If there's one thing I hear over and over again from readers, students, neighbors or almost anyone who cooks, it's how easy it is to get bored with the same old meals we find ourselves making on a regular basis. It's easy to understand, and I run into the same problem myself.
Most of us have a mental list of dishes that we turn to when we don't have the time or the inclination to experiment with something different. The problem is that the list is often short and our tastebuds' memory is usually long. That's when the boredom sets in.
My good friend and colleague Carla Snyder always talks to her cooking students about having "gold in the refrigerator." The "gold" she refers to are dressings, sauces or condiments that you keep on hand to use in a million ways that add a little spark to an otherwise rather basic dish. One of her favorites is tapenade, a coarse paste made from briny olives, anchovies, garlic, herbs and olive oil. As you can imagine, it's intensely flavored and you need only a dab, but it can transform a familiar dish into something, well, different.
Carla's phrase has stuck with me over the years because it rings so true. I always have a few things in my refrigerator or pantry that I can turn to quickly to add a new flavor dimension to whatever I'm making. A quick poll of some of my professional food pals tells me that they do, too. The response was enthusiastic and ranged from Sriracha sauce (a type of Thai hot sauce) to pesto to tomato jam.
A versatile flavor
One of my personal favorites is chimichurri sauce, an Argentinian herb-and-garlic sauce that is a flavor powerhouse. Consisting primarily of parsley, cilantro, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar and olive oil, the sauce is traditionally used as an accompaniment to grilled meat, but it also works wonders on virtually anything.
Much like tapenade, its flavor can seem too assertive to be eaten by the spoonful. But when draped over a grilled flank steak? It's heaven.
I find myself making it in larger-than-necessary batches so I can turn to it over the course of the following few days to bring new life to everything from roasted vegetables, salads and sandwiches (it will rock your plain Jane turkey sandwich world) to scrambled eggs.
So the next time you see your family yawn at the idea of another night of grilled chicken, all you need to do is go for the gold.