I love cooking and try hard to make a home-cooked dinner for the Dolphin family every night. After we had kids, I tried to scale back some of my more elaborate dinners and started relying on meals that I could make quickly or throw into the slow cooker/pressure cooker before going to work. As I’ve also made a bigger emphasis on healthy eating and we’ve been moving toward a more pescatarian/vegetarian diet, sometimes I feel like I rely a lot on the same dishes and use fresh garlic and onions, salt and pepper and olive oil as my standard seasonings. In order to keep things from feeling a little stale, here are some of the easy ways I add an extra oomph of flavor to dishes.
Nutritional yeast – I’ve been making an effort to incorporate vegetarian and vegan meals into our rotation and one of the best vegan secrets I came across was nutritional yeast. It’s often used in vegan cheese sauces because of its umami flavor profile, but I’ve been throwing it into just about anything that needs a little extra something. It’s great in a bowl of lentils, mashed in with some potatoes, mixed into soup, or sprinkled on snacks like popcorn.
Miso – I always have miso around in our fridge and love making a huge pot of miso soup on Sunday so that I can have a little for breakfast throughout the week. But miso has so many more uses than the traditional miso soup and also has that perfect umami quality. I use it to make an easy marinade with some broth or soy sauce and water, throw it into the slow cooker with chicken or pan fry some fish after marinating. It’s great as an addition to roasted vegetables or mixed in with mashed potatoes. It dresses up a vinaigrette or a stir fry. Throw it into a sauce in lieu of salt or soy sauce for that salty flavor with some extra depth. I stock three or four different types of miso at any given time (miso paste has a really long shelf life) so I can choose how salty or savory I want the flavor to be.
Anchovies – Okay, I admit it. I love all umami type flavorings. Things that are salty and savory and add a lot of depth of flavor. I know a lot of people don’t like anchovies (I’m not one of them and will eat them plain on some toast), but even if you think you don’t like them, if you chop them up and throw them into the sauce they don’t taste fishy at all. They will melt into your tomato sauce leaving a wonderful flavor and no one will know that anchovies are in it. You can finely chop it and add to salad dressings, even outside of the classic Caesar salad.
Parmesan rind – I learned this trick from a tuscan ribollita recipe, but it works for any soup. It imparts a great depth of flavor in the stock. It’s also great to throw into the cooking liquid when cooking beans. I often will prep a soup or soak beans overnight, then throw it into the slow cooker with the parmesan rind before I head to work. It works wonderfully and adds a little extra something to the dish. I purchase the rinds from the gourmet cheese section of my grocery store, but I know a lot of people who use parmesan regularly and will freeze the rinds for later use.
Dried herbs – Yes, fresh herbs are great, but they often go bad in our fridge before I can use them up. I always have dried herbs on hand, though, and a little oregano, thyme or parsley make great additions to so many dishes.
Dried lime – About two years ago, I stumbled across a jar of dried lime in the Middle Eastern section of the Asian grocery store I usually go to. I was curious, purchased it, and then it sat in my cupboard for awhile because I didn’t know what to do with it. After some Googling, I tried throwing it into a simple vegetarian minestrone and wow! It added a huge amount of flavor but was so different from the traditional spices I added. I continue to use it in brothy soups when I want to change things up, mix it in with lentils and brown rice, sprinkle it over fish before popping it in the oven, or throw it on some chicken with other mixed spices. It has a tangy flavor that’s a bit more earthy than fresh citrus.
Fresh lime – Speaking of citrus, fresh limes or lemons add a perfect touch of acid to so many meals. I generally prefer lime, but lemons work too. I will add it to my vinaigrettes, squeeze it on my grain bowls or burritos, add it to chicken or vegetable soup, and include it in marinades. I love adding citrus to my broths, which I will then use to lightly cook vegetables in for a delicious side dish.
What are your favorite ways to add extra flavor to your dishes?