Oct 16, 2017

How can you add "interest" to mundane, everyday recipes?

There's lots of dishes that you might make everyday that might seem boring / easy. Like you know, tuna salad. Or grilled cheese. Or simple sauteed vegetables / meat.
Do you have any "secret" to making these kinds of dishes more interesting? Is there a rule one can follow, relating back to flavor / texture profiles of the ingredients, or does it just come with experience (ie cooking is an art form that can not be broken down to rules)?
My favorite is tuna salad--I add some spring onions and Haldiram's Moong Dal (image below) to my salad before I stuff it in toasted bread. The moong dal doesn't change the taste profile much while adding nice crunchy bits.

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Been doing for years...works with everything.
RayF
Hahahaha. I'm sure it does. Looks great too!
payodpanda
Thanks! Truth is I only recommend one, anymore than that and tend to forget dinner all together ;- )
Herbs, spices, sauces... I keep keto, so adding crunch is very difficult, but adding herbs and spices is pretty much free. It's incredible how much a cheese sauce can be improved with some freshly grated nutmeg. How some fish sauce and or vinegar stirred in at the end of a stew cook can brighten the flavor or boost the umami.

Adding something unexpected to things works well. A bit of cardamom and star anise to poached fruit or pie filling (parcook the filling with the whole spices, remove, assemble pie, bake), really increases the intrigue. Allspice in apple pie.

More herbs, more spices, more liquid additives... better cooking bigger flavor.
LeCheffre
I love the idea of your suggestions. I'm definitely going to try some of these out. I'm a big proponent for spicy food (ie flavorful, not hot), and always like experimenting with different combinations of flavors. I wouldn't have thought of combining star anise with poached fruit, for instance. I think it's brilliant! But coming from India we use certain spices in certain ways; the art (imo) is to break out of your mold and put pieces back together while letting go of your "conditioned" intuition.
I have to agree with other posts that mentioned incorporating a crunchy texture in with traditionally softer foods. Tortilla chip strips inside a burrito, amazing. A Vietnamese shop I went to recently had a very thin egg roll rolled inside of a spring roll and it was a pleasant surprise!

Until I recently became a decent gardener, fresh herbs didn't seem worthwhile for me since I never was able to use the whole purchased quantity before they would wilt and go bad in the fridge. Now I have access to fresh herbage but I've also found I've become much more heavy handed with herbs in cooking-- your tuna salad would love some thai basil or fresh mint. I think we have become used to seeing herbs as just sprinkled on garnishes but they make foods really pop with those strong aromatics.
Atnguy3n
Thai basil in tuna salad..........
Fresh mint in tuna salad....................

YES.
Another idea for tuna salad. Instead of mayo, use some Caesar salad dressing and then sprinkle in paprika. It gives a tangy, savory flavor and the paprika gives it a kick without it being overpowering like a cayenne pepper.
josh.russell
Dang I'm definitely gonna try that next time round. Love me some spice.
I add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or a handful of zest from either. Lemon zest makes for a really enhanced Chicken Alfredo
AustinBannister
Mmm lemon zest. I love adding it to my cocktails from time to time as well!
I've been liberally borrowing from other cultures. Not even in a fusiony way. But when you consider what roles an ingredient plays in that cuisine, simply transfer it to the same role in yours. Protein is protein, starch is starch, flavor is flavor.

So lately I've been having a lot of fun with the wide variety of noodles out there. Rice, green bean, mung bean, egg, good old water and wheat, and all the shapes they can take. Some absorb sauce, some don't, some take oil on as a sheen, just gotta experiment sometimes. But it certainly helps to have had experience and build technique with them. So do the canonical dish first, then figure out how you can incorporate different ingredients.

I've had success rediscovering vegetables and exploring new ones. Many of them open up in new ways given our current infrastructure and technology. Many vegetables are derived from the same ancestor (e.g., Brassica, nightshade) so can be somewhat interchangeable.

Some preparations are always good. I've dumped all manner of protein and starch together and added a spicy coconut milk-ginger sauce. There's just no way that can't be good.
b9d9ffdad3ac59e7f6f
"spicy coconut milk-ginger sauce"

Now that is something I'd like to try. Is this something you make yourself or is it store-bought?

I am still learning about various cuisines (just started living by myself a couple months ago) but yes I agree with what you said about the roles of ingredients in dishes. I tend to think of recipes that way too--instead of thinking about specific ingredients in recipes, I usually think about "hmmm what is this thing doing in the recipe?" and then try and think of other things that _I think_ might do the same thing. I think it comes with practice--I don't think I'm very good at this haha. But this is great advice, thanks!
payodpanda
It's made from some shortcuts. For 4 servings, mince 2 Tbl ginger, 1-12 cloves ginger, saute until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add 1 can coconut milk (light is fine), make sure to include the creme at the top and mix. Add 1 tsp sugar and cayenne to taste. Let simmer until the flavors meld.

If you have Chili Garlic sauce you can put in 2 Tbl of that and omit the ginger, sugar, and cayenne. Don't know what Chili Garlic sauce is? Check out this link: http://www.eatitatlanta.com/2008/10/30/chili-sauces-explained-sriracha-sambal-oelek-and-chili-garlic-sauce/ To me, sriracha is a condiment, while sambal oelek and chili garlic are cooking ingredients. Sambal oelek has more flavor-neutral heat while chili garlic is heat + garlic.
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The point is... Frank's Red Hot Sweet Chili is legit! :D


smallbit
Thanks, I'll give FRH Sweet Chili a try!
To me this is akin to adding chips to one's sandwich, an indulgence I frequent particularly for long hikes or days skiing on the mountain. That added crunchy texture is magic. Apparently we're "hardwired" to crave that crunchiness as during our evolution if a neanderthal was eating something crunchy it meant they were consuming fibrous and salutary vegetables.

We've been adding Kimchi to just about every dish we've made of late. Pickle your own in advance or buy a supply from the grocery store. Kimchi adds a great layer of flavor & spice to eggs, toast and stir frys. Highly recommend.

I wish I had a rule by which I could codify how to discover additions like this...looking forward to the responses of others!
ltopper
Gotta agree on the chips. One of my secret delights is making an "aloo bhujia sandwich"--Aloo bhujia is another Indian snack that tastes like chips but much better (completely unbiased) and spicy and tiny and amazing. Pack it in fresh bread with mayo and it's the weirdest good tasting combination I know of.

Kimchi suggestion is interesting, we always have some in the fridge but never thought of using it that way. Will try. Thanks!
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