One of the tricks to creating an interesting meal on a whim is to keep your pantry stocked with some handy essentials that can add a touch of style to anything that you plan to make. An exotic meal isn't necessarily about fancy ingredients – what makes a meal extraordinary is adding a touch of creativity to your everyday fare. It doesn't take much to be able to do that, and it all begins with a well stocked pantry. With these ingredients in your kitchen and a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make every meal stand out, and can be sure that you no longer have to deal with leftovers!
Cold pressed oils
Cold pressed oils are bursting with flavour – whether you use it to cook, or drizzle over any dish before serving, cold pressed oils have a distinct smell and flavour that enhances any meal they are coupled with. Try making a salad dressing with cold pressed coconut oil, or drizzle some cold pressed sesame oil over that fried rice, and you will see what I am talking about!
Vinegar and lemon
Natural vinegar and lemon juice will never go out of style – and lemon zest added into a creamy sauce or dessert adds the oomph you are looking for. Fresh salad, lemon and salt make for the perfect appetizer – just as vinegar in a pot of noodles makes your taste buds pop!
A variety of beans
Chole masala or rajma do not need to be the only way to go when you boil a batch of kidney beans or chickpeas. Keeping a regular supply of a variety of beans in your kitchen gives you the ability to add a twist of nutrition and texture to any meal you whip up! Mix into a salad, add to a gravy, toss with a stir fry or simply try beans on toast – the possibilities are endless!
Herbs are a fantastic way to bring in subtle flavours into food. While dry herbs are easy to stock and store – I personally prefer using fresh herbs in the food I cook. Besides flavour, they make every meal smell fresher! One doesn't need to be restricted to only the fancy foreign varieties here, a sprig of coriander or mint creates as much impact as anything else!
Coconut milk and fresh cream
A handy supply of coconut milk or fresh cream makes it really easy to balance flavours. They are great in bringing down the spice levels when there has been an accidental overdose of chilli – and pretty and appetizing as garnish too! Stir in a table spoon into gravy or a soup before it is time to serve, and turn a mundane dish into a gourmet feast!
Spices may be daunting to use, and sometimes it is difficult to decipher the flavours that work together. I keep a very simple spice box handy, which helps me negotiate through any flavour that I wish to create. Some spices I cannot live without include – cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, nutmeg, chilli, cinammon, black pepper, cloves, cardamom and bay leaves.
Dry fruits and nuts
I love adding a few nuts into a stir fry, or a handful of dried fruit into a salad – such an easy way to introduce a contrast of flavours into something that is otherwise really simple! Salted and crumbled nuts can also be used as garnish over dessert portions, giving the necessary salty contrast to a sweet bite.
Recipe: Chilli black eyed pea hummus
What you need:
600ml cold pressed sesame oil
2-3 cloves garlic
2 dried red chilli, powdered
1 cup black eyed peas, soaked at least 4 hours
1-2 teaspoon salt (check taste)
Boil the black eyed peas in salted water in a pressure cooker for 2-3 whistles. Allow to cool – drain and save the water aside.
Put the peas, chilli, garlic and salt into a food processer. Put half the amount of oil and 2 tablespoons of the water that was saved from the earlier step with the peas, and pulse the mixture repeatedly so that it begins to form a coarse paste.
Slowly add more oil and if necessary, more water and keep pulsing, until you get a smooth mixture.
Written bySurabhi Ganguly
Surabhi, is an engineer turned food professional, who quit a decade-long corporate career to set up her own venture, Slyly Simple Gourmet Kitchen. Surabhi loves travel and exploring new cultures, and wherever she goes, she brings back a food memory that influences her cooking. Her unusual and easy recipes use unique ingredient combinations and strong, distinct flavours.