By Katie, Contributing Writer
Do you believe that cooking delicious and nourishing foods is possible even on a tight budget? Sometimes we overlook how much flavor some of the humblest foods in our pantry can add to our dishes. These 6 simple and frugal tips are practical and have been used by our ancestors and different cultures for generations. Unfortunately some of these have become a lost art in today’s modern society. You might even be surprised to find most – if not all – of these ingredients already in your kitchen.
Let’s celebrate the simple, flavorful additions we all can have access to on any budget.
Use homemade broth for better flavor
It seems that we are always talking about broth here at The Nourishing Gourmet. It is just so good that we just can’t keep sharing about it! Chicken stock is my favorite of all broths. It is light, delicate and the perfect base for soup, stews, stir frys and sauces. It’s considered a cornerstone of many cuisines because of it’s wonderful flavor. And who hasn’t been told to eat a bowl of chicken noodle soup to cure a cold? It’s often called the “Jewish Penicillin” because of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals found in it.
Homemade broth (stocks) are essential for making delicious and nourishing soups (Kimi wrote a whole book on soups and broths). They are easy to make and are a way for you to use up kitchen scraps that might have otherwise been tossed. Have you ever used a can or carton of broth from the store? Not only are they expensive but they also lack flavor. If that is what you are used to, I understand that you probably see nothing wrong with the flavor as our palates get used to certain flavors. Unfortunately broth from the store not only lacks flavor and nutrients found in the bones but it also has unnecessary added ingredients like sugar.
You can make a delicious chicken broth practically for free when you use bones and vegetable scraps. You can also follow this method for using whole pieces of chicken and vegetables which is still a more fugal and flavorful option than buying the pre-made verity.
Adding flavor with spices
The world of spices add variety and tremendous flavor to dishes. It can be as simple as a grind of pepper over chicken, to multi-spice curry creations. Many, many spices have also been found to hold incredible health and healing benefits, showing us once again how our tongue can guide us to good eating habits.
Spices found in the jars on the shelves of your local supermarket are a bit lackluster. By the time they’ve made it to your humble abode they can be void of flavor, potency and nutrition. When possible, it is best to buy high quality whole spices in bulk and grind/grate them yourself. One excellent company to buy spices and herbs from is our affiliate, Mountain Rose Herbs. (Kimi notes: I just found a bag of dried peppermint I bought from them several years ago, and it’s still incredibly flavorful! They have some of the freshest herbs and spices I’ve ever bought.)
There are some spices I prefer to buy whole in bulk and others I tend to buy pre-ground. When it comes to some spices such as cinnamon I keep both the whole sticks and ground on hand. (When you are searching for cinnamon be sure to purchase Ceylon and not cassia.) A few pre-ground spices I buy are curry powders, turmeric and cumin.
Dishes such as curries and many Indian dishes benefit from frying the spices for a few minutes before adding the remaining ingredients. It brings out a fragrant smell and rich flavor that would other wise be missing. Two great example of this technic are this garam marsala lentil soup with coconut milk and this simple Indian daalh (lentil) dish.
Adding flavor with fresh herbs
I love fresh herbs! I try to keep some of my favorite growing year round in my garden. If it’s too cold to grow herbs outside year round or if you don’t have space try growing a few small pots of herbs like basil, peppermint and oregano on a window seal. They add a complexity of flavor that is lacking in dried herbs. Adding add a bit of freshly chopped herbs on top dishes like this nourishing Thai noodle soup or fresh garden pasta give the dish added nutrition, flavor and beauty.
Adding flavor with traditional fats
Healthy fats are must in a nourishing diet for health, but they are also important flavor components. I love olive oil, pastured/raw butter and coconut oil like any other real foodie. Sadly they can be a bit pricey even in bulk. I count myself blessed to live in a Mediterranean climate so I am able to buy local olive oil for a reasonable price.
When I think of frugal fats I am immediately dawn into my grandma’s kitchen. I can see her pull her tin can out of the small cupboard by her stove that she used to to save leftover grease from frying bacon or sausage. Nothing went to waste. Back then I was squeamish over the thought, but now I see the wisdom she had. Whenever I make chicken stock I also skim the fat off the top after it is cooled. I buy pork fat to render my own lard. The best tamales and refried beans are made with fresh lard. There is a depth of flavor that just can’t be beat. If I’m roasting beef bones I scoop off the fat after it’s cooled to make tallow. If you have never tasted french fries made in tallow and sprinkled with real salt then you are missing out! Let’s not forget popcorn popped in a little bacon grease! To die for! If you ever have eaten much low-fat food, you know the lose of flavor that happens. Keeping healthy, traditional fats in our diets allows us not only to fill our body’s fat needs, but also makes our food absolutely delicious.
Adding flavor with unrefined salt
Yes, you heard me right, salt. It is that simple ingredient that allows a dish to shine. Once again, if you have ever eaten low-salt or saltless foods, you know much we rely on salt for well balanced flavor in our food. I tend to be a bit heavy handed on the salt shaker (actually I have a salt well) but I’m not that worried about it since I use a mineral rich high quality salt, Redmond’s Real Salt. Another excellent brand is Celtic Sea Salt or HimalaSalt. The body needs salt. Just a pinch (or few) goes a long way in adding drawing out the flavors in your dishes.
It’s easy in our modern days to take salt for granted, but wars were fought in the past over access to salt because it was traditionally held in such high regard. Our bodies need salt for health, and our food is more vibrant in flavor when well salted. It makes the sweet, sweeter, the spice, spicier, and is needed for a well balanced dish.
Adding flavor with onions and garlic
I cook with onions and garlic almost everyday. They are a simple, frugal, and delicious way to add flavor to dishes. I use them in salsa, stir fries, pasta, soups – you get the idea. Unless I am using them in salsa, I normally saute the onions and garlic in a bit of fat and sprinkle with with salt. They add a delicious taste that can’t be achieved in with raw. Caramalized onions take extra time but they are worth the effort to add that extra special touch to a dish. Both onions and garlic lay down a flavorful foundation for many dishes, from a simple salad dressing, to a complex stew. Don’t overlook the simple, frugal things in your pantry that, when proper used, add depth of flavor, and make your food shine.
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I love caramelized onions! And garlic in almost any form… and salt and spices… Okay, so I pretty much enjoy all the ways you listed of adding flavor to a dish.
I think it’s amazing how often just being at home all day and having the time to let things cook for a long period of time improves the flavor greatly. I’m thinking of caramelized onions here, but also soups and some other dishes that benefit from a long simmer time.
And if you can’t be at home all day, a slow cooker is a pretty good way to replicate that effect of taking time over the flavor of a dish.
I love to simmer soups, broths and sauces as well. Yum! 🙂 My slow cooker get such a work out!