There I stood looking in the fridge. It was about 4 PM and Hayes was still napping and I had hit a great stopping place in work, which means I need to get up and do something else. Most days our dinners are quick and simple. I don’t always create a fancy meal, but I always try to come up with things that can be fixed in under 30 minutes, take minimal chopping, and are healthy. Chasing a nearly 1-year-old while cooking is a wild adventure these days, but I am finding ways to manage it. This means we eat a lot of fish and chicken because it is so quick to cook up. I typically buy a ton of veggies and just will throw things together quickly. Over the last few months of making these fast, cheap, and simple meals I have noticed a few things that I ALWAYS make sure to have in my cabinet to spice up our favorite veggies or proteins. I call these things my secret ingredients and I have a few I thought would be fun to share today and to hear some that you use as well.
Whole Grain Mustard:
I got super into mustard nearly 5 years ago when I picked up one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. In the book, I noticed how much of a staple whole grain mustard was in his cooking. The great thing about it is that it is such a simple but complex flavor. I love this mustard (it is about $4 at the store) especially because it contains no sugar and it is so simple, which is surprisingly hard to find on a kitchen shelf. I will toss it into a salad dressing, spread it on salmon before baking, toss chopped potatoes in it after they have cooked thoroughly, use it in a chicken dish, or add it into a soup. It is a great way to punch up so many meals. This is an awesome one especially if you are doing a Paleo or Whole30 diet.
Oh, my love for Rice Vinegar is beyond normal. We go through a lot of this stuff in our house. I love cooking with it because it packs a great punch and pairs with most any veggie. I don’t do much with it with proteins, but I could see it working. I love it on kale, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, and I use it excessively as salad dressing. You cannot go wrong with this stuff. It makes a wonderful dressing in the summer on Cucumbers or a Red Cabbage Slaw in place of something creamy.
Toasted Sesame Oil:
I discovered this stuff a few years ago. It is always being used in our kitchen specifically for a quick stir fry or anything similar. This is another great one for Whole30 or Paleo cooking. It gives you that really wonderful umami flavor that adds depth to a dish. You can find it in the Asian food aisles or at Trader Joe’s. The only note is that a little goes a long way!
This spice was introduced to me when I made a West African Peanut soup from a recipe from our co-op. I had to go to a specialty spice store to find it, but ever since it has been a staple in our spice cabinet. It is a blend of spices from Ethiopia. There are hints of flavors such as smoked Paprika and some Cayenne. I love tossing root vegetables in it or tossing it on Salmon for a little kick on a cold day.
I was always weirded out by capers for some odd reason, but then I had a recipe call for them and since then I have been just a little obsessed. These salty little guys from the olive family are the best thing to toss into a grain salad, blend into a dressing, cook with potatoes, or to cook with fish. One of my favorite dishes is to make a dish with capers, olives, lemons, and chicken in one pan. I highly suggest keeping them on hand!
What items do you always make sure to keep in your cabinet to spice up your meals? I find this to be so important when working to enjoy veggies and healthy proteins in new ways.