I dislike using overly processed ingredients. Spice blends and seasoned oils are something I prefer to concoct in my own kitchen. I wouldn't say I devote a huge amount of time in this endeavour either, but it is worth the extra time spent to control the sodium and additives in my food. Here is a list of oft-used ingredients that give my dishes incredible flavor in a natural way.
Chiles and peppers - Chipotles in adobo, red chili flakes, fresh and dried whole peppers. I generally remove the stem and use the entire pepper in my dishes. If you remove the seeds and veins, you remove most of the heat. Add them to stir-fries, chili, salads, hot pots, soups and stews.
Citrus fruit - lemons, limes and orange varieties. The first time I ordered a salad at a Mexican restaurant, I was offered several dressings - all creamy dressings that just felt too heavy for such a light, fresh salad. So I asked the waiter, "what would you put on your salad?" He answered, a squeeze of lime and maybe a light sprinkle of salt. Perfect! - and this is the way I have preferred my salad ever since. Citrus adds great flavor to quick marinades as well. Use citrus juice to brighten up your soups. The zest can be used in baking or sprinkled over whatever you cook to add a bit of zing, especially nice in chicken, pork, seafood and fish dishes.
Fresh herbs - flat leaf parsley, cilantro, dill, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil and mint. Grow your own or buy them in loose bunches if possible to eliminate the waste associated with those plastic herb containers. I always have parsley and cilantro in my grocery cart. Parsley improves digestion so I top many dishes with roughly chopped parsley. I am partial to flat-leaf, because curly is slightly tougher. I cook a lot of Mexican and Asian food so cilantro is a fairly standard ingredient in most of these dishes. Herbs are great to layer in sandwiches. There is nothing like a bit of green to make a dish more appealing to the eye.
Onions - garlic, shallots, chives, green, red, yellow and white onions. Practically every dish I make starts with chopping an onion and some garlic. I always have some roasted garlic available to blend into soups, sauces, savory crusts or to smear on bread. I use yellow onion for my everyday cooking. White onion punches up the flavor in my salsas. Red onions or shallots get tossed into salads to add a bit of color and milder flavor. Thinly sliced green onion decorates a dish beautifully.
Vinegars - balsamic, red wine, apple cider and champagne. There is nothing tastier than a drizzle of balsamic reduction over a nicely grilled piece of salmon - this is lush. Plain balsamic vinegar is fantastic for dressing spring lettuces. A dressing of red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and finely chopped flat leaf parsley is another favorite of mine. A simple salad of tomato, avocado, corn, shallots and champagne vinegar graces our table at summer BBQs. Vinegars are also great for brightening the flavors in soups and stews.
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