Whether you enjoy cooking or not, it can be easy to fall into a menu-planning rut, the kind that has your family giving you the look we home cooks have all seen: “We’re eating this again?”

Don’t despair! We all have a few dishes that we rely on when we don’t have the time or energy to come up with new ideas.

On the bright side, you don’t have to come up with completely different dishes in order to change up the flavors at your dinner table. You can still serve the standard meat, chicken, salad and sandwiches you have in your culinary repertoire, yet make it new and interesting to your brood. All you need to do is start hitting the sauce. Well, not that kind of sauce.

I’m talking about making a sauce so versatile it can be served with almost anything, one that will transform it into a completely different dining experience. It’s a lot to ask of sauce, but we’re using it here as another condiment, on the order of ketchup, mayo or mustard.

There are a few sauces that I like to have on hand for when I’m looking to enhance simple grilled meats, fish or poultry. These sauces work to top an omelet or as an addition to my favorite salad dressing. Chimichurri is a perfect example. To take a spoonful of it on its own would seem too overpowering, much like mustard would be. Yet it resonates with herb and vinegary flavors that give life to even the dullest dinner fare.

Another example is a spicy soy dipping sauce that can be drizzled onto plain rice, or used as a marinade for chicken kebabs or, as the name implies, as a dipping sauce for lettuce wraps or dumplings.

Any number of salsas, vinaigrettes or sauces made from roasted vegetable sauces will work for this purpose. I go through phases where I’ll make a batch of something and just keep it on hand to jump-start my weeknight meals.

This week, I’m all about Romesco sauce. Spain’s iconic red sauce is a magical blend of nuts (often almonds, although one of my favorite versions contains hazelnuts), roasted red peppers, breadcrumbs, olive oil, a dash of vinegar and, for a hint of smokiness, smoked paprika. The result is a rich, creamy, vibrant sauce that’s just as tasty slathered on a grilled ribeye as it is on a turkey sandwich.

Easy to make and reasonably healthful, this sauce/condiment has become a standard in my house, and once you try it, my bet is the same will be true for you, too.


Grilled Pork Tenderloin With Hazelnut Romesco Sauce

Serves 4.

Note: While the traditional version of this classic Spanish sauce uses almonds, hazelnuts give this variation a flavorful twist. From Meredith Deeds.

 1 (1- to 1 1/2 lb.) pork tenderloin, trimmed

• 2 tsp. smoked paprika

• 1/2 tsp. ground coriander

• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 1/2 c. Hazelnut Romesco Sauce (see recipe)


Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

In a small bowl, combine smoked paprika, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. Rub oil on pork, then pat with spice mixture to coat. Set aside at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Grill pork until browned on all sides and a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of meat reads 145 to 150 degrees, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let rest 10 minutes. Cut into slices and serve with the Romesco sauce on the side.

Nutrition information per serving with 2 tablespoons sauce:

Calories 280 Fat 17 g Sodium 520 mg

Carbohydrates 5 g Saturated fat 3 g Total sugars 1 g

Protein 27 g Cholesterol 70 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 4 lean protein, 2 fat.

Hazelnut Romesco Sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Note: The recipe for the sauce makes more than you’ll need to serve with the tenderloin. Save the rest for other uses. From Meredith Deeds.

 1/2 c. hazelnuts, more for garnish

 1 large roasted red bell pepper from a jar

• 1 garlic clove, peeled

• 1/3 c. dried breadcrumbs

• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 tbsp. tomato paste

 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar, more as needed

• 1 tsp. smoked paprika

• 1/2 tsp. salt


Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly colored and skins are blistered. Wrap nuts in a kitchen towel and let steam 1 minute. Rub nuts in towel to remove loose skins (don’t worry about skins that don’t come off) and cool completely.

In a blender or the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse hazelnuts until coarsely ground. Add pepper, garlic, breadcrumbs, olive oil, tomato paste, vinegar, paprika and salt.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons:

Calories 95 Fat 8 g Sodium 170 mg

Carbohydrates 4 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 1 g

Protein 1 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 ½ fat.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter ­at