5 Magic Ingredients for Your Kitchen

With hordes of cooking shows and celebrity cooks telling you about the “potential” inherent in every meal and ingredient, you can be forgiven for having Michelin-star expectations from simple weeknight pasta. However, whether you’re a Level 1 cook or Level 15, there will be days when the dishes you’ve prepared fail to measure up to these exacting standards.

The fact of the matter is that not every home cook can be a MasterChef. Yup, it’s true. Say it with me- “No, you can’t.” You don’t have to either. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to take an hour to prep your vegetables, and for your pie crust to sometimes be soggy. You don’t HAVE TO do Jamie Oliver proud with every dish.

Having said that, you do deserve food that brings you joy with every mouthful. Thankfully, this can be accomplished by having some ‘cheat’ ingredients at hand that will magically transform even the most blah-tasting dishes to contest kitchen status. So, keep these finishing ingredients close at hand for any cooking emergency. Your taste buds will thank you for it!

Lemon zest

The magic in the rinds that some of us have been throwing away unknowingly for years has to be tasted to be believed. Half a teaspoon of this can give fragrance to the blandest dish, and complexity to the already flavourful. And you don’t need a microplane zester or any other fancy equipment to make it either. Just wash your lemons and use your finest and sharpest grater to grate some of the yellow peel in (avoid the white).

Use: Whether it is savory food or sweet, lemon zest makes every dish more delightful. Grate over a curry to give it incredible freshness or a dessert to make it lemon-flavored.

Balsamic Vinegar

AKA vinegar with attitude. It tastes like a mixture of tamarind juice and vinegar. Sounds insane? It is – insanely good. Balsamic vinegar has an intense flavor and sourness that changes every dish it touches, making it instantly more palatable.

Use: Though it is usually seen on salads and pizzas only, balsamic does unspeakable goodness to pasta sauces, tomato-based gravies and Goan curries. Use sparingly (think drops), for it is rather strong and sour.

Caramelized onions

They are to savory foods what salt is to dessert – the pinch that makes the dish come alive in a whole new way (try a sprinkle of salt with chocolate milk today if you don’t believe us). You can try packets of fried onions available in stores or make caramelized onions yourself. Just try with a couple of sliced onions first. They may be a little time-consuming to get right, but they are worth it. Their sweet savoriness is incredibly moreish, and you’ll be putting them on everything before long.

Use: Caramelized onions can bring awesome-ness to pizzas, pastas, all sorts of breads (flatbreads included), and even traditional Indian dishes.

Freshly ground pepper

If you have any pepper powder in your house that came pre-ground from a packet, throw it out immediately. Seriously, it adds absolutely no flavor If you can, grind your pepper fresh over any (and every) dish. If you can’t swing that, buy whole pepper and grind it for yourself at home and keep. You won’t believe the difference it makes.

Use: Its pungency and flavor (yes, pepper has flavor) does favors to many dishes. Go beyond your eggs and pastas, and try using pepper in place of red chilies and green chilies in different recipes.


You know the saying ‘Butter makes everything better’? It’s true. Just a spoonful of butter is enough to add a subtle, rich flavor to any gravy or dessert. In cakes especially, butter brings an inimitable taste.

Use: With almost everything. Add a spoonful to plain rice to make it special or a vegetable dish to make it rich.  To keep things low-fat, substitute that last spoon of oil with butter when baking and watch people fight over the crumbs of your cake.

By Sweta Vinod

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