Most people have a repertoire of about a dozen most often eaten meals. If your mealtime is suffering from a lack of culinary creativity, infuse your favorite recipes with new life. The right topping can change a humdrum dish into a culinary feast fit for a king.
Most cookbooks provide elaborate recipes requiring a lot of time and ingredients to prepare, but there are a variety of easy DIY dressings and sauces that will crown your everyday meals marvelously, and homemade dressings -- regardless of their simplicity -- always taste better than bottled. Here are a few ideas to inspire you:
The author and health expert Bernard Jensen encouraged us to eat a rainbow salad. Sure, it's a little more work to chop up vegetables or mix greens of different shades, but if you want nutritional value and especially taste, it's well worth the extra effort.
• Toss nutrient-packed ingredients into your salads such as sliced avocado, a sprinkling of raw or lightly toasted chopped nuts or seeds (such as hemp, chia, sesame or flaxseed), or crumbled feta or blue cheese (just a sprinkling for taste). For a hint of sweetness, add a few currants or dried cranberries.
• Top raw or lightly steamed greens with grilled or steamed red peppers, onions and potatoes, and any of the dressings listed below.
• Add some protein to turn your salad into a main course. Good protein sources that nicely accompany greens include quinoa, chicken, tuna, salmon and goat cheese.
• Occasionally prepare a vegetable salad without greens.
You can't go wrong with these salad dressings. They're easy to prepare and require only a few ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to each if desired. Otherwise, simply whisk ingredients together and serve.
• Balsamic dressing: 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of water or maple syrup.
• Flax dressing: 2 tablespoons flax oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup or honey.
• Tahini dressing: 1/2 cup tahini, 2 tablespoons of water, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1-2 cloves crushed garlic.
• Olive-Lemon: 2 tablespoons olive oil, a generous squirt of fresh lemon juice.
These recipes require a few more ingredients, so save them for special occasions or for when you feel like treating yourself. They're well worth the extra effort.
• Yogurt herb dressing: 1 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup light mayonnaise or mayo substitute, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley and/or dill. This recipe also works well in pasta and potato salads.
• Blueberry vinaigrette: You'll need a blender for this one. 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/4 cup of plain yogurt, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon or lime juice, 1 cup of fresh blueberries, divided. Mix half the blueberries together with all of the other ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. After preparing your salad, as the piece de resistance, sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of blueberries over top.
Feeling Saucy? Toppings for Pasta, Fish,-Poultry or Meat
These easy toppers will tantalize your taste buds and impress even the fussiest eater.
• Tomato sauce: 1 cup of chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, a teaspoon of olive oil, 1 large or 3 small garlic cloves, crushed or chopped, and 1 tablespoon of fresh basil or half a teaspoon of dried (optional).
• Coconut milk: For 2 servings, saute fish or chicken in half a can of coconut milk. Use the whole can for 4 servings.
• Garlic-herb: 1/4 cup of olive oil, 3 cloves of fresh crushed or chopped garlic, a pinch of fresh basil or oregano, freshly grated black pepper.
• Yogurt-dill: For an exceptional accompaniment to fish, mix 1 cup of plain yogurt (low- or full-fat) with 1/2 cup of fresh dill (fresh is essential). For additional nutritional value, reduce the amount of yogurt to 3/4 of a cup and add in 1/4 cup kefir or quark. This sauce tastes even better if it's prepared a few hours ahead of time.
In a pinch, these will make a lackluster dish delish:
• A drizzle of soy sauce
• A tablespoon of miso paste
• Hot sauce
• A squirt of fresh lemon, lime, or orange juice
Forget about having the same old boring chicken dish tonight. Bake chicken breasts topped with pineapple slices or with mango salsa on the side. Sound good? Here are some more ideas:
Spices such as paprika, ginger, and chili powder can perk up a meal while reducing the need for salt. Chopped fresh or dried herbs give your meal and health a boost. There are many to choose from: parsley, mint, dill, basil, chives, cilantro or oregano, rosemary, or thyme.
Or go raw with any of these ingredients:
• Green onions
• Chopped olives
• Chopped jalapeno chili
• Sliced mango or pineapple
A few other favorites:
• Roasted red peppers
• Chopped garlic or onion sauteed in olive oil
• Chopped nuts (walnuts, peanuts, almonds) raw or lightly toasted
• A generous sprinkling of nutritional yeast (a substitute for parmesan cheese)
• Grated raw or toasted coconut
• Chopped pine nuts (lightly toasted if you prefer)
• A quarter cup of crumbled feta or blue cheese.