3 Inexpensive Ingredients To Make Food Healthier & Way More Delicious
When people find out that I write healthy cookbooks, they often assume that my pantry is stocked with fancy, hard-to-find ingredients. While I have embraced a few of the more "out there" cooking techniques I've learned from interviewing the world's best chefs over the years (Rene Redzepi's lacto-fermented blueberries are always in my fridge), in truth, three of my favorite flavor-builders are some of the simplest ingredients around: garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika.
Smoked paprika is probably the most "chef-y" of the bunch, having garnered a well-deserved reputation for adding a piquant, can't-put-your-finger-on-it depth to dishes. Made from pimiento peppers that have been dried, smoked, and ground into a powder, I find it's especially useful for healthy cooks, as it adds an almost meaty, BBQ-like energy to vegetable-based dishes. I like to use it when making plant-based bacons, but I also love to add a spoonful to almost any red dish—think tomato soup, tomato sauce, red pepper soup, red pepper hummus—to add an unmistakable flavor that instantly elevates all of its surrounding flavors. If you're not a fan of spice, no need to worry—smoked paprika is actually more spiced than spicy and can be tolerated by fairy unadventurous palates. With some olive oil and sea salt, it also makes an unbeatable popcorn topping.
Garlic powder and onion powder are sometimes looked down upon by more serious chefs, and even home cooks who assume that fresh onion and fresh garlic are always preferable to the powdered version. I find that it's better to view powdered garlic and onion not as alternatives to fresh but as entirely different ingredients, with different uses and flavor profiles. Onion powder and garlic powder often serve as primary ingredients in soup mixes, dip mixes, or taco seasonings; they make a dish taste rich, homey, and savory. If a soup is feeling bland, I'll add some onion powder. If a stir-fry lacks interest, I'll shake in a bit of garlic powder. I love using both when I make quick homemade quesadillas; they elevate the flavors of the simple black beans and cheese without adding any additional time or effort. They're also a must-have when making foods where the texture of fresh onion or garlic simply wouldn't work—I particularly love making kale chips by tossing kale with extra-virgin olive oil, fine-grain sea salt, and a generous amount of onion and garlic powder and baking them for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
One caveat? Both onion and garlic powder burn quickly and quickly turn bitter and acrid when they do. If they're coming in direct contact with a high-heat pan (such as in a stir-fry), make sure to add them at the very end—sometimes I'll even remove my dish from heat, then add the powders while it's still hot enough to temper the slightly sharp flavor but not hot enough to actually burn.
The bottom line? Explore your spice cabinet. I always say that spices are the original superfoods, boosting the health and flavor potential of anything they come in contact with. Play around with fennel, mustard seeds, cardamom, or any other old bottle that's been gathering dust in the back of your pantry. You might just end up with a new favorite.
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