It's all about starting with the right ingredients. Here are three things you might never have heard of but should definitely be using.
Pronounced “freek-eh” or “freek-ah” depending on who you ask, freekeh is an ancient Arabic cereal made by harvesting and roasting young, green wheat. It tastes similar to bulgur, but slightly grassier, and some say it has a slight smokiness to it.
It cooks quickly in comparison to most whole grains, in about twenty minutes, which is a huge draw. It can also replace brown rice or barley in most dishes, like pilafs, risottos, salads, and other sides - even oats or granola in a parfait (but don’t quote me on this). It can prominently feature in a standout vegetarian dish, since freekeh is high in protein and low on the glycemic index.
For a delicious, mediterranean freekeh salad, prepare and chop vegetables like carrots, cauliflower and turnips. Toss with cumin, salt, cracked black pepper and olive oil, then bake for about 30 minutes. While you wait, cook freekeh in lightly salted water or chicken stock - bring to a rolling boil, then simmer for just under twenty minutes (or just use the brown rice setting on your rice cooker). It’s done when the grain is slightly swollen, chewy, but still tender. Mix with the roasted vegetables and tahini, fresh lemon juice, pepper flakes and toasted almonds.
Guanciale (gwahn-chyah-lay) is the shining star of some of the best classic Italian foods - and yet many Italian chefs don’t use it. A fatty cured meat made from pork jowl (it’s sometimes called “face bacon”), guanciale shares many similarities with pancetta, but it’s richer and a little less salty. It’s also one of five ingredients in an authentic carbonara - which is deceivingly simple to make.
Cook spaghetti in heavily salty water until al dente. Finely cube guanciale, then fry it until it’s golden, crispy, and the fat is rendered. Add the warm spaghetti to the pan, along with some reserved pasta water. Whisk eggs and parmigiano or pecorino (or both!) cheese in a bowl, and add to the pan (take it off the heat) and stir quickly. The eggs should thicken but not scramble - making a thick, cheesy, authentic spaghetti alla carbonara. Season liberally with fresh cracked black pepper, and eat absolutely all of it.
Guanciale can be difficult to locate outside of Italy or food-friendly urban centers. If it’s nowhere to be found, try substituting pancetta for bacon in your next recipe - it’s equally world-changing, and easily found at your local butcher.
If you’ve already tried yogurt, pickles and sauerkraut… then you’ve had fermented food! While the “yuck” factor can keep many people from expanding their palate, give it a try; fermented foods are both fantastic for you and can add an umami, funky punch to everyday dishes. Make some room for miso, tempeh, kimchi, and even pickles or yogurt on your plate!
When food is fermented, gut-healthy bacteria break down the sugars and carbohydrates, adding a pungent burst of flavour that can accentuate, or star, in many dishes. Most fermented foods are also great sources of vitamins (K2 and all the Bs) and probiotics, too - for much cheaper than a supplement.
You can easily incorporate fermented foods at home. Miso paste has a very strong, pungent flavour - so a little goes a long way. You can use it to make a delicious savoury-earthy glaze for fresh salmon. It Mix it with soy sauce (another fermented ingredient), rice wine, and ginger, and glaze then oven-bake the salmon. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds.
Not quite on the fermented bandwagon? Try lassi - an Indian yogurt-based drink sweetened with honey or sugar that’s often available in large-chain grocery stores. It tastes somewhat like drinkable yogurt, and it’s infinitely customizable. Add some fresh fruit, vanilla, or you can get creative with rosewater or lavender extract.
Curious about more great ingredients you've never heard of? Check out one of our cooking classes!