So, you’ve committed to eating better and cooking more at home. Or maybe you’re in the throes of your Paleo challenge. Being committed is great, but there’s no reason not to enjoy all the healthy food you’re cooking!
Eating well takes some time and discipline, but there is no reason to sacrifice tasty food. I’ve got some tips for helping you to pack your food with flavor each and every time you’re in the kitchen.
1. Spice Things Up!
Spices are probably the most immediate and simple change that can alter a dish and make it more exciting.
Salt and pepper are of course, a must, but garlic, cumin, turmeric, oregano, red pepper and thyme are also handy to keep around.
Seasoning food can take a pretty delicate hand. If in doubt, use less spices or lightly season a few times. Have fun experimenting with different hints and flavors.
2. Re-purpose Your Foods
3. Some Like it Hot
If you have ever worked or seen the inner sanctum of a restaurant kitchen, you’ll know that the cooks get their pans screaming hot when they cook. A quick blistered char from a pan can really bring asparagus or green beans to life.
Artichoke hearts browned in the same way always remind me of a flavor vaguely reminiscent of seasoned potato wedges. A very hot pan with a hint of oil is pretty much a must if you are even thinking about making fajitas.
Furthermore, flames from the grill can make meat taste amazing. Sear it hot and fast over the flames, then move the meat off and use indirect heat to finish cooking for a great taste that won’t be overdone. A grill basket is a great investment for onions, peppers, and squash in the summertime.
4. Eat in Season
5. Yes We Can
I used to buy dried beans all the time, but the sorting, soaking, and draining is a little time consuming.
Instead, grab cans of your favorites and keep them on hand for quick sides. My wife uses garbanzos with salads and I like to mash white beans. For around $1 per can, I’ve found that organic canned beans are cheaper than their dry counterparts much of the time. Other basic staples like canned tomatoes are great to keep on hand too to add a punch of flavor to a dish.
Lately, I have also been keeping canned coconut milk and canned curry paste on hand to make quick curries that are delicious and dial up the flavor of any dish.
6. Issues with Frozen? Let it go!
7. Building Flavor with Citrus and Vinegar
One of my favorite tips to brighten just about everything is add a bit of acid. Lime juice is my all-time favorite, but lemon juice works well too in some situations.
Not only do you get a kick of vitamin C, but citric acid is detected near a similar part of the tongue as salt. If you really want to ratchet up the flavor in a dish using citrus, I beg you to buy fresh limes and lemons and not the shelf juice in the plastic lemon shaped containers. The flavor comparison is night and day!
You don’t need a fancy juicer — just use your hands or the middle part of your kitchen tongs for extra leverage. If the lemons don’t seem juicy, pop them in the microwave for about ten seconds or so and then roll the lemon between your palm and the counter. Finally, cut and you are good to go!
While we are on the subject of acid, we also need to talk about vinegar, a.k.a acetic acid. Some people might thing using vinegar to cook is strange, but it can be a powerful flavor component.
Balsamic vinegar is one of my favorites to use in marinades, on fresh veggies, salads and more. Be weary when choosing your brand — some old school Italian Balsamic comes in contact with lead pipes when its made. Check your labels to make sure your balsamic choice is free of lead!
Rice wine vinegar is another staple in my kitchen. Try adding a splash to your bok choi stir fry or add it to the water of your steaming veggies. There are a ton of different varieties to try, from delicate champagne vinegar to dark malt vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar is also another type of acetic acid that can fire up certain dishes. Even white vinegar can be added in certain scenarios, although I personally don’t use it unless I’m in a pinch.
8. Fats and Oils
Fat is one of those things that polarizes people — some fats are good and some aren’t, but just mention the word and most people cringe. However, we now know that some fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy and contain lower LDL’s (or bad cholesterol).
Saturated fat isn’t healthy in large quantities. If you eat lots meat and nuts, be sure to check your daily fat intake before adding fat and oil additions from other sources.
Cooking with fats usually comes in the form of oils. Olive oils vary in flavor — some have a distinct flavor, some or very mild, and others are infused with herbs and flavors. Cold-pressed olive oil is my favorite option when it comes to cooking.
Coconut oil is another healthy oil that is really catching on. I have even used avocado oil to great success as it has a very subtle flavor and a very high smoking point.
9. Getting Saucy
With so many sauces and dressings out there, what should you keep on hand in your kitchen to add flavor to your favorite dishes? Some sauces can add a little flavor for food, while others make can make a great marinade. However, these prepackaged foods can also add a great deal of sugar and/or sodium, so you need to be on alert and check your labels.
A few of my favorites to consider:
Soy and Teriyaki Sauce
This is without a doubt, a staple for most kitchens. It’s great for marinades, and can help bring life to vegetables and meat. Teriyaki is basically soy sauce with garlic, sugar, and some ginger added. You can usually find low-sodium versions of each.
Mustard is something I use quite a bit. Yellow mustard, spicy mustard, or even Dijon are great to have on hand for added flavor. Some people use mustard powder, but jar or bottled mustard works just as well. Mustard can make a great base for a homemade salad dressing by adding just a little champagne vinegar, some honey, and a bit of olive oil.
When I was a kid, I used to put this on mashed potatoes instead of butter. Ever since then, it has grown into one of my go-to ingredients. It has an interesting flavor. Briny, meaty, and a little acidic from the vinegar in it. I use it in marinades quite frequently and enjoy the flavor it gives to pan roasted mushrooms and ground beef. If you don’t eat mushrooms or beef, you can probably do without it. Be sure to look for a low-sodium version.
There are other sauces I have like liquid smoke or fish sauce that I use sparingly. They are the third tier specific flavors that can radically alter a dish, for better or worse. They aren’t necessary, but with some of these other ingredients can really dial up some complexity. Things like ketchup, hoisin and BBQ sauces usually contain high amounts of sugar and are not generally recommended, although Paleo versions can be made at home. If in doubt, read labels and check quantities.
Well there you have it…a few tips for making your meals easier, while still healthy and flavorful. Have fun and happy cooking!