Is it weird that I do a happy dance whenever my grocery store stocks a new, unusual product? (Probably. We’ll pretend I didn’t mention that.) I’m an adventurous eater, and that’s a trait I’d LOVE to pass on to my kidlets…someday. Hopefully. It’s a work in progress!
As I was saying, interesting ingredients just seem to jump off the shelf and into my cart on their own. It must be some kind of dark magic. And the moment fresh artichokes or beets or a gorgeous leg of lamb cozies up to my usual, pre-planned groceries, dinner ideas start whirling around in my brain. I love the challenge.
But it can be hard to add new foods to your cooking rotation when you’re not used to them—especially if you don’t have my quirky compulsion to Cook All the Things! It’s intimidating to find new dinner ideas for those ingredients…but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve put together a list of the top 10 foods you might not have tried yet (but really-truly, you should!), along with recipes to get you over the what-the-heck-do-I-do-with-this hump.
Take a leap of faith with me here. The results are going to be delicious.
- Fresh Artichokes
If you see these gorgeous rosette-like veggies at your market, GRAB THEM. Then do like I do: Snip off the top, base and any pesky thorns with kitchen shears, boil them in a pot of water for half an hour, then sprinkle mozzarella between the warm, tender leaves and coat the whole shebang in egg and cracker crumbs. A little pan-frying later, and voilà: Cheese-Stuffed Artichokes. (And if you’re new to the artichoke game, you eat them by removing each leaf and using your teeth to scrape off the tender interior and all the accompanying cheesy, crumb-coated goodness. Don’t bother eating the tough exterior of the leaf—just toss it.)
- Chimichurri Sauce
You might have spotted jars of this bright green, cilantro-starring sauce in the Hispanic foods section of your store, and I’m not bashing them. They’re great in a pinch. But honestly, this spicy Argentinian specialty is just about effortless to make at home, and the taste is so. much. fresher. This garlicky homemade chimichurri recipe is my go-to, and it comes together in all of five minutes. Use chimichurri sauce as a marinade for pork, chicken or beef, dollop it on pasta in place of pesto, or slather it on grilled meats like these amazing Shortcut Shortribs.
- Curry Paste
Don’t even get me started on my love for this divine blend of chilies and spices. Curry paste has a magical ability to kick up the flavor in virtually any dish. You can transform too-bland soups or dips or even cold salads (think sandwich fillings like tuna and egg, or side dishes like potato salad and coleslaw) by mixing in a teaspoon or so. And yes, you can use it to make traditional curry dishes, like this weeknight-perfect Thai Curried Tilapia Skillet. But the dinner ideas are almost endless, so think outside the wok!
Lamb too often gets a bad rap as a “fussy” dish, but the fussiest part of this Stuffed Leg of Lamb is butterflying the meat—and I ask the butcher to do it for me! (Seriously, ask! It’s kinda in the job description.) Then just lay the meat flat, spread it with some stuffing mix you’ve jazzed up with sautéed mushrooms and mozzarella, and roll that sucker up, tying it periodically with twine to keep it in a nice, compact log. Don’t skip the stand time before serving; letting the lamb rest under foil keeps the meat warm while the juices redistribute. It’s the perfect special-occasion dish, and trust me—it’s totally achievable.
- Arborio Rice
I’ve seen competitors on reality TV cooking shows physically tremble at the mention of that supposedly finicky ingredient, Arborio rice. This super-starchy rice is a NECESSITY for creamy risottos, and creamy risottos are a necessity of life. But I’ll let you in on a little secret that tames this wildest of rice: Stir whenever you add liquid. It’s that simple. Stirring helps the rice absorb broth and wine evenly, preventing crunchy pockets of uncooked rice, and it also helps the rice grains release starch, resulting in risotto’s characteristic ultra-creamy texture. For a truly knock-their-socks-off variation, I recommend this Bacon and Mushroom Risotto.
I was a tofu-doubter once, too—I get it. But stick with me here, and you’ll see that this humble, oft-misunderstood protein is about the most versatile food around. Extra-firm tofu fries up crispy and golden brown, perfect for coating in whatever sauce you please…and the saucy, Thai-inspired flavor in this Vegetarian Stir-Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce is immensely pleasing. Or you can go the dessert route by blending silken tofu with marshmallow creme, milk and a couple forms of chocolate to make a luscious Chocolate Tofu Mousse that’s better for you, too. Win-win!
- Salmon Fillets
If you’re bypassing the seafood section because preparing fresh fish fillets seems difficult and mysterious, then watch this video on how to take the skin off salmon and let’s fix that right now. There is NO REASON to go without buttery, perfectly cooked salmon fillets in your life. None. And if you’re looking for the perfect dish on which to practice your newfound salmon-prepping skills, you can’t go wrong with this super-quick Pan-Seared Salmon Puttanesca featuring a briny olive and caper sauce. Easy-fancy dishes FTW!
- Fresh Beets
Step away from the canned beets…please. (Pretty please? I promise it will be worth it.) The key to fresh beets is to roast them: It produces an entirely different taste experience than digging into a slice of the canned stuff. You’ll end up with super-sweet, intensely flavored beet slices that are simply perfect contrasted with sharp radishes and salty feta in a Roasted Beet & Carrot Salad. Need a little help choosing the freshest beets at the store? There’s a beet guide for that!
Don’t be scared by scallops. They’re pretty cute and inoffensive, really. And considering scallops require practically zero prep (no skin, shells or veins to worry about), they’re just about the easiest type of seafood to make at home. Try these four-ingredient Bacon-Wrapped BBQ Scallops for starters; just wrap ‘em in bacon and thread them on skewers before tossing on the grill and basting away! And if the weather prevents outdoor grilling, just use a stovetop grill pan.
Oh, jicama: So many people love your mild crunch in restaurant dishes or on appetizer trays, but never buy you at the store. I weep. But seriously, prepping jicama is as easy as prepping a potato: Peel it, then cut however you’d like. Then the possibilities really open up! Make an easy Orange-Jicama Salad by cutting jicama into matchsticks and tossing with mandarin oranges, red onions and a zippy dressing. Or dice this lightly sweet root and add the crunchy cubes to fruit salsas or fresh pico de gallo. You can add jicama to stir-fries or veggie salads…and yes, if you’d really like, you can slice it up for a veggie tray.