Exploring Sauces: The 5 Mediterranean Sauces and Why You Need Them

Updated on July 10, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

On a recent trip to southern California, I stopped for lunch at a Lebanese sandwich shop in Santa Monica. If you have ever eaten at a Subway, you will understand the concept. Select your base (a bowl of couscous, flatbread, or a pita), select your vegetables, choose which protein you want, and then you have a choice of five sauces. It was one of the best meals I had on that vacation.

Let’s explore the origins of those five sauces, how to make them, and how to use them in dishes for your friends and family.

Chermoula | Source


At first glance, chermoula looks like a simple dish of basil pesto. It's made of fresh herbs and olive oil, but that's where the similarity ends. Chermoula is redolent with fresh lemon, a lot of fresh garlic, and the spicy kick of cayenne pepper.

With the help of a food processor, you can whip up a batch of Tania's chermoula in a matter of minutes.

How to Use Chermoula:

  • Marinade for white fish
  • Stir into couscous
  • Spread on boneless skinless chicken breasts, then coat with slivered almonds or panko breadcrumbs and bake
  • Drizzle onto oven-roasted vegetables

Harissa | Source


Harissa—the word comes from the Arabic harasa, meaning “to pound” and that is exactly how the sauce/condiment is formed. Most food historians believe that chiles arrived in Africa when the Spanish occupied Tunisia in the early 16th century. Although recipes vary from region to region (resourceful cooks rely on local ingredients) everyone can agree that the basic components are smoked peppers, garlic, and olive oil.

This recipe for harissa paste from SimplyDeliciousFood toasts the whole spices in a pan to release their essential oils, then grinds and mixes them with peppers, tomatoes, and garlic to create a boldly-seasoned paste.

How to Use Harissa:

  • Mix a few tablespoons into your favorite burger recipe
  • Drizzle onto roasted sweet vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, or carrots are a perfect contrast to the smoky heat of harissa)
  • Add to yogurt for a spicy sandwich spread or fresh veggie dip
  • Use in place of hot sauce on Buffalo wings

Tahini | Source


The sesame seed is one of the oldest oilseed crops, cultivated in India since 5000 B.C. Despite its diminutive size, this tiny seed is a nutritional powerhouse—packed full of Vitamins B and E, magnesium, iron, and calcium. There are many species of the plant, but it is the Humera seed of Ethiopia that is prized for making the best-tasting tahini, the rich sesame paste that provides the toasty flavor in hummus.

How to Use Tahini:

  • Use as a marinade for chicken, especially if you plan on using the chicken in a Mediterranean main-dish salad
  • Stir into Greek yogurt for a salad dressing or veggie dip
  • Spread on toast then drizzle on honey
  • Toss with cold soba noodles

Toum | Source


This dip is bold in flavor, addictive, lethal to vampires, and not for the faint of heart. Toum (the Arabic word for garlic), is a Lebanese dip for chicken as ubiquitous as ketchup for fries in the United States and it's packed with raw garlic.

Similar to aioli in preparation, toum is an emulsion of garlic cloves, kosher salt, oil, and lemon juice. That's it.

I mentioned chicken, but you can do so much more with this stuff.

How to Use Toum:

  • Stir into soup
  • Toss with pasta
  • Make easy garlic mashed potatoes (just stir a dollop into those fluffy spuds)
  • Make even easier garlic bread

Tzatziki Sauce
Tzatziki Sauce | Source

Tzatziki Sauce

Tzatziki is the Greek food with an Indian heritage. The word tzatziki derives from the Persian zhazh, meaning herb mixture. Like pita bread, it seems that in Greece the yogurt/cucumber sauce appears on every table every day. To learn the history of this condiment, I went to The Greek on Wheels who tells us:

A long time ago, when the Ottoman Empire was still in full trading swing, India was enjoying the simple pleasures of raita sauce, a seasoned yogurt-based dip. During this time, the Indian people were ruled by an elite Persian class that enjoyed the North Indian rice dish known as biryani.

However, the Indians would make the rice dish too spicy for the palette of the Persian elite. To balance out the fire of the spices, the Persians began to enjoy the soothing taste of the raita sauce. Cool as cucumber and soothing as yogurt, this classic Indian sauce was the perfect solution to the spicy rice.

When the Persians went back to the Middle East, they took the raita dish with them, and the beguiling sauce entranced culinary aficionados. More than any other nation in the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks enjoyed this dish immensely. However, they also experimented with this classic cucumber and yogurt dip until its Indian roots were almost invisible. Tzatziki was born.

So, tzatziki and raita are culinary cousins, but where they differ is in the fresh herbs and spices used. Raita is flavored with cilantro and, typically, garam masala. Tzatziki relies on dill weed, fresh lemon, and a touch of garlic stirred into the creamy yogurt/cucumber mix.

How to Use Tzatziki:

  • Serve with grilled meat or fish
  • Use as a dip for falafel
  • Smear on burgers (especially veggie burgers, yum!)
  • Dollop on baked potatoes
  • Serve as a chip dip (pita chips are a must)

Is One of These Five Sauces in Your Culinary Future?

Which one will you try?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Lum


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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        12 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Hi Mary. I did the hollandaise bearnaise thing about a year ago (look for exploring sauces...French). I hope one of these will perk up Ian's spirits and taste buds.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        13 days ago from Brazil

        This was not what I was expecting! I thought it was sauces like Bearnaise or Hollandaise. All of these could really add the WOW factor to a meal.

        My husband loves garlic so I'll let him know about toum (never heard of it before).

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Hi Shauna, I had not heard of toum either; I think you would have to go to a Lebanese restaurant to find it. Other sauces like tzatziki are more mainstream (they sell gyros at the State Fair and I can think of 3 gyro shops in the Tacoma area without using Google).

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Linda, I've not heard of many of these sauces. However, I love Tzatziki sauce. It's so refreshing! Actually, anything with fresh dill is a pleasure to my palate. It's also a wonderful cleansing bite between items on the plate.

        Toum sounds like something I'd enjoy. Why have I never heard of it?

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, I don't know how you've lasted this long without these sauces in your diet. But, it's not too late. Start now and you'll live to be 100. I apologize for being so tardy in getting the word to you.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Good morning Eric. I love cilantro and I don't think you can have too much. Oregano, on the other hand, can quickly overwhelm a dish (and your taste buds). Enjoy.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Pamela, thank you for taking the time to comment. Like you, I'm not a hot and spicy gal, but the tzatziki I had in Santa Monica was perfect. I hope you have a wonderful rest-of-the-week.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Why I need them? I've never even heard of them!!! You mean I've made it seventy years without something I needed? Why didn't you tell me sooner, Linda? lol

        Have a superb Tuesday!

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        2 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        tzatziki it is for me today. I noticed I am out of dill. (I pick wild dill so it is just not the season)

        My mom made a great Tzatziki so another excuse to call my sister for the recipe. Lately I have just associated this with Thai food.

        So I will also shop ahead for Chermoula. I just love homemade sauces.I think I may experiment with cilantro and oregano with these -- not much, just a hint

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        This is a nice variety of unique sauces. I don't tolerate anything too spicy as I get heartburn easily. I would like the first two sauces the best I think. I would have to cut back on some of the spices in other sauces, which I routinely do anyway. Have a good week Linda.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Be careful Eric. You could damage your keyboard.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        2 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        I will be back, at the moment I am drooling too much.


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