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I love making an elaborate meal from scratch, but that’s not in the cards every night of the week. Sometimes you’re in more of a quick stir-fry or one-pot-meal type of mood – but just because you want to make something speedy doesn’t mean you should settle for bland or basic. A wave of actually great sauces and meal-starters have hit the market lately, made by brands with a commitment to using natural ingredients to create flavorful, sophisticated products. Several of them even come in portable little pouches and packets (which are great in case you, say, want to make a nice meal for yourself in an Airbnb kitchenette or on a camping stove) and all will help you minimize the dreaded food waste of buying a whole basket of ingredients just to use a pinch of each to make one sauce. Most of the brands we included on this list are entirely vegan across their product range; where that’s not the case, I’ve specified which specific sauces are vegan-friendly.
Best Grocery Store Sauce Options for Quick, Tasty Meals
You’ve probably spotted these pouches in your supermarket’s refrigerator case (my store conveniently stocks them right above the tofu), and this is your sign to grab one the next time you’re there. Everything Haven’s Kitchen sells is vegan, gluten-free, and certified kosher. Instead of using any preservatives, these sauces are “cold processed” for shipment. That means you’ll have to keep them in the fridge – but they’re good in there for about a month if left sealed, so you don’t need to cook immediately. The flavors are all dynamite and can be used in a variety of ways; I’m especially partial to the Golden Turmeric Tahini (potatoes! warm salads!) and the Red Pepper Romesco (roasted cauliflower! tofu scrambles!). If you need some inspiration, the brand’s website is loaded with recipe ideas. havenskitchen.com
After becoming a mom, Carolyna De Laurentiis found herself relying on jarred sauces and condiments a lot more than she had in her pre-baby life – but she wasn’t happy with the quality of what she was buying. Her solution? To found Our Pantry, a new brand that turns to acclaimed chefs to create the recipes, and then produces those recipes using transparently-sourced, worker- and planet-friendly ingredients and processes. The brand launched in August, 2022 with a range of four sauces: sunshine yellow Cherry Tomato Arrabbiata and Cherry Tomato Sauce by Chef Silvia Barban (LaRina Pastificio, Top Chef); Sweet Ginger BBQ by Chef Adrienne Cheatham (Le Bernardin, Red Rooster, Top Chef); and a Columbian hogao-inspired Roasted Tomato Onion Salsa by award-winning cookbook author and Chef Mariana Velasquez (Prune, Michelle Obama’s “American Grown Project”). ourpantry.com
Sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham founded Omsom “to bring loud, proud Asian flavors to your fingertips any day of the week.” Inside their colorful packets are sauces that draw from cultural traditions of Southeast and East Asia, presented with pride and joy. Not everything Omsom makes is vegetarian, but several are – and they even sell a curated all-vegan kit if you want to sample all the options. Plant-based eaters will find themselves reaching for Filipino Sisig, Japanese Yuzu Miso Glaze, Korean Spicy Bulgogi, or Chinese Spicy Mala Sauce. If you have one of these, some tofu and/or vegetables, and a bit of rice, you’re only a few minutes from a meal that will taste shockingly good for how fast and effortless it was to cook. These sauces are great building blocks for getting creative, too. Check their website for recipe ideas including air-fried bulgogi mushrooms, crispy rice pancakes, and rice paper flowers. Extra bonus: While most food costs seem to be going up with inflation, Omsom recently added 33 percent more product to their packages at the same price. Incredible. omsom.com
For at-home Indian cooking, Brooklyn Delhi is my go-to brand. The Vegan Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce and (also vegan) Cashew Butter Masala Simmer Sauce are staples, great for, as the name implies, simmering with some vegetables on the stovetop – but recently I’ve been taking inspiration from trendy L.A. restaurant Pijja Palace and trying them out on pasta and pizzas, too. There’s also a rich and cozy plant-based Coconut Cashew Korma simmer sauce that is so good with some of their multiple-award-winning Tomato Achaar or a dash of their Guntur Sannam hot sauce made with peppers sourced by Diaspora Co. Brooklyn Delhi’s products are all developed by chef and cookbook author Chitra Agrawal, who started making batches of her own achaar after returning from India and realizing the spicy, pickled condiment was in short supply in New York City. In 2014, she founded the company to produce them at a larger scale and has since rolled out the rest of the fully-vegan product line. brooklyndelhi.com