Often something as simple as a sprinkling of salt or a squeeze of lemon can uplift any dish, even those that already pack plenty of punch. At times it's a job for something a little stronger like hot sauce. Here are a few easy ways to turn dinner from plain to pleasant.
The easiest, and often most effective, way to enhance the flavors of any dish is to add salt. Lightly sprinkle it on everything from soup to salad and from stew to steak. Even desserts can benefit from a dash of salt to counteract the sweet.
Another great ingredient to have in your repertoire is fresh citrus juice, especially lemon and lime (avoid bottled citrus juices, which can impart a fake, unappetizing flavor). A slightly unripe avocado is immediately perked up with a splash of lime juice, while that plain chicken breast or fish fillet can be transformed by a lemon wedge.
Often when a dish falls flat, it is simply screaming for more acid to balance out its flavors. Vinegar is the perfect ingredient to liven up an array of dishes. From balsamic to apple cider vinegar and from white wine to Champagne vinegar, they offer a variety of flavors to complement any number of dishes. Salads, soups, sandwiches, roast vegetables and meat can all benefit from a light drizzle of vinegar.
Herbs, both fresh and dried, act as more than just a garnish — they play an important part in finishing a dish and add great flavor. Add chopped fresh basil or parsley to tomato sauce, chopped cilantro to tacos or dried oregano to pizza. There's not a savory dish out there that can't be dressed up with the appropriate herb.
Used in moderation, butter can work wonders on a boring dish by adding rich flavor to mashed potatoes and a luscious taste to steak. We've all used it to bring out the flavor in corn on the cob, so why not add a pat to plain steamed vegetables or rice that needs revving up.
Sometimes a little cheese goes a long way. Grated Parmesan will amp up any Italian dish, while feta can turn a boring salad into an exciting international dinner. Dress up an under-seasoned burger with a slice of cheese and make any sandwich more exciting.
Condiments like mustard and ketchup aren't just for putting on your burgers and hot dogs. They can also help to add flavor and surprising depth to your meal. You can put them right on the food (mustard on chicken or sausage is common in some parts of the world), or you can stir them into a sauce or stew for a flavor boost.
When your dish needs heavy duty help, it's time to bring in the big guns. Hot sauce will bring any dish alive and make your taste buds dance. Tabasco, Frank's Red Hot, and Sriracha (plus hundreds of other varieties) all have distinct flavors that are great in different dishes.
Other ingredients you may not think of that can add flavor to any meal include bacon, fish sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Chocolate can give depth to chilies and stews, while honey might add that touch of sweetness that a dish is looking for.
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