Celebrate National Sauce Month With 10 Cheap, Easy Recipes

TASTY, CHEAP SAUCES

Americans love condiments, from ketchup and hot sauce to mustard and mayonnaise, and March has been declared National Sauce Month. Stocking up on store-bought sauces is convenient, but there are benefits to making your own, aside from impressing family and friends. Pre-made sauces often contain chemicals that help preserve, color, and emulsify, and many consumers these days wish to avoid such additives. Natural and pure alternatives are often double or triple the cost of bargain brands. Making sauces at home ensures the lowest possible price and unadulterated, personalized flavor. The costs listed here for 10 popular sauces and their ingredients come from Walmart, Williams-Sonoma, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

BASIC SALAD DRESSING

Aside from being cheap to make, salad dressing is also incredibly easy to prepare. A basic recipe: two parts white wine vinegar (15 cents an ounce) to one part extra virgin olive oil (20 cents an ounce) plus a touch of Dijon mustard (30 cents an ounce) to help emulsify the mixture into one homogenous sauce. The cost of a pint (16 ounces) of this homemade dressing is just $2.80. On store shelves, a 16-ounce bottle of salad dressing can cost as much as $7, although the typical cost is about $4. Customize the recipe by substituting balsamic or apple cider vinegar or swapping out some of the vinegar for fresh citrus juice. Also try adding herbs and garlic, or using another type of oil.

MARINARA SAUCE

This all-purpose red sauce is an essential for any kitchen. The average shelf price for jars of prepared marinara is $3.50 to $4 for 24 ounces, or 13 cents an ounce. Make homemade marinara using canned tomatoes, which cost about 9 cents an ounce, and the same 24 ounces of sauce costs just $2.50. For the basic recipe, start with a tablespoon of olive oil (10 cents) over low heat, add half a chopped onion and a few cloves of crushed garlic (50 cents), and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add 20 ounces of canned tomatoes ($1.80), plus a sprinkling of dried herbs such as oregano, thyme, parsley, and basil, and salt and pepper to taste (20 cents). Simmer for at least 20 minutes and store in airtight containers in the fridge for up to one week.

HOT SAUCE

The essential ingredients for hot sauce are threefold: salt, chilis, and vinegar. The cost of chilies varies greatly depending on season and region; however, $2 a pound is typical. A recipe from Wake Up and Eat yields roughly 3 cups, or 24 ounces, and costs very little to make. The price of jalapeños comes to roughly $1 for 2 cups, making the total cost of this recipe about $1.50, or 6 cents an ounce. The price of similar hot sauces even at bargain prices is double the cost per ounce, making this one of biggest money-saving condiments when made at home.

SALSA FOR CHIPS

The convenience of pre-made salsa is hard to beat, but consumers who realize how easy it is to make their own can enjoy extra fresh flavor and additional savings. To make salsa at home, combine three medium tomatoes ($1.50), half an onion, a small handful of cilantro, and two jalapeños ($1) in a food processor and pulse to combine until chunky. Season with salt and the juice of a lime (30 cents) and serve immediately, or store in the fridge for up to one week. A similar-size jar of salsa costs close to $4 at discount stores, compared with the $2.80 for homemade. Add garlic, scallions, or fruit to customize.

PEANUT SAUCE

Peanut sauce is great for dumplings, noodles, grilled meats, and more. Store-bought brands cost about 35 cents an ounce, but the base, which is peanut butter, is only 12 cents an ounce. Making this umami-rich sauce at home lets you customize the balance of flavors while saving big. Whisk together 1 cup of peanut butter (96 cents), 4 tablespoons soy sauce (52 cents), 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (20 cents), and 1 tablespoon sesame oil (35 cents). This recipe works out to 18 cents an ounce, which leaves plenty of room for extras such as garlic, ginger, and scallions to further enhance the flavor.
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MAYONNAISE

This classic sauce is used by so many cultures for so many culinary applications, including salads, sandwiches, and dips. Bargain brands cost about 21 cents an ounce, while natural and premium brands cost nearly 50 cents an ounce. Some brands may also contain preservatives. A recipe from Epicurious uses eggs, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, canola oil, and salt to make a bright and creamy sauce. The ingredients add up to roughly 90 cents, or 15 cents an ounce. Cheaper, creamier, and free of preservatives, homemade mayo is an easy way to impress at the next potluck or dinner party.

CHILI OIL

This condiment is so simple to make that it's surprising anyone would ever buy it. Increasingly popular on soups, salads, rice, and many other foods, chili oil is a fun way to spice up a meal. While a bottle of store-bought chili oil can cost up to $2 an ounce, the expense of making your own is little more than the cost of a good quality extra virgin olive oil, which is available for about 25 cents an ounce. To the oil, add some dried chilies ($1 or less), then let the mixture sit for a week or two to allow the chilies to infuse the oil, and you've got homemade chili oil for nearly a tenth of the price.

CHOCOLATE SYRUP

The basis of chocolate syrup is simple syrup, which is as easy to make as the name implies: Simply combine equal parts water and sugar and boil until the sugar dissolves. To make chocolate syrup, after the sugar/water mixture comes to a boil, whisk in one-quarter part cocoa powder and simmer for five minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to two months. The cost to make 1-and-a-half cups is about 95 cents, less than 10 cents an ounce. Store-bought brands, by comparison, can cost as much as 26 cents an ounce.

CARAMEL SAUCE

The average store price for caramel sauce is 20 cents an ounce, which can quickly add up considering how delicious caramel is on cakes, ice cream, apple pie, and other desserts. The sauce is simple to make with a Food Network recipe. Just combine sugar, butter, cream, and a little vanilla. This recipe costs about $1.50, which works out to about 10 cents an ounce -- or half the cost of premade.

HOT WING SAUCE

This spicy, tangy, buttery sauce is nothing short of addictive. Its culinary applications reach far beyond the traditional chicken wing -- think potatoes, eggs, sandwiches, etc. While store-bought brands may contain chemical emulsifiers and preservatives, this homemade version is full of unadulterated flavor and piquancy. To make a batch of wing sauce, combine 6 ounces butter ($1.50) with 4 ounces homemade hot sauce (24 cents), which comes out to about 17 cents an ounce. Compare that with about 23 cents for store-bought wing sauce.