It doesn’t take a lot to put a little punch in your food. Sometimes just a pinch of something flavorful will be enough to make even the blandest dish come alive. You need go no further than your spice rack, pantry or herb garden to add a little zest to the ordinary.
Here are some great food “picker-uppers.”
Roasted garlic: Roasting fresh garlic intensifies the flavor, creating a distinctively mellow yet creamy almost nutty flavor. Whisk it into a white wine sauce for outstanding flavor on pasta or toss on pizzas for an intriguing taste.
Feta cheese: A little bit of this crumbly, slightly salty cheese works wonders in salads and sandwiches, and adds surprising flavor to gratins, focaccia, pasta salads and on top of roasted or grilled vegetables.
Capers and kalamata olives: The tangy bite of these two little pearls can change the complexity of any dish. Rich, saucy recipes can handle either capers or kalamata olives, as can lighter fare such as pasta dishes.
Red pepper flakes: Use to boost casseroles, soups, pasta, eggs and other hearty dishes.
Citrus zest: If you make your own noodles, grate lemon zest into the dough. Salad dressings, marinades, pasta and rice dishes are good places to grate a bit of rind.
Sesame and walnut oils
Make your own
Walnut oil: Lightly toast 2.5 ounces of walnuts. Process the nuts in a blender or food processor until diced. Transfer to a small jar, and add 1/2 cup canola oil. Seal and shake jar; let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain, squeezing through a double thickness of cheesecloth. Return to jar; seal and refrigerate no more than three days. You will have a scant 1/3 cup, just enough for most recipes, with no waste.
Sesame Oil: Substitute 3 Tbsps. lightly toasted sesame seeds for walnuts, and proceed as above.
Mix to Match
There are a lot of seasoning mixes on the market now to satisfy any flavor craving you may have. Here are a few of the most popular mixes you can make at home:
• Poultry seasoning: Combine 4 tsps. each of sage, dried thyme, and dried marjoram.
• Italian seasoning: Combine 4 tsps. each of dried oregano, dried marjoram,amd dried basil, and 2 tps. rubbed sage.
• Apple pie spice: Combine 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, and 1/8 tsp. ground cardamon.
• Curry powder: Combine 1/4 cup ground coriander, 2 Tbsps. ground cumin, 2 Tbsps. ground tumeric, and 1 Tbsp. ground ginger.
Susan Woody has been a food writer for over 20 years and is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.