For my first post, how about some TIPS on ingredients?

As I mentioned earlier, cooking for me is a way to make foods that taste good and are also good for me.  That being said, this requires using flavors that are bold and nutritious.  Here are some items I often incorporate into my meals because they add great flavor, are versatile, and you can feel good when you put them into your body:

  1. Greek yogurt – My favorite brand is Fage, and honestly, I can’t eat the non-fat, so I always go 2%.  It’s just the right balance of fat, taste, and thickness.  Greek yogurt is a great healthy alternative to many things, including sour cream (in baking), mayonnaise (in salad dressings and tuna, potato or egg salads), and heavy cream (in pasta dishes).
  2. Cilantro – I love cilantro!  It is a delicious herb that really adds flavor to anything you are making.  I put it in soups, salads, on fish or chicken, in stir fries and fried rice, in salad dressings, to use as pesto…  The list goes on.  And if you have a local farmer’s market, you can usually get a huge fresh bunch for $1.  (And, if you don’t love cilantro as much as I do, you can always substitute for another fresh and fragrant herb like basil, dill, or mint.)
  3. Hot sauces – Having a salty, spicy, and sweet condiment is a great way to add some flavor to your foods without adding fat or cholesterol.  My favorite is called Peptang, a hot and sweet ketchup style condiment from Kenya (that is where Patrick is from).  Unfortunately, I have not yet seen it in the U.S.  However, we recently found a great alternative from a local Indian foods market, and as soon as I buy another bottle (since Patrick practically drank ours), I will post the name.  Finally, Sriracha is great too.  It’s really hot, without any vinegary taste, and spice always adds flavor.
  4. Rice wine vinegar – I find that rice wine vinegar really adds a great taste to any types of Asian foods that I am making.  It seems that whatever the brand I buy from the store – seasoned or unseasoned – when added to a marinade or a dressing, creates a flavor that really pops.
  5. Curry powder – I think having a good jar of curry powder in your pantry is a must.  It adds tons of flavor that is delicious.  I love curry powder in tuna or chicken salad, in Thai style pineapple fried rice, and in marinades.  I have found that any curry powder called “Madras Curry Powder” tends to be the tastiest and boldest.  I got my last jar from Ralph’s; my most recent from a local Indian foods market.  Try different ones out and see what suits you best.
  6. Quinoa – Having some quinoa on hand is always helpful to create a delicious and nutritious meal.  Filling like rice or pasta, and rich in protein, quinoa is versatile and tasty.  I usually buy a box from Trader Joe’s and keep it in my cabinet for whenever I need to cook some up.  It’s easy to make, and works great in a rice cooker.
  7. Garlic, ginger, and shallots – These three vegetables (?), spices (?), delicious items (!) are always great to have on hand.  Mincing them, or crushing them, and adding them to a recipe is sure to add healthy, low calorie flavor.  Whether raw or cooked, using garlic, ginger or shallots in your cooking is sure to add fragrance and taste – and make your house smell delicious.
  8. Korean chile paste – I’m adding an updated ingredient to this list because I have been using Gochujang for about 6 months now and love it!  This is a spicy, thick paste that you can use to make a delicious Korean fried rice called bibimbap.  You just need to saute veggies in a skillet, add rice and a nice scoop of this chile paste and stir.  The bottom rice will get a bit crunchy as it cooks on the bottom of the pan, and you will have a delicious meal!  (You can buy this at Korean or Asian grocery stores or on Amazon – it comes in a big red tub.)
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