One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive, is how can I create really flavourful dishes without spending hours in the kitchen? Does that sound like a familiar struggle?
So here's the thing, I don't think there's any dark art behind this, my secret is to lean on ingredients that already come with plenty of flavour built into them so that they do the heavy lifting for you. I consider them to be my own 'secret ingredients' and part of my tool kit for a high-impact, low-effort approach to cooking.
Here are my three favourite flavoursome, secret ingredients -
Chorizo is a Spanish sausage with a mellow, paprika spiciness. It can normally be eaten without cooking (check the packet to be certain) and it has a shelf life of 'very nearly forever' so it's a good thing to have stashed at the back of the fridge. The level of spice can vary a lot, so if you're not a fan of HOT, HOT, HOT avoid anything that says EXTRA on the label. When it cooks, it gives out a gorgeous, rich, red oil and the blend of herbs and spices from the meat combine effortlessly with the other ingredients. The result? ... a taste that suggests you've been impressive in the kitchen.
- It works beautifully with tomatoes in a pasta sauce.
- It will liven up a vegetable soup - sauté it with some onions at the start.
- It gives some kick to Loaded Potato Skins.
- It always pairs beautifully with eggs.
- It turns a simple, rustic chicken dinner into a flavourful delight.
Harissa is a fragrant North African chilli paste and with its strong, punchy flavour, it often removes the need to chop up onions or use garlic in a dish. It's easy enough to make your own harissa but jarred versions work equally well and are a powerful and discreet secret ingredient. Store it in the fridge once you've opened the jar.
- It gives roasted vegetables a bit of a boost (especially sweet ones like squash and carrots). Toss the chopped vegetables with harissa before roasting.
- It adds a spicy kick to a dressing for a midweek dinner.
- Spread it over chicken or lamb before cooking.
- Mix a little bit into hummus to take the flavour to the next level.
- Stir it through some rice to add delicious flavour to this surprising slow cooker salmon kedgeree.
- It perks up an everyday tomato pasta sauce or a tin of baked beans.
- Drizzle it over soup.
- Whisk it into natural yoghurt to make a great dip/dressing for grilled meats or salads.
Blitzing fresh herbs with nuts, Parmesan, lemon and olive oil has to be a gift in terms of flavour and its uses stretch way beyond the ubiquitous Pesto Pasta. Store-bought pesto is really useful, but once you've tried making your own, you may never go back. This secret ingredient definitely deserves a place in your repertoire.
- It's delicious on a piece of grilled salmon.
- It works well in these Tomato and Pesto Tarts
- I like it drizzled over the top of a soup (loosen some pesto with olive oil to make it runnier) or stirred into a vegetable soup to liven it up a little.
- It's a great addition to a chicken sandwich.
- A roasted vegetable sandwich seems lost without it.
- Sneaking a bit of pesto under the cheese on melted cheese on toast is spectacular.
- Stir it into mashed potatoes.
- Talking of potatoes, replace the traditional mayo in a potato salad with a pesto dressing.
- Use it instead of the traditional tomato sauce on a pizza.
- Drizzle it over roasted vegetables.
- Use it as a dip with vegetable batons + perhaps also some Pita Bread Crisps (to avoid feeling too virtuous).
- Serve a dollop with eggs (whisked into scrambled eggs or cooked with a fried egg (isn't that a TikTok trend?)
So there you have it, lots of ideas to add huge flavour without immense effort. What will you be trying first?