that fullness we crave.' Add a few drops to soups, noodles, or, like Brock, to beer in a michelada. 'It's definitely cheating, but if you're not charging people, I think you're allowed to do whatever you want to do at home,' he says. Maggi Seasoning, pack of 2, $13 at amazon.com.
A pickled grape tomato, sweet with a slight bite, pops pleasantly in the mouth and is as perfect in your bloody mary as it is on its own as a snack. But where you see a tomato, Marcia Nodel, founder of Marcia's Munchies, sees months of work perfecting a pickling process that involved consultation with Michigan State University, myriad recipes, and boatloads of tiny tomatoes. The problem was that, because of FDA regulations, the temperature to which pickles must be heated to be considered safe for commercial packaging can often wreak havoc on a small tender tomato, in a way that it won't on a sturdy cucumber, carrot, or turnip. Nodel finally cracked the pickled tomato code (and no, she's not breathing a word of her secret), and the resulting product hit store shelves in 2015. Marcia's Pickled Munchies Cherry Pops, $10 at marciasmunchiesusa.com.
In 2008, Kheedim Oh found American kimchi wanting, so he learned the basics from his mother and started selling his own. His latest creation, kimchi paste, is a ruddy, spoonable concentrate of kimchi aromatics—chiles, garlic, ginger, fermented fish sauce, and the like. It's part of a kimchi-making starter kit, but even on its own, it's a potent way to wake up grilled cheese or enliven soup like bouillon. A little of this stuff goes a long way. Mama O's Kimchi Paste in Original, Super Spicy, or Vegan, from $15 at kimchirules.com.
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