Sexy Yet Baffling Ingredients You Need In Your Store Cupboard Now
The Debrief: Dried herbs, be gone! Things are about to get spicy in the kitchen.
As a generation we are thoroughly spoilt by the rich, varied cuisines available on the high street. Whilst our parents had little more than a Wimpy, a Beefeater and perhaps a few token Chinese or Indian restaurants, we now all fully expect to have the choice of Brazilian churrascaria, Lebanese and all manner of South East Asian food – even if its just in the form of Wagamamas or Giraffe – and can get quite sulky when confronted with the same sleepy suburban pub on a trip back home to see the ‘rents.
Never fear, take a trip down the ‘world food’ or ‘cooks ingredients’ aisle of your nearest supermarket and pick up some of these mystifyingly exotic bad boys to make properly authentic creations at home – no skill required.
1. Dried limes
Good for: tagine, stew, pilaf, rice, grains
Ignoring the fact that they look alarmingly like a gangrenous testical, this rock hard Iranian fruit is everything you need to perk any soup, tagine or stew up to Ottolenghi proportions. They’re left out in the sun for ages to develop an amazingly sharp but seriously aromatic flavour, so you only need one or two per dish. Either pierce the whole fruit and leave it in the cooking liquor to infuse, or grate it over towards the end of the cooking process. You’ll never look back.
Good for: risotto, soup, stew, pasta, eggs
This spiced Italian pork product is quickly amassing a cult following. Think of it as the new chorizo, but even more versatile. It comes in cubes, slices or in a handy jar in paste form – this is the best kind for cooking and has the bonus of keeping well in the fridge. Use it as the base for many a pasta sauce (think Arrabbiata, Ragu, Amatriciana) or add it into your scrambled eggs for a mindblowing new brunch dish. Spread it on toast, season your soups or stick it in your mac’n’cheese. You really can’t go far wrong with it.
Good for: pad Thai, various curries, aubergine
Tamarind is a tart South Asian bean-like fruit, which is usually bought pulped and then pressed into a kind of cake. To be perfectly honest, this one can take a while to grips with – it needs soaking and then further pressing and is just a bit too much of a faff. BUT give me a jar of it ready pressed and I’m well away: a teaspoon or two of the concentrated stuff will give your Pad Thai a new lease of life, and an aubergine curry with tamarind and coconut milk is the stuff of dreams. Fun fact: tamarind is the key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce – who knew?
4. Pomegranate Molasses
Good for: EVERYTHING. Ok, but particularly lamb, duck, fish, chicken, stews, marinades
If you’re only going to buy one of these bizarre ingredients, make it this one. Another Ottolenghi cupboard staple, this is pomegranate reduced down to a thick, deeply sweet and sharp syrup and can be used to make almost anything taste amazing. Add it to grilled or pan fried fish or meat either as a marinade or simply drizzled on. Or, a few spoonfuls in a chicken stew with some fresh pomegranate seeds will change your life.
Good for: pasta, risotto, eggs, salads, alone
Bottarga is the Sardinian version of caviar: a salted, pressed and dried roe of tuna or mullet that is served in flakes or slices to eat alone with good olive oil as an aperitif, or used as a cooking ingredient. We’ll do the latter. Buy the ready to use stuff (Waitrose definitely do it) and sprinkle it over risotto bianca, or some simple spaghetti in oil and garlic for the proper Italian experience. It adds an amazing flavour and texture to egg dishes too, if you’re feeling spendy. Cold white wine in hand: essential.
6. Rose Petals
Good for: Any Middle Eastern or Indian recipes, desserts, cocktails
These can be divisive, with many people finding the flavour too perfumed, but nobody can say they’re not pretty. Scattering these over a Moroccan or Turkish feast looks beyond beautiful, or you can go one step further and use them in actual tagines, pilaffs and pastillas for authenticity. Add a splash of rose water too if you’re feeling adventurous. A few rose petals in your Friday night fizz with a soupcon of lychee juice is also a very lovely thing.
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