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Create Your Own Special Sauce

By Mary Carroll Los Angeles Times Service

In Texas and the Southwest, barbecue sauce is a signature item. Each cook has his or her own secret recipe. Some make it hot, some tangy, and others sweet. The sauce is usually basted over ribs or chicken, but can also be a spicy pick-me-up for vegetables or potatoes.

I use my homemade barbecue sauce as a marinade for almost anything baked or broiled. And I don’t reserve it for outdoor cooking; it can be used in any weather to bring the flavor of the outdoors to your kitchen.

If you’re making your own barbecue sauce, there are four essential ingredients, according to my Texas friends: something tomato-based, something vinegary, something sweet and something spicy.

For the tomato-based ingredient, choose from among tomato puree, chopped fresh tomatoes, salsa, ketchup, chili sauce or tomato paste. The vinegar flavor comes from lemon juice, lime juice, mustard, wine or cider vinegar. Sweet means apples, honey, jams, marmalades or jellies. To give their sauce a kick, cooks stir in chilies, cayenne pepper, cumin, dry mustard, garlic, hot sauce, horseradish or other pungent spices.

If you don’t like preparing them in hot weather, most barbecue sauces freeze very well. I pack them into freezer-weight self-sealing bags, expel the excess air, date and label the bags, then stack them a corner of the freezer for up to 3 months. You can also freeze extra barbecue sauce in an ice cube tray coated with nonstick spray. When frozen, pop the cubes into a freezer bag. They freeze separately, making it easy to thaw one or two at a time for basting grilled foods.

Meat and poultry that are packed in a small amount of barbecue sauce and frozen (right in the sauce) actually are tenderized during the freezing and thawing process. As the liquid expands, it breaks down the fibers of the meat or poultry.

Bayou Country Barbecue Sauce

Cousins in the Bayou area of Louisiana make a mean barbecue sauce that I adapted to low-fat ingredients.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry sherry or defatted chicken stock

2 cups finely chopped celery

3 cups finely chopped onions

1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2-1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

1 tablespoon honey or sugar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

6 ounces tomato paste

1/3 cup low-sodium ketchup

1/2 lemon, sliced

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Heat oil and sherry in large saucepan over medium heat. Add celery, onions, green pepper and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, 40 minutes, or until very soft.

Add cayenne, mustard, honey, Worcestershire, tomato paste, ketchup, lemon and vinegar and simmer 2 hours. Let cool, then puree.

Yield: 4 cups.

Nutrition information per 1-cup serving: 254 calories, 7.8 grams fat (28 percent fat calories), 4 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 615 milligrams sodium.

Southwestern Honey Barbecue Sauce

Here’s a tangy sauce from a Southwestern friend, although it’s more suited for a Texas barbecue.

1 cup tomato paste

3/4 cup honey

1/3 cup wine vinegar

2 tablespoons grated raw onion

1 tablespoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco) or 1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Combine tomato paste, honey, vinegar, onion, hot sauce, soy sauce and mustard in saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Let cool, then store or use.

Yield: 2-1/4 cups.

Nutrition information per 1/21/2-cup serving: 262 calories, 1.2 grams fat (4 percent fat calories), 3 grams protein, 67 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 322 milligrams sodium.

Salsa-Style Barbecue Sauce

This sauce is more of a salsa, but it’s delicious basted over roasted red potatoes or corn on the cob.

1/4 cup safflower oil

5 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup seeded and chopped green bell pepper

1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeno chili

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, green pepper, jalapeno and garlic and cook 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Add brown sugar, vinegar and cayenne. Let cool, then puree to a chunky consistency. Stir in parsley.

Yield: 5 to 6 cups.

Nutrition information per 1-cup serving: 147 calories, 11.6 grams fat (71 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 23 milligrams sodium.

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