5 Ingredients to Spruce Up Your Meals This Week

5 Ingredients to spruce up your every day recipes this week. Find the list on The Fresh Exchange

There I stood looking in the fridge. It was about 4 PM and Hayes was still napping and I had hit a great stopping place in work, which means I need to get up and do something else. Most days our dinners are quick and simple. I don’t always create a fancy meal, but I always try to come up with things that can be fixed in under 30 minutes, take minimal chopping, and are healthy. Chasing a nearly 1-year-old while cooking is a wild adventure these days, but I am finding ways to manage it. This means we eat a lot of fish and chicken because it is so quick to cook up. I typically buy a ton of veggies and just will throw things together quickly. Over the last few months of making these fast, cheap, and simple meals I have noticed a few things that I ALWAYS make sure to have in my cabinet to spice up our favorite veggies or proteins. I call these things my secret ingredients and I have a few I thought would be fun to share today and to hear some that you use as well.

Whole Grain Mustard:
I got super into mustard nearly 5 years ago when I picked up one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. In the book, I noticed how much of a staple whole grain mustard was in his cooking. The great thing about it is that it is such a simple but complex flavor. I love this mustard (it is about $4 at the store) especially because it contains no sugar and it is so simple, which is surprisingly hard to find on a kitchen shelf. I will toss it into a salad dressing, spread it on salmon before baking, toss chopped potatoes in it after they have cooked thoroughly, use it in a chicken dish, or add it into a soup. It is a great way to punch up so many meals. This is an awesome one especially if you are doing a Paleo or Whole30 diet.

Rice Vinegar:
Oh, my love for Rice Vinegar is beyond normal. We go through a lot of this stuff in our house. I love cooking with it because it packs a great punch and pairs with most any veggie. I don’t do much with it with proteins, but I could see it working. I love it on kale, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, and I use it excessively as salad dressing. You cannot go wrong with this stuff. It makes a wonderful dressing in the summer on Cucumbers or a Red Cabbage Slaw in place of something creamy.

Toasted Sesame Oil:
I discovered this stuff a few years ago. It is always being used in our kitchen specifically for a quick stir fry or anything similar. This is another great one for Whole30 or Paleo cooking. It gives you that really wonderful umami flavor that adds depth to a dish. You can find it in the Asian food aisles or at Trader Joe’s. The only note is that a little goes a long way!

This spice was introduced to me when I made a West African Peanut soup from a recipe from our co-op. I had to go to a specialty spice store to find it, but ever since it has been a staple in our spice cabinet. It is a blend of spices from Ethiopia. There are hints of flavors such as smoked Paprika and some Cayenne. I love tossing root vegetables in it or tossing it on Salmon for a little kick on a cold day.

I was always weirded out by capers for some odd reason, but then I had a recipe call for them and since then I have been just a little obsessed. These salty little guys from the olive family are the best thing to toss into a grain salad, blend into a dressing, cook with potatoes, or to cook with fish. One of my favorite dishes is to make a dish with capers, olives, lemons, and chicken in one pan. I highly suggest keeping them on hand!

What items do you always make sure to keep in your cabinet to spice up your meals? I find this to be so important when working to enjoy veggies and healthy proteins in new ways.

Leave a comment

  1. Great list! Definitely what we’re into as well – especially the rice vinegar & sesame oil. We travel a lot (because we live nomadically) but we always make sure that these things follow us wherever we go, haha 🙂

    I would add nutritional yeast (we always have a huge bag of it, like true junkies). And…pickled onions, which we make ourselves. We take red onions and do a quick pickle method in a jar – they turn bright pink, super tasty and we put them everywhere. You can find them in our recipe here: http://kinlake.com/lunch-goodness-our-favourite-kale-salad/ Make sure you give them a try, you will love them!!

    1. Linda, super cool blog! It must be so inspiring to be able to travel so much.

      I’ve been reading alot about nutritional yeast, might just give it a try!

  2. I use an insane amount of cumin. Usually along with lemon and garlic if its something like a chickpea stew, or on its own with lemon in lentil soup.

    I like powdered ginger as well, gives a kick to anything.

    Oh, can’t forget the zaatar. Have some on hand, sprinkle in a salad, on top of chicken, or veggies.

  3. I really enjoyed this post, Megan! You’re so good at turning everyday things into full blog posts, it’s a skill I really envy! (in a nice way).

    I never think of using mustard in my cooking, so this has been a good prompt to consider it! 🙂 And capers are definitely one of my favourite ingredients – SO good with tuna!

    Personally I seem to cook with garlic powder all the time, and I really enjoy cinnamon in my morning porridge oats every morning right now.

    Fennel is my favourite right now though; with pork, fish, anything…. especially in a tomato-based pasta sauce! Closely followed by rosemary. 🙂


    1. I LOVE FEnnel. Just bought it today to make a salad for dinner with friends tonight. It is hands down one of my favorite fresh items to use all over in dishes.

      Thanks so much! Flora I love hearing your ideas.

  4. My mother is pakistani, and I learned to cook with her. So the basics are onions, garlic and fresh ginger. In everything! Then I’m also half swedish so I mix the two and make meatballs with onions, garlic and ginger instead of simply pepper, and i use them in tomato sauce and pretty much everything else.
    I really enjoy reading your blog by the way!

  5. I’m jalapeno obsessed so always keep small jars of diced jalapeno’s on hand to add to whatever needs a bit of a flavor kick. Yum!

  6. I love this post, MEgan! Thank you so much for sharing! I forget that the essential ingredients really make a difference in meal planning and some of those ingredients can really save a dish, and so simply! i love all of those ingredients (such good, strong flavors) and my favorite by far is sesame oil! we use it all the time for veggies, and if you add toasted sesame seeds at the end, it gives it a bit of a crunch with extra sesame flavor. 🙂
    we also use a lot of: really good spanish olive oil to dress anything, turmeric (makes everything such a pretty yellow color too), and homemade chicken stock that we keep frozen.

  7. Love this. I definitely notice i have some favorite stand bys too. some of my favorites are lemon juice, which just adds that tangy freshness to anything especially to proteins, vegetables, salads. i also love greek yogurt and pretty much put it on everything. i use it like sour cream on tacos, burritos, chicken, potatoes. i love it and can’t get enough.. i also mix it into salad dressings to make them thicker. i’ll use it to make ranch or ranch type dips too (i love dipping things in sauces). i have to second what someone said earlier about pickled red onions… they are game changers! i put them on everything

  8. This is a great list! I love fresh herbs, which isn’t out of the ordinary per say, but I have a local market that have a great selection so I always have them on hand. I’ll try adding mint to a hearty soup or sage to an egg dish to mix things up. Also, I love using Greek Yogurt in salad dressings and as a dip for spiced proteins or roasted veggies.

  9. Interesting on the berbere. I live in Ethiopia- married to an Ethiopian- and can say that it definitely doesn’t have any paprika or cayenne in it- it’s made straight from these large red chili peppers that are grown here. it’s usual to see tarps laying on the street in front of people’s homes with drying chili peppers. lots of cumin, cardamom, rue, ginger, and other magic in there. Also Ethiopia is in east Africa so strange that a west African recipe calls for it!