Wednesday, March 2, 2011

10 Ingredients That Make Healthy Food Exciting

One of my nutrition pet peeves is when people assume health eating is boring and bland. In order to lose weight there is no mandatory sentence to steamed vegetables, dry salads and cottage cheese. If that were the case I’d be searching for another profession. Yet we can all get into a food rut. Below you’ll find ten of my trusted jazzer-uppers that I use time and time again.

Capers- I spent my childhood flicking capers off smoked salmon on Sunday mornings. I couldn’t fathom what there was to like about them.  The skinny bottle of capers and the tube of anchovy paste confirmed at an early age that my parents were nuts. Then, during my first pregnancy, I did a culinary about-face. I became a caper convert.  My favorite capers are Le Pain Quotidien’s wild mountain capers.  Capers are great in tomato sauces and of course with fish (including smoked salmon)

Caramelized Onions are so delicious it’s hard to believe they’re just onions. I love caramelized onions mixed into other vegetables such as mushrooms or as a filling in potatoes. This genius idea of cooking them in a slow cooker is from Justine at Full Belly Sisters

 Pickled Jalapenos- I’ve never met a pepper I didn’t like but pickled peppers are special. They’re great with black beans and also hard-boiled eggs. They’re not crazy spicy but add that perfect little kick to foods. I’ll admit, I don’t make them but here is a recipe if you’d like to try. 

Zest-I have only been zesting for a couple of years, I first started after watching Giada’s show. Giada may zest lemons (limes and oranges) in more recipes than any other human. If you are going to zest you will need a microplane (which you can use for fresh ginger too) and prepare to have your life changed. Smoothies, chicken and salad dressing will never be the same.

Maya Kaimal’s Spicy Ketchup-last week I told you about MK’s simmer sauces. Well, there’s another ingredient you need to own and it’s her spicy ketchup. I am not a ketchup fan but this is not typical ketchup at all. You can use it in place of ketchup but I prefer it as a cocktail sauce stand in with shrimp.

     Truffle Salt- I am generally not one for fancy salt. I have a brick-sized box of kosher salt that I use to refill a saltcellar on my counter. Truffle salt is fantastic though; the flavor is sensational.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit one of my favorite uses for it is on popcorn. It’s also great on omelets and scrambled eggs. It isn’t cheap but I’ve had the same Dean and Deluca jar for almost a year.

Hampton Chutney Cilantro Chutney-Years ago, I was over at my friend Meg’s apartment for dinner. I cannot tell you what we discussed that night. All I know is that I planted myself next to this green dip and must’ve polished it all off. I know cilantro is a divisive herb but if you are pro-cilantro you need to try this. It’s great as a dip but also fantastic rolled with turkey, drizzled on an avocado or mixed into tuna. The ingredients are rather interesting: cilantro, coconut, dates, chilies, ginger, lemon juice, a handful of spices and a touch of salt.

Tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, deserves a life beyond hummus. Tahini has a rich, creamy taste and works well as a salad dressing base. I also thin tahini and use it over greens, sort of like a creamless 
creamed spinach. Here are some other tahini recipe ideas from the New York Times.

Fig and Passion Fruit Vinegar-years ago I took a Balsamic Vinegar cooking class with my mother. Prior to that vinegar was reserved for salads exclusively. In class, we learned to pair various vinegars with cheese and even fruit.  Recently, one of my clients brought me a fig vinegar I love with fresh strawberries. I also have a passion fruit vinegar that works nicely with fish.

Pesto –in the summer I love making pesto.  I have a recipe I loved that incorporates arugula. In the winter, I cheat.  I buy pesto from Sauces n Love or Le Grand Pesto. I haven’t found anything that doesn’t go well with pesto.

What are your favorite jazzer-uppers?  Any uses for the ingredients above you want to share?  And are you pro-cilantro or anti?


  1. YUM! I must try that cilantro chutney, and the truffle salt, and the spicy fact, all of these suggestions sound delish! We tend to fall into food ruts in our home, so having some extras around would def be helpful! PS. Le Pain is one of my fave places to grab breakfast or lunch - their oatmeal is amazing, so much better than mine.

  2. Oh such great suggestions! I only tried capers a month or so ago and have to admit I did not like them. I think it had more to do with the fact that the wine sauce tasted off. Do you have any recipes in particular that use capers you could share?

  3. What a great list! I can't wait to try some of these. I too get irked when people say healthy food doesn't taste good. I love using caramelized onions on top of turkey burgers and in omelets. Pesto is great as a sandwich spread. And in addition to lemon zest, orange and lime are great as well.

  4. This was a great idea for a post, Lauren. You're right, a lot of people generalize that healthy eating means steamed, plain, etc. I think part of that is because people are always warned to "skip the condiments" when they are trying to watch their weight. Although mayo and sugary ketchup add up, these are some great ideas to add flavor to meals without adding excessive calories. A favorite of mine in this department is hot sauce. Tell me more about this fig and passion fruit vinegar...

  5. Great list! I still love that cilantro chutney and that was years ago when I first served it to you. Also adore MK's katsup, it can be hard to find but it's sooo worth it.

    You once shared a special balsamic kind of vinegar thing with me, can you tell everyone about that? I can't recall the name/brand but it was super tasty.

  6. I love every single item you have listed above! Haven't really got a chance to make my own cilantro chutney...but I am a huge fan of cilantro. In summer time, I love to use fruity vinegar for my salads, raspberry vinegar is my top favourite.

  7. Great list! I love using zest and citrus juice to make flavors pop. Over the last few years, I've been experimenting w/ a wide range of acids -- citrus juices, verjuice, flavored vinegars -- to add a little "something" to my recipes. i have an large collection of flavored vinegars now, but haven't tried the fig vinegar yet.

    Cilantro is the devil's herb. Yuck.

  8. Lauren, thanks for the lovely list! Adore truffle Salt and truffle oils and citrus zests!
    I am totally in love with fresh herbs. They add so much flavor, aroma, color and health, and now that it’s getting warmer I’m getting so excited about getting back to growing lots of them.

  9. Thanks so much for including my caramelized onions recipe! I keep reading about truffle salt and need to actually buy and try it. I agree with Dr. Ayala - fresh herbs are a great addition to nearly everything. My motto is "everything's better with chives!"

  10. What a great post! Since I have been experimenting more in the kitchen, I am also starting to experiment with different seasonings. I love your suggestions and an going to have to give them a try. I agree that healthy eating doesnt have to be boring.

  11. This post made my day!!! I am known as a condiment ketchup, mustard or mayo for me, but all your suggestions sounds great (expect capers--yuck!). Meg-I think the vinegar condiment is Compagnia Del Montale, it is so decedent and pricey, but so worth it!!! Drizzle is on some argula and fresh tomatoes and you will be in heaven. Have you been to the vinegar shop in Soho Market...Fig vinegar is incredible

    Thanks Lauren again for some great suggestions. With condiments like these in my house I will no longer be known as the anti-condiment. As for healthy eating being boring, I must protest...I have enjoyed food more in the last year as a foodtrainee then ever before, I have just gotten creative! Lauren, I like to try all your suggestions..especially the Glow cookies..have had to ration them out so as not to eat them all in one week!

    Thanks again for a great post and wonderful ideas. Love everyone's comments and suggestions.


  12. I love my microplane ... it's the only way I grate garlic (thanks Rachael Ray).

    That said, sometimes I want uber-fast garlic, and for that, I used dried, minced garlic (I get mine from Penzey's). My fave use is to sprinkle right onto a salad. Yum!

  13. Great ideas everyone. Beth- haven't used microplane for garlic but I do love Penzey's. Melanie, the fig vinegar I like is vincotto from Chelsea Market, is that where vinegar store is?

  14. Oops! Have soho on the brain from last night. It is Chelsea market and I love the vincotto Fig vinegar too. Can't wait to try the caramelized onions and pickled Jalapenos. Thanks for sharing all your great food finds! I have even started making and eating Kale chips....people at work keep saying "You eat so much, how can you be so thin"--an issue from your last post. I tell them to look at what I am eating!

  15. Worderful topic! I love the salt-free Chili power 3000/9000 at Penkeys. It's great over eggs and such for some extra flavor. I also like the basil oil at O&Co as a finishing touch on grilled or roasted veggies.

    I'l have to try the cilantro chutney; though I'm not sure I can get in Chicago.

  16. So many people truly believe that healthy eating isn't tasty eating!! Hopefully, they'll learn from people like you that it is tasty!

    I so need a microplane!

  17. Great post...and I sure learned about boosting flavors...thank you! :-)

  18. Love this list Lauren! My mind started racing with new ideas while I was reading it :)

  19. Truffle salt sounds awesome. I'm already a huge fan of caramelized onions and capers. Definitely have to start making pesto. And that vinegar!??!? I use white and dark balsamic vinegar on EVERYTHING. Gotta try some new ones. Thanks for this post!

  20. Lauren I love the choices you've made. I would add Sichuan peppercorns and Siracha sauce to the list. Then there are chipoltles in list goes on and on. I'm relatively new to your blog and just wanted you to know how much I enjoy the food and recipes you feature here. I always enjoy my visits.I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  21. Great list! Mine also includes:
    -Any & all fresh herbs, including cilantro. It's amazing what fresh herbs can do in a salad
    - Trader Joe's roasted bell peppers in a jar. Excellent in salads, eggs, sandwiches, spreads, etc...
    - Olives. YUM.
    -Lemons. Lemon water, lemon juice to dress a salad, lemon zest in baked goods, dressings, etc...

    It's amazing how easy it is to make healthy & nutritious food with the right ingredients!

  22. You have definitely included most of my favorites for adding flavor; these are great! I especially love truffle salt. Zaatar seasoning and furikake are also high on my list.

  23. You're absolutely right. There are so many wonderful ways to jazz up food. I say NO to capers-a little to salty for me, but a resounding YES to pretty much everything else on your list. That cilantro chutney sounds fabulous, and I am SUPER PRO CILANTRO. I seriously can't imagine how anyone can not like cilantro!

  24. oooh you are so right! pesto and jalapenos make food soooo exciting for me!!! ohmygosh yum!

    I'm glad you liked What I Ate Wednesday! It has been super helpful for me to reflect on my eats once a week and it's been fabulous for other bloggers too! =)

    Feel free to join in some time if you'd like! =) I'd love to have ya over at p&c!

    Jenn @ Peas & Crayons

  25. I am a big believer that healthy eating doesn't have to be bland!!!

    I totally love my microplane! And I also love ginger cut up into matchsticks added to a stirfry for added flavor.

    Fresh scallions are also a fave of mine that add a kick and keep me from the munchies. Lately I've been tossing them in a salad with kidney beans, avocado, walnuts and snap peas. So yummy!

    I am not a fan of cilantro, especially not fresh, but do love pesto and have also yet to find something that it doesn't work well with.

  26. Always good for me to be able to provide this information to patients. Great post! Lots of great information. Really like your blog. So glad that I found it.