When I set out to make this blog, I wanted to create recipes that were greater than the sum of their parts, whose combinations couldn’t be easily dissected, so it is a little ironic that I am writing about universal “ shortcuts". But we do not always have time to cook, and having the know-how to whip up something tasty is the difference between spending extra on going out (and probably having junk food) or choosing to have a healthy home cooked meal. To avoid this scenario in the first place, I try to have some meals prepared ahead. For example, I make a minestrone soup that is a enough to serve at least 10 people, but it lasts for days and never goes to waste. It would probably freeze well for a quick meal down the road, too. However, when there is no food prepared in the fridge, here are some of the strategies I use to spice up main ingredients. This is a very basic list to get you started and I will link to additional recipes in the future:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lemon, and Parsley (great on veggies, grains, meat)
Spice Mixes, My favorite is Dukkah
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette (for cooked or fresh veggies, whole grains, chicken)
Gluten Free Soy Sauce or Tamari (add some garlic and sesame oil if you have it)
Garlic and Olive Oil (for sauteed vegetables)
Whole Milk Yogurt (try stirring in crushed raw garlic, and even cumin and dill)
Vinegar & Oil (try Bragg's apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, or this simple recipe [coming soon]) Many vinegars, like Umi Plum Vinegar, spice up food with their unique flavors.
Sumac (a delicious spice that is vaguely "lemony", good on vegetable dishes, salads, etc.)
Eggs (An over easy egg on cooked green beans, for example, provides a nice sauce and flavor)
You might be wondering who buys unsweetened, whole milk yogurt, but it is absolutely delicious. And, if you don't like it, you can actually acquire a taste for it over time. While we do start to develop a taste for foods early in life, they can be altered as we explore and build new habits. I am reminded of a smokey Chinese black tea that I bought. It was awful and only vaguely reminiscent of what I thought a tea should taste like. If I wanted those flavors, I would have chewed on a tree that was charred by lightening and rotting. But I couldn't deny that the tea had fascinating flavors so I gave it a few more tries. My husband took some coaxing, too, but now it is both our favorites. Sometimes we miss out on foods, simply because we do not give them a chance. If you are dairy-free, you can find coconut yogurt at Whole Foods (CoYo and So Delicious brands are unsweetened), or you can make your own. You can even keep whipped coconut cream in the fridge to use on sweet or savory dishes. Coconut cream is another food that I did not like, but over time I have come to appreciate its flavors and versatility.
It is also worth noting that a lot of olive oil is partially rancid or just pour quality. My current favorite is a Trader Joe's unfiltered, organic olive oil from Greece. Be sure to pour the olive oil into wide mouthed jars and store it in the fridge to keep it from going bad or from developing off flavors. It needs to be in a wide jar because it may solidify, and with a wide jar you can spoon it out. When you want to use it, you can leave it at room temperature for a few minutes and it will start to turn to liquid again so there is no need to heat it up.