Monday, April 15, 2013

Underutilized and Unappreciated kitchen ingredients.

Are you bored with your cooking? Tired of cutting yourself while peeling carrots? Has lettuce lost its appeal? Potatoes aren't giving you the flavour you need?

We all come across those cooking slumps where you feel like you've made the same dish over and over again, and you need some new inspiration. For me, that usually that means it's time to hit Chapters/Indigo and sift through the cookbook section. Or I consult with my friend T who will always present me with the most amazing food I've ever had and gladly hand over the recipes (like the duck and bacon soup).

Most of the larger grocery stores will usually carry quite a variety of fruits and vegetables, but how often do we just walk past them and only go for the ones we've had a million times?

Feel like being risky? Or maybe you just need to spice up an old favourite? Here are my top 10 ingredients that I think are underutilized and under-appreciated:

1) Not a veggie, but a spice: Star Anise. They're like cute little wooden twinkle starts that don't twinkle. If you like licorice, the smell is almost intoxicating. T also told me that when I'm making anything with ground beef and onion, to put 1-2 stars in with it because there is some magical chemical reaction that happens with the cooking onion and star anise and it seriously makes everything taste magical.
Star anise (image from

2) Parsnips: I like to think Parsnips are carrots' cousins. they kinda look the same except that parnsips are white. But don't let the colour fool you! They aren't like potatoes where white = bland. Parsnips are sweeter than carrots. I like to julienne them and put them in with my Fish en Papillote. Drizzle with EVOO, lemon and honey before baking, and they are incredible!

3) Turnips (aka turnups). Not only used by Italian plumbers who throw them at their enemies to kill them, turnips have an amazing transformation when you cook them. Just peeled and cut raw, they smell like horseradish, but once you cook/roast them fully, they turn into this incredible sweet and soft vegetable, perfect for stews, soups and sheppard's pie.

4) Kale: Kale is like the Zac Effron of vegetables. It's becoming more trendy, with kale chips being all the rage. The best tip about sauteeing kale, steaming it or baking it into chips is to massage the kale! Drizzle with EVOO and massage it into the leaves. And really, who wouldn't want to rub oil all over Zac Effron? Want to make kale chips? Cut the kale into smaller pieces, massage with oil, sprinkle with salt and then bake in a single layer on parchment paper for about 25 minutes at 350 F - flipping once half way. Bake until crisp, but not brown.

5) Okay this one isn't quite a "new" or interesting veggie, but I think it's completely different. Remember that episode of Friends where Pheobe tries to list all the different kinds of celery and she can only come up with "Regular celery"? Well Pheobe, there is another kind of celery which is unlike Regular celery and it's called "Organic Celery". I don't know why organic celery is so different, but it's amazing. It's firmer, not as cracked or damaged; It has more flavour and is greener (like the colour... not like the saving the planet) . It's like celery that has been on a paleo diet and been doing P90X for the past 6 months. It's super celery. Incorporate more celery into your diet and make it Organic!

6) Leeks. Leeks are the basketball players of the onion world. Like a giant green onion. Although they're not a crazy vegetable, we don't use them enough. Sautee them in a pan with cut up bacon (the real smoked side bacon kind, not the stuff you buy in a package at the grocery stores... go find a butcher.) and like star anise, the smell is intoxicating. You can also mix bacon with brussel sprouts and taste the magic.

7) Cauliflower. Again, not an exotic vegetable, but it is pretty boring. And what kid really says that they love cauliflower? So here are my tips: Steam it and mash it like potatoes, except that it will be superior to potatoes because it is actually filled with real nutrients. Make it creamy with a touch of coconut milk/cream and grind fresh pepper over it. OR take the raw cauliflower, grate it with a cheese grater, then cook it with coconut oil over medium heat for "riced" cauliflower - an excellent paleo alternative to rice in any rice dish you make.

Okay, I realize that there are only 7, but I'm having brain fog. I think it's time to go eat something before I get the "Kingitis" (low blood sugar in my family).