When it comes to holiday gifts, there's not much money can't buy...provided you have it in the first place. But if you're on a tight budget this season, a trip to the grocery store and a few hours in the kitchen can yield an impressive pile of presents for cheap. Homemade edible gifts aren't just easy on the wallet, though—they're heartwarming labors of love (or, at least, that's what your friends and family will think). If you have the right recipes in hand, they'll also be far more unique and delicious than their store-bought counterparts. And if you're the least bit crafty, a spool of ribbon and a session of hand-decorating labels can transform even the most ho-hum of condiments, like mayo or barbecue sauce, into charming packages.
Read on for our favorite easy-to-make, easy-to-gift savory crowd-pleasers, from briny, punchy olive tapenade to homemade snack mixes like chaat and Cheez-Its. For a more substantial presentation, just whip up a handful of these recipes in big batches, portion them out into Ball jars and cellophane bags, toss them in a tissue-paper-lined wicker basket, and let the gifting commence. Stay tuned for DIY gifts to satisfy any sweet tooth, coming to you later this week!
What doesn't taste better with XO sauce? It's a question we've been asking ourselves as we slather it on everything from pasta and ramen to clams to Mexican street corn. The sauce, which originally hails from Hong Kong, is packed with a tall ingredient list of umami-rich ingredients, like dried seafood, aged ham, and oyster and soy sauces. Balanced with sugar, ginger, and other spices, it makes an instant complex, savory boost for your favorite meals.
There's something for everyone in a classic batch of Chex Mix. But tossing it with some chaat masala is a great way to transform the crowd-pleasing snack into an extra-special gift. The South Asian spice blend is traditionally used to season chaat, a popular street food (and an excellent, if somewhat more involved and less shelf-stable, DIY gift unto itself). You may have to hunt around a bit to find all the ingredients, but the salty, tart, spicy combo is worth the effort—you could even dole out batches of the spice blend alone.
These homemade tomato raisins are dramatically better than any store-bought alternatives. They're juicy, plump, go with just about everything, and are undeniably special. A light glaze of salt, sugar, and olive oil seasons the tomatoes as they roast. A jar of raisins might not be the flashiest gift ever, but we guaranteed whoever gets them will be impressed once they get a taste.
Okay, admittedly, "homemade raisins" may not sound like the most exciting of presents, but these plump, juicy specimens just might surprise you. Drying grapes in a very low oven preserves their fresh flavor and gives them a more tender texture—they'll be dry enough to store for several weeks, but far less hard and shriveled than their store-bought counterparts. Plus, this method allows you to mix and match grape varieties, for a more exciting range of color and flavor.
If you're especially short on time, or lack much confidence in the kitchen, this is the project for you. Buy fresh goat cheese, slice it into portion sizes (or roll it into balls), and marinate it in jars with olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, bay leaves, and thyme. In a matter of hours, that unassuming store-bought log will be infused with herbal, citrusy flavor—a major upgrade, with virtually no effort required. The cheese should be consumed within a week's time, so encourage your recipient to dig in sooner rather than later.
Like marinated goat cheese, pickles are a low-effort, high-reward undertaking. But it's worth noting that one of the biggest factors here is time—you'll want to give yourself at least three weeks to let these babies ferment. Our Milwaukee-style cucumber pickles simmer with vinegar, sugar, and spices before they're packed up with garlic, onion, and dill to brine for several weeks. For a more sour pickle, try out some lacto-fermented dill pickles instead. A saltwater brine creates the ideal environment for lactobacillus bacteria. You can make half-sours in just three weeks' time, or commit to a longer fermentation period (about six weeks) if you'd prefer full-sours.
If your giftee isn't a fan of cukes, or if you're looking for a new project, homemade sauerkraut is a remarkably fun undertaking, and perfect for the sausage- or hot dog–lover in your life.
With their fancy French name and their fancy French flavor, salmon rillettes will make your recipient feel fancy—and think you're fancy, too. In fact, the only thing that isn't fancy about rillettes is that they're incredibly easy to make (not that anyone else needs to know that). The spreadable hors d'oeuvre is made from gently poached and shredded salmon, combined with fresh herbs, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. Not a fan of salmon? A pork-based rendition offers up a slightly richer rillette. Both versions can be stored and gifted in small Ball jars, and make a perfect addition to a cheese and meat platter, accompanied by cornichons and toast or crackers.
These whole wheat crackers are incredibly versatile—thin enough to go with dainty hors d'oeuvres, but hearty enough to snack on by themselves, and equally well suited to both sweet and savory accompaniments. They'd make a wonderful gift on their own—perhaps packaged in some cellophane—but they're also a great way to round out any of the homemade spreads and dips on this list, like rillettes, olive tapenade, or even cookie butter.
Seasoning nuts is a time-honored way of dressing up profoundly simple ingredients with fairly minimal effort. If you've made our lemon syrup and have some to spare, try using it in a batch of crispy citrus-candied pistachios. For something a bit less labor-intensive, though, we have a few easy combos to spice up the holiday season. Ground ginger and cayenne pepper add a savory kick to our Mexican Spiced Chocolate Pecans, bound in a light, crispy egg white coating. That same treatment gives our Smoky Candied Almonds their delicate shell, spiced with smoked paprika, cayenne, and punchy Old Bay. If you'd rather avoid the sweetness of candied nuts, our savory, briny, and herbal Olive-Rosemary Spiced Cashews should hit the spot.
Tapenade, as most of us know it, is an olive-heavy purée, typically spiked with garlic, anchovies, and fresh herbs. But traditional tapenade, created by a chef in Marseille back in 1880, takes its name from the Provençal word for capers, tapeno, and it's flavored accordingly. With equal parts olives, capers, and fish (in our case, anchovies and tuna), it's briny and intense, and it gets further flavor from fresh herbs, Dijon mustard, and a splash of cognac. It's not for everyone—which is why we have a recipe for the more commonplace variety as well—but it's the kind of gift that's guaranteed to please and surprise more adventurous palates.
Sure, most people already have a jar of mayo sitting in their fridge, but true mayonnaise connoisseurs will appreciate the substantial flavor improvements you can get from homemade. The traditional method, which calls for hand-whisking a slow drizzle of oil into a mixture of egg and mustard, takes some serious elbow grease and has a tendency to go awry. But if you have a hand blender, the process couldn't be easier—simply combine your ingredients in a jar and blend. Two minutes later, you'll have a rich, creamy, complex bowl of mayo. If that doesn't sound quite exciting enough to gift, stir in some sriracha or garlic for added punch.
The key to a truly nuanced, full-flavored spice blend is toasting fresh whole spices before grinding them—a step that most likely won't have gone into your average store-bought blend. With an aromatic mix of green cardamom pods, coriander seed, cumin, black peppercorns, cloves, fennel, cinnamon, anise, and nutmeg, garam masala is a bold, bright mix that can be used for a wide variety of curries, braises, and other Indian preparations...or just a soothing round of aromatherapy.
Chili crisp is good on just about everything. We've been known to dollop it on eggs, spread it over meat, and slather it all over pepperoni pizza. Sichuan peppercorns give the sauce their iconic numbing effect, while pieces of fried shallot and garlic chips, along with peanuts, bump up both the taste and texture. Your friends will be asking for another jar long before the next holiday comes around.
Some traditional varieties of barbecue sauce can be pretty time-consuming to prepare. But these three variations take just minutes to complete. All start with a base of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, but they quickly diverge from there. Our Coffee-Ginger Barbecue Sauce is smoky and rich thanks to a touch of paprika, a little dark chocolate, and a drizzle of molasses; it's great for pairing with pork shoulder or brisket. For something more acidic and hot, give our Buffalo Barbecue Sauce a shot—with Frank's RedHot and butter, it's the perfect vinegary topping for wings, smoked chicken, or pulled pork. Funk-lovers will revel in this Korean Kimchi Barbecue Sauce, packed with the intense, tangy heat of kimchi and gochujang (Korean chili paste). We love it on grilled chicken, pork, and shellfish.
Fans of Cheez-Its will get a kick out of these homemade crackers, which deliver the same buttery, cheesy, utterly addictive crunch of the snacktime classic, but elevated with higher-quality ingredients and some TLC. To replicate the Cheez-It look, you can slice them with a fluted pastry wheel and use a skewer to add the signature center dimple. Alternatively, just grab a cookie cutter and go to town, stamping them out in any shape you'd like.
Whether it's an Easy Italian-American Red Sauce or The Best Slow-Cooked Bolognese, a homemade pasta sauce is virtually guaranteed to taste better than whatever you'll find in a supermarket jar. No matter which recipe you choose, though, take the time to properly can it, or be sure to tell the recipient to use the sauce within a week or so. We doubt they'll have much trouble following through.
Toum is a little bit like mayonnaise, but we find ourselves using it way more often. It works equally well as a sauce, a condiment, and a dip. Raw garlic not only gives toum its kick; it also helps emulsify the mixture and keeps it stable for up to a month in the fridge. Even your friends and family who don’t like mayonnaise will get hooked on this bold, all-purpose garlic sauce.
Giving a jar of this beautiful young radish kimchi will impress even your most hard-to-shop-for friends. The addition of a potato porridge speeds up fermentation while also counterbalancing the grassy flavors in the greens. In contrast to some kimchis that take much longer to ferment and become pungent, this one is ready to eat in as little as one day, though it develops maximum flavor after the first week. It’s perfect on rice, or eaten just as it is.
This punchy North African chili paste can be made with either fresh or dried chilies. In one version, an assortment of fresh chilies are charred and blended together for smoke and spice. The peppers are then seasoned with the traditional additions of caraway and coriander, but they can be jazzed up with anything from diced preserved lemon to pungent raw shallots. The dried chili version, which takes even less time to make, is just as flavorful, and they both can be used in any number of ways.
Think of dukkah, the versatile Middle Eastern spice blend of seeds, nuts, and spices, as a savory fairy dust: It's great sprinkled over pretty much anything, from soups to roasted and grilled vegetables to fish and meat dishes. Your giftee can even mix some with olive oil and use it as a dip for a crusty baguette.
This rendition features warming spices like cumin and coriander, toasty sesame seeds, and roasted peanuts, all blended together with kosher salt to your desired consistency. Packed up in an airtight container, it's good for up to two weeks.
Roasted tomatoes, dried peppers, almonds, and garlic unite in this bright, nutty Spanish sauce. Slather it on sandwiches, roasted or grilled meats and seafood, or serve it with crudité. Your recipient will want to eat it within five days, but that's hardly been a challenge in our experience.
Whole mustard seeds are cheap...but not exactly snack-worthy. By simply cooking them down in vinegar with a bit of whiskey and salt, we plump them up and rein in their sharp bite in one fell swoop. The result is a sweet-hot garnish that's welcome on roasted marrow bones, roasted meats, or deviled eggs. Make a big batch and spread the mustardy cheer—these pickled seeds will last months in the refrigerator.
Shio tare, which translates to "salt seasoning," is traditionally used to season ramen. But this savory solution, made from lemon rind, salt, and kombu (dried sea kelp) can be used for so much more. Try using it to enhance stir-fries, salad dressings, stews, pan sauces, and more.
Whether you buy garlic expressly for this project or you're looking to put spare cloves to good use, this simple project yields buttery-soft, sweet garlic that's ideal for spreading on bread, blending into soups, stirring into sauces, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
For safety reasons, garlic confit should be made according to our specifications, stored in the refrigerator, and consumed within two weeks.
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