My “secret ingredient” as a recipe developer

Posted by:Lindsay S. Nixon

My favorite compliment is this:

“Lindsay you are a genius. I don’t know how you take a bunch of random ingredients and turn them into a delicious MEAL.”

The “secret ingredient” to my success as a recipe developer is the sauce.

The right sauce can take a few random ingredients and turn them into a cohesive 5-star meal.

Knowing how to use a sauce is the difference between being a good cook and a great chef.

The right sauce can transform a can of beans, rice from the freezer, and whatever vegetable you have handy into what looks like all day affair or, at the very least, a meal that feels pulled together and not a plate of “whatever”.

Sauces, dressings, and gravies are my private passion and the “secret ingredient” to my success as a recipe developer.

Early into my veganism, I noticed I would say (and think) “I miss hot wings! Southern barbecue! Chinese chicken!!” but what I actually missed was the sauce. The wings, ribs, noodles, or meat cutlets had simply the vehicle for getting the sauce into my mouth.

This revelation radically changed how I approached being vegan and writing recipes.

First, I invented plant-based ways to serve popular flavors. For example, I battered cauliflower florets, baked them crispy, and then tossed them with my favorite wing sauce. Cauliflower “Hot Wings” became an instant internet sensation!

I also stir-fried shredded carrots in barbecue sauce to make a plant-perfect pulled “pork”, carmelized chickpeas in teriyaki sauce, served satay sauce with grilled tofu skewers, and smothered beans, rice, and vegetables in enchilada sauces, just to name a few.

What I’ve learned as a recipe developer:

After writing 5 cookbooks, 328 vegan meal plans for Meal Mentor, and over 5,000 recipes (!!) I am certain that the term “secret sauce” is true in more ways than one.

Consider this: The two most beloved and “fine dining” cuisines use SAUCES as a major defining characteristic.

French cookery: In French cooking, there are five fundamental “mother sauces.” Every sauce used in French cooking is derived from one of those five mother sauces. Considering there are more than 100 sauces in French cuisine, this fact is incredible to realize.

Italian cuisine: In Italian cooking, the same cut of meat or seafood is transformed purely by the sauce in Italian cooking. While other cuisines utilize a wide variety of “main ingredients” Italian chefs do not. The chicken, fish, pasta, etc becomes transformed by the sauce only.

This is also why I love cooking Indian food so much. The same ingredients and spices are used in every dish, but it’s the ratio of the spices in the masala (sauce) that makes each dish taste vastly different.

Sauces also have functionality.

A simple sauce can:

  1. add flavor
  2. add moisture
  3. enhance the visual appeal
  4. impress guests
  5. increase satiation
  6. bring cohesion to ingredients that feel disconnected
  7. reinvent leftovers

For example, anytime I make this vegan mac n’ cheese, I add salsa to the leftovers along with black beans, tomatoes, and green onions.

The added salsa provides moisture (pasta and cream sauces can get dry and gummy if reheated without more liquid) AND it transforms my drab leftovers into a new, extra favorable meal.

I hope by now you see how powerful and useful a sauce can be for transforming your meals!

Sauces also have the power to make mealtime EASIER.

If you find it difficult to cook “intuitively” having a go-to list of universal sauces will ease that challenge for you.

Imagine being able to transform a can of beans, rice or quinoa from the freezer, and whatever vegetable you like into a real MEAL instantly??

THAT is the power of a good sauce.
(It’s also EXACTLY what I do when I write recipes.)

My g-e-n-i-u-s is in the simplicity :0)


On tired days or days when I don’t have a preordained meal plan to follow, I follow this basic meal formula: a can of beans (or tofu) plus a grain (such as rice, pasta, or bread), any available vegetable, and a savory sauce that pulls it all together.

I’m going to go over my basic meal formula with you in more detail tomorrow.

I’m also going to share with you 10 super easy meal examples using the formula so you can see exactly how to use it.

Bottom line: sauces are the secret weapon of great cooks and good meals. They’re also the magic tool for making a simple meal quickly without sacrificing flavor, pleasure, or satisfaction.

I can’t wait to show you exactly how I use sauces to make meals easy and delicious so you can do the same in your kitchen!

Lastly, if you think you’re missing some cooking link in your DNA or you struggle to make anything without a recipe to follow, tomorrow’s email is going to blow up your mind so definitely don’t miss it ❤️

For now, I need a favor. Can you help me out???

Please share with me what your favorite sauce is here.

I’m putting together a collection of recipes for sauces and dressings (and how to use them to make meals) and don’t want to leave out anyone’s favorite.

Let’s get saucy,

P.S. In the hierarchy of a professional kitchen, the sauce cook is THIRD in line, tertiary to the chef and sous-chef. In my opinion, this fact shows just how important sauces are to a good meal :0)

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