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4 Ingredients That Can Transform Any Bland Dish

Sambal Oelek

sambal-oelek sauce

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This Indonesian hot sauce is thick and fiery. You can use it on anything you'd pour sriracha on, but it also works brilliantly to spice up cocktail nuts, like the sambal oelek–roasted cashews in the following dish.

Sambal Oelek–Roasted Cashews

1. Toss 2 cups nuts with 2 tablespoons each sambal oelek and pure maple syrup and a tablespoon of olive oil.
2. Roast at 325°F until fragrant, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Snack on them, turn them into a crunchy topping for salads, grains, and noodle bowls, or chop them up as a crust for salmon. They even taste great on chocolate ice cream.

Photo: Sang An

Cold Rainbow Noodles with Spicy Sambal Cashews

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Take those spicy cashews from snack to salad by adding noodles and a colorful mix of veggies. This dish is vegan-friendly and takes 30 minutes from start to finish. (Here are more colorful recipes to add to your diet.)

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Photo: Sang An

Smoked Salt

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Plain salt makes an ingredient taste more like itself—add some smoke, and you've got a new layer of complexity. A pinch will give your meals a slow-cooked flavor. It'll bring a deep smoldering to veggies (hard to achieve in plant-based dishes) and salads (like the vibrant creation below). It can even amplify the natural sweetness of desserts.

Some other things that taste great with a pinch of smoked salt:

  • Spice rubs
  • Scrambled and fried eggs
  • Caesar, caprese, and citrus salads
  • Caramelized roasted carrots
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Chocolate bark

Photo: Sang An

Savory Melon Salad with Smoked Salt

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Come summer, you can't go wrong with a classic melon and feta salad. But adding an unexpected hint of smoke is where the real magic happens. You'll never go back, trust. (Here are five more genius ways to totally overhaul your salad game.)

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Photo: Sang An

Pickle Juice

cooking with pickle juice

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Your dills, sours, and cornichons marinate in brine that's deliciously acidic with sour, sweet, or spiced notes. Add it to dishes, and that bright hit will instantly invigorate your food while cutting through and balancing out richer flavors. (Instead of buying a jar, you can even try pickling your own fruits and veggies pretty easily.)

A splash of pickle juice will bring new life to avocado toast—same goes for a basic bean salad, roasted vegetables, and grilled meat. It's also a tangy boost to creamy dips and spreads. And go beyond pickles—the brines from sauerkraut and kimchi are delicious workhorses, too.

Photo: Sang An

Loaded Yogurt Dip with Pickle Juice and Spicy Green Herb Sauce

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Can't get on board with the tart flavor of plain Greek yogurt? Adding a little pickle juice changes everything. This creamy dip is bursting with flavor from herbs and serrano chili—and contains plenty of protein and calcium, thanks to the yogurt.

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Photo: Sang An

Pomegranate Molasses

pomegranate juice molasses recipe

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In Middle Eastern kitchens, this syrup is king. It's made by reducing pomegranate juice to a concentrated sweet-tangy molasses. And it knows no limits. You can drizzle a hint of the exotic flavor on ice cream, yogurt, and cakes, plus all the savory foods, too—like oatmeal. Add it to dips, meat (it's great on burgers!) and veggies, and you'll infuse them with a richness that changes the game. (More incentive to add it to everything: You score all these health benefits of pomegranates, too.)

Photo: Sang An

Pomegranate Molasses Berry Spelt Shortcakes

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The fruity molasses transforms this strawberry shortcake from "whatever" to "wow." The recipe also swaps in spelt flour for white, meaning more protein and a subtle nutty flavor. (And an excuse to go for seconds.)

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Photo: Sang An

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