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Jul 30, 2013 04:32 PM

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.”

          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