Turning up the heat in the kitchen can be difficult. Sometimes the little twisty thing on the radiator gets stuck and you have to do that thing where you use a tea towel so it doesn’t hurt your hand trying to twist it for several minutes. It can also be hard to make cooking interesting. How do you strike the balance between utilizing what you know you can make well with trying something new whilst also not wanting to risk making something you don’t like and resorting to takeaway? My best advice is to try adding a new ingredient or two to a dish you feel comfortable with already. The next problem that arises is picking an ingredient. I endeavour to suggest a few that you may not have considered.
Now, beetroot is not a particularly strong flavour and you can add it to a dish in a pretty significant quantity without changing the flavour profile much. The reason it’s on the list is because it allowed me to make a purple pasta dish and even if it doesn’t taste that different, it’s hard to not be impressed when you’re eating purple pasta. The dish was effectively pasta in a rich spicy tomato sauce and the beetroot really didn’t change the taste that much but if you want a brand-new aesthetic without risking the flavour, beetroot is a great option.
This is an extremely interesting and versatile foodstuff. It’s becoming more and more popular in the UK as a meat substitute but it has always been a great culinary asset in Asia. For anyone who is looking for something other than fake meat or more popular alternatives like halloumi, jackfruit is a must-try. With the right seasoning, it can taste almost scarily similar to pulled pork so it’s great as the star of the show or as an accoutrement on something like a burger. It can be tricky to get right when using it in cooking for the first time as I learned when I tried a jackfruit curry which turned out to be more similar to a rubber substitute however, with practice, it can be a wonderful discovery.
Let’s change things up and think about sweeter delicacies. Grapes are not generally underrated, the Greeks lounging on their chaise longues knew what they were doing but I discovered they can also be amazing when baked. My significant other once made these little pastries (amuse-bouche if you will) with various different toppings and fillings but the most impressive by far were the ones that he had part cooked, topped with grapes (some white, some red) and then cooked in the oven a little bit more. They had this amazing sweetness and were actually very refreshing – I would definitely recommend implementing grapes in Summer bakes.
Red peppers are wonderful. I eat them on pizzas. I eat them in fajitas.
I eat them in salads. Sadly, their yellow and green brethren don’t get as much of the spotlight which they fully deserve. Mixed peppers have it all. They brighten up a dish for both the tastebuds and the eyes and give meals a great freshness whether they be in a stir fry or a burrito. They’re probably not as underrated as the other candidates on this list but I think the use of all of them in tandem with each other is not as common as one might think.
Okay, we all know cinnamon. It’s a Christmas favourite and cinnamon rolls are popular enough to warrant entire restaurant chains based around them, at least in the US. What people might not know about it is that it is excellent as a subtle ingredient. I love it when cinnamon is the centrepiece but something I do with anything I bake is just add a little bit of cinnamon to give it some warmth and it’s a subtle difference. Sometimes you don’t want to reinvent the wheel and adding a bit of cinnamon is more like just painting the wheel a snazzy new colour. Obviously, there are way more ingredients that you could try. Another tip I have is to go into a shop and try and find a fruit, vegetable, spice etc. you’ve never heard of before and buy it. They won’t all be winners but you might find something like a banana blossom, which is a flower that is used as a substitute for fish. I swear I’m not making that up, there’s one sitting in my cupboard that I’m going to try and batter any day now. In cooking, no matter how big the step is, a step is a step and that’s the best mentality you can have in the kitchen.