4 Ways to Take Basic Meals From Zero to A Hundred

– by Jakob Anderson, Food Writer –

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With our lives moving faster than ever, many of us are in a rut, eating boring, flavorless meals. Whether you’ve gotten into the habit of eating a dry boneless skinless chicken breast or a bowl of pasta with butter or tomato sauce from a jar, you may think you don’t have the time to sit down and get creative with your meals. But this does not have to be the case. As our world becomes more culturally diverse, our local supermarkets are filling up with outstanding products that were unattainable a few years ago. Learning about these ingredients can vastly improve your culinary repertoire, make your everyday meals taste better and maybe even impress your next date. Here is a look at few versatile additions for your next boring chicken breast.

1. Spanish Smoked Paprika

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Smoked Paprika

Otherwise known as Pimentón, this intense, earthy spice can add a flavor boost to just about anything (no, not ice cream). Created by slowly smoking peppers over a fire, this Spanish creation can be added to chicken, rice, eggs, sauces, dips, almost any savory dish you can think of! I recommend heating it very gently in a small amount of olive oil before use; this will help emit its full flavor. Be careful not to dry-cook it for too long, as it tends to burn – like most dry spices – and will become bitter.

Quick Recipe: Smoked Paprika Fried Chickpeas

A simple dish to make is 1 cup of chickpeas lightly fried in 1/2 cup of quality olive oil. Add 2 tsp of smoked paprika, 1 clove of chopped garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. This is one of my favorite ways to use the spice.

2. Miso Paste

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Miso Paste

The popularity of Japanese food has made miso practically a household word, but it can be used for so much more than just the ubiquitous soup. Miso is overlooked by home cooks, which is unfortunate. Don’t be intimidated! Miso paste gives food a rich and complex depth of flavor that is known in some cultures as the sixth taste, umami. Miso is extremely salty, so be careful. Professional chefs love to use miso in creative ways, and you can too. Mix it with butter and then lightly fry vegetables such as green beans or asparagus. Add it to mayonnaise for an amazing burger condiment. I could write an entire article on the uses for miso alone. You truly need to experiment for yourself. And yes, it does help make a mean ice cream!

Quick Recipe: Miso and Scallion Scrambled Eggs

Add a little funkiness into your morning with these simple miso scrambled eggs. Mix 1 tsp of miso with 2 Tbsp of water. Add 3 eggs to bowl and whisk together with miso mixture. Heat frying pan on medium heat and add 1tbsp butter. Add eggs and stir continuously until eggs begin to set but remain creamy. Turn off heat and transfer eggs to bowl. Top with scallions.

3. Guanciale

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Guanciale

Bacon can get boring. (Ya, I said it.) Instead, reach for guanciale. A staple of Italian cuisine, guanciale serves many of the same purposes as its more famous cousin. It is milder in flavor and silkier in texture to bacon but maintains that salty richness we are all addicted to. Guanciale comes from the jowl of the pig, which lends it a slightly different texture than a cured belly (bacon). It is a key ingredient in one of Italy’s simplest pasta dishes, spaghetti alla carbonara. This dish is stupid simple to make, but may take years to perfect. It contains six ingredients: spaghetti, butter, black pepper, grated parmesan, raw egg and guanciale. A decadent but simple white pasta, it is both humble and fulfilling. Guanciale is also a great addition to any fried green vegetable dish such as Brussels sprouts.

Quick Recipe: Fried Brussels Sprouts and Guanciale with Balsamic Glaze

Brussels sprouts get a bad rap sometimes, but this recipe is sure to impress. Cut 10-15 Brussels sprouts in quarters. Dice 1/2 cup guanciale into small cubes. Heat large frying pan on medium heat with oil. Add Brussels sprouts and fry until cooked through. Add guanciale and fry with sprouts until crispy. Add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and cook until it begins to caramelize. Transfer to bowl.

4. Labneh

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Labneh

I get all mushy inside thinking about labneh. Only once you taste it plain, with a sprinkle of salt and lots of olive oil, will you understand the depth of its allure. Labneh is Lebanese strained yogurt. It comes close to what we know as cream cheese and has a luscious taste that can round out any dish. Adding labneh to a tomato-based sauce or soup will give it a creamy, more wholesome flavor. Marinate your chicken with labneh, thyme and lemon, and you’re well on your way. The difference between labneh and Greek yogurt, is the straining process. Labneh is strained for almost triple the time as Greek yogurt, harnessing a much thicker result. In the Middle East, labneh is eaten like a dip. Add some olive oil, salt and pistachios, grab yourself a pita and enjoy, thoroughly.

Quick Recipe: Labneh, Toasted Fennel and Honey Dip

This has Sunday morning breakfast written all over it. Toast 2 Tbsp of fennel seeds in frying pan until aromatic. Add 2 cups of labneh to bowl. Sprinkle fennels seed and drizzle 2 Tbsp raw honey and olive oil over labneh.

These are just four of my favorites, I encourage you to explore and experiment with all the products at your supermarket. You will realize that a simple meal doesn’t have to be a boring meal.