Traveling Gourmet: Cold Sauces for a Hot Summer

The idea of making and eating sauces in the middle of summer seems laughable. Who wants rich, heavy embellishments on their food when the thermometer is going through the roof and all you really crave is something that is ice-cold, very light and probably alcoholic? In this weather, the idea of a sauce is about as appealing as a heavy wool coat. And yet, there are a number of cold, uncooked sauces that are perfect for hot-weather dining. They are quick and easy to make, with flavors that will enhance the simple foods of summer.

Compound butters are combinations of softened butter mixed with other ingredients and formed into a roll, wrapped in wax paper and refrigerated until solid. They are excellent with grilled steaks and chops. To serve, slice a disc of butter off the roll and place on top of the grilled meat. The seasoned butter melts and combines with the meat juices to create a flavorful sauce. The ingredients that go into a compound butter often include fresh herbs, along with one or more additional flavorings, such as shallots, mustard, blue-veined cheeses or anchovy, but choices are only limited by your imagination.

Olive oil is the base for pesto, one of the most popular of summer sauces, made with fresh basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Pesto is used, famously, on pasta, but it is also delicious on grilled vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. Variations on the theme can be made with herbs other than basil, such as cilantro, mint and parsley. Sometimes nuts, such as walnuts, almonds or pecans, are used in place of pine nuts, and the cheese is sometimes omitted.

Mayonnaise, particularly if it is homemade, is an excellent sauce for cold food. Either homemade or a good commercial mayonnaise can be flavored with a variety of fresh herbs, and nothing is lovelier than a mayonnaise tinted green with a bouquet of fragrant herbs. Avocado, lemon and lime are wonderful additions to a mayonnaise, as is hot sauce or mustard, but there are many possible variations, depending upon your own taste and what the sauce will accompany.

Yogurt-based sauces are a cooling and vibrant addition to many foods. Diced cucumber, dill and mint are some of the flavorings that are used with yogurt to create a sauce for grilled meats, poultry and vegetables, as well as various grains.

Citrus- or vinegar-based sauces and various salsas are a great way to enliven summer cooking. A splash of vinegar that has been macerated with garlic, herbs and hot peppers can do wonders for grilled meats and poultry. Salsas made with hot peppers and enlivened with lime juice add a piquant and refreshing dimension to many foods, either served cold or hot off the grill.

Green Salsa

Good with chips, tacos, meats, poultry and seafood.

4 tomatillos
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 serrano pepper,chopped
1/8 cup loosely packed cilantro
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Big pinch salt
1/4 cup water

Remove husks from tomatillos. Wash tomatillos, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove tomatillos with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.
Combine all ingredients in blender and puree. If salsa is too thick, add additional water. Makes about 1 cup.

Compound Butter With Blue Cheese and Parsley

This simple preparation, which can be kept on hand in the refrigerator or freezer, adds a delicious dimension to grilled steaks and chops. If frozen, defrost before using.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Place all ingredients in a bowl. Using a fork, mash blue cheese and parsley into the butter until combined. Transfer mixture to a sheet of wax paper. Form into a cylinder, wrap well and refrigerate. Makes about 1/2 cup. To serve, slice off a disc of butter and place on a hot steak or chop.


This versatile Italian classic is good on almost anything – pasta, seafood, grilled vegetables, poultry or meats.

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1/2 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients except salt and pepper. Process until pureed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Yogurt, Cucumber and Mint Sauce

A cooling condiment that can double as a dip or as a sauce for grilled meats, vegetables, rice pilaf and other grains.

1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup peeled and diced cucumber
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Coarse salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and stir to mix. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Avocado Mayonnaise

Delicious on cold poached fish, such as salmon, or slathered on sandwiches. (If you’re concerned about eating raw eggs, substitute a good commercial mayonnaise for the homemade version, but it won’t taste the same.) Avocado will darken as it sits, so you can make the mayonnaise ahead of time, refrigerate, then add the avocado before serving. When making mayonnaise, have all ingredients at room temperature.

1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 medium avocado

In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolk, lemon juice and salt until frothy. While continuing to whisk, drizzle oil into mixture, slowly at first, then in a steady stream, making sure oil is forming an emulsion with the egg yolk. If oil begins to pool, stop adding oil and whisk until oil is incorporated, then resume adding oil. Halve avocado, remove pit, and peel. Mash avocado, then use a whisk to combine it with mayonnaise. Adjust seasoning, adding additional salt or lemon juice if desired. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Garlic Mayonnaise

For garlic-lovers only. This hearty, full-bodied and assertive mayonnaise is good with potatoes and vegetables, as well as boiled shrimp and crawfish. When making mayonnaise, have all ingredients at room temperature.

4-6 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Peel garlic and mince. Add salt to garlic and mince again. Using the side of a large knife, mash garlic to form a paste. In a mixing bowl, combine garlic paste, egg yolk, water and lemon juice. Using a whisk, beat until frothy. While continuing to whisk, drizzle oil into mixture, slowly at first, then in a steady stream, making sure oil is forming an emulsion with the egg yolk. If oil begins to pool, stop adding oil and whisk until oil is incorporated, then resume adding oil. Makes about 1 cup.

Pico de Gallo

An all-purpose fresh salsa that can be eaten with chips, tucked into tacos, used as a sauce to enliven meats, fish, poultry and eggs, added to mashed avocado to make guacamole, or stirred into a bowl of beans.

1/2 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup diced onion
2 serrano peppers, minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons lime juice
Coarse salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and let flavors meld for 30 minutes before using. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.