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Your favorite ingredient discoveries

Being an adventurous cook and eater, I often stray from the mainstream and into the food and cooking of ethnic communities. Along the way there are delicious dishes, recipes found in cookbooks whose authors are NOT famous here or on Amazon, and trips to groceries where you need a cheat sheet to navigate the labels. Then, off to the kitchen! There are good meals, failed meals, great meals, and every so often, a previously unfamiliar ingredient that becomes a cooking revelation that works its way into my own recipes.

Over the years I have been a great fan of Aleppo pepper (easily purchased around here, since there is a good-sized Armenian community). I love this stuff. It is warm and fruity without being biting or sharp. More recently I have adopted a related ingredient, Armenian-style pepper paste. It is made from the same peppers and blends completely into whatever dish you are making. (In case you look for this, it may be helpful to note that the pepper paste in my area's Armenian groceries comes from Turkey, not Armenia.) This stuff is killer in a vinaigrette made with olive oil, lemon juice, a touch of pomegranate molasses, and pepper paste and poured over a tomato, cucumber, feta, and olive salad. Mmmmm.

What are your favorite ingredient discoveries?

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  1. really interesting to hear about the pepper paste, have been wondering about it for years, but I can only get it in REALLY big jars -- does it keep well?

    I am with you on Aleppo pepper but have also recently discovered Maras pepper, which seems to me to have some more fruity undertones than Aleppo, and Urfa pepper which I believe is the smoked version of Maras pepper.

    Good sherry vinegar and organic apple cider vinegar were both revelatory ingredients to me in terms of making salad dressing.

    I can hardly wait to try your salad dressing on the suggested salad with local cukes and tomatoes and with good feta and olives from the Greek grocery!

    1. Gojujang!!

      The worlds most perfect condiment!!

      It's a slightly hot, salty, sweet Korean pepper paste. And it rocks the house.

      1 Reply
      1. re: C. Hamster

        Wow, I have a bottle of this in the fridge which I use for bulgogi but never thought to just use it as a condiment as it is meant for in most instances.

        1. Most recently it is shio koji. I've been reading about it on some of my favorite Japanese food blogs, but finally got around to cooking with it.

          “Shio-koji is koji that has been fermented in salt. It is a live food that is rich in enzymes and brings out the umami in foods. It can be used in place of salt in any dish or as an ingredient in sauces. The saltiness is mild and sweet. Using shio-koji instead of salt will lower the overall salt content in your food. With shio-koji you get the same salty flavor with less than 50% of the salt content.” http://www.kojiya.jp...koji/index.html

          So far I’ve made salad dressing, cucumber pickles and grilled chicken thighs with it. It tenderizes the meat and adds a savory and subtly sweet taste. I really like the results and have just purchased kome koji so I can make shio koji myself.

          6 Replies
          1. re: BigSal

            I've been intrigued by shio koji since reading about it in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle a few months ago, which was accompanied by some interesting recipes. I'd link to, but it's all behind a pay wall these days. I haven't bought any to play with, but will at some point.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              I believe I know the article you speak of and have marked some of the recipes the article highlights (grilled squid with shio koji and whole baked chicken with shio koji).

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                Good article with several recipes. You can see it if you search for it in an incognito google window.

              2. re: BigSal

                Sounds interesting... but what is koji? I'm unable to open the link you provided.

                1. re: AmyH

                  Never mind. I was able to find this really good article on what it is and how to make your own:

                2. re: BigSal

                  I tried it for the first time this week and love it--mixed it into a dressing and will grill chicken marinated in koji this weekend. It adds great flavor and happily H-mart stocks it now...

                3. I just came late to the preserved lemon game, and wish I'd gotten to them earlier! So far I've been mincing them and adding them to my frequent summer salads, both grain- and leaf-based

                  1 Reply
                  1. Not very exotic but once I used Maldon salt as a finishing salt nothing else will do. I carry it wirh me in a small jar in my purse. It really does make everything taste better.

                      1. There are just so many. I believe the discoveries of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, anise seeds, fennel seeds and turmeric are wonderful. Fish sauce was a very powerful discovery for me too.

                        Most of the more recent discoveries were bonito flakes. I don't use it very often, but it is quiet nice. Dried shrimp roes are not new to me, but I have started to use them more often in the last year.

                        1. Fish sauce.... I can't belive anything that tastes so foul on it's own can add some much flavor to everything...

                          It's umami in bottle... the more I use it, the more and more I use it.... just a touch... makes nearly everything better.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: sparky403

                            Yes...and shrimp powder. Shrimp powder and mushroom powder are .....like...... magic dust!

                            1. re: sedimental

                              Where do you find shrimp and mushroom powders?

                              1. re: tcamp

                                I buy the shrimp powder at my local Mexican market. They have all kinds.
                                I buy the mushroom powder on the spice isle of a kind of WF type grocery store.
                                You can make both. You can blitz dried mushrooms in a spice grinder (same with dried shrimp). I find dried shrimp (whole)in my Asian mart too.

                          2. It took living in Louisiana to finally learn the mysteries of roux.
                            From beige to dark chocolate hue, each had a place in the repertoire and it took much practice to make it correctly, as well as which worked best with which ingredients.

                            1. Anchovies - delicious in all things!

                              1. I'm going to go old school on you:

                                Nutmeg - fresh ground added to sauces and stews
                                ACID - not the LSD type but acid is the most overlooked flavoring component of food. I use several vinegar misters that add depth to many items right off the grill or out of the sauté pan.
                                Dried mushrooms - instant umami
                                Cheese rind in soups or stocks adds depth
                                Caraway Seeds (whole or ground) on top or mixed in baked items.
                                Wine (or sometimes a dark beer) - added to sauces soups and stews adds a depth to them that you cannot duplicate.