- A bag of uncooked rice is great, but cooked rice will save you on busy weeknights.
- Eggs can work in every course of every meal.
- Nutritionists have found that frozen fruits and vegetables have comparable nutrient levels with their fresh counterparts.
- Soy sauce can season anything you want it to.
If there’s one thing you learn in a professional kitchen, it’s how to think on your feet regarding ingredients. Working in a kitchen taught me to use the ingredients we already had stocked in new and creative ways in order to save time and money.
From canned tomatoes to eggs, here are 10 versatile ingredients and how best to use them.
Eggs work well by themselves or with almost any other ingredient.
Best loved for their brunch-time versatility and key roles in many of your favorite baked goods, it’s easy to forget just how good a savory frittata can be at dinner.
A fried egg can make a decent burger even better and never underestimate the power of eggs in classic sauces like bearnaise that can go with just about any protein and veggies you like. From fish or steak to asparagus, green beans, or potatoes, just a dollop can brighten your whole meal.
Read more: 11 delicious ways to eat eggs for dinner
Whole potatoes can become almost anything.
- Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Potatoes aren’t just full of carbs; they’re also full of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. As registered dietitian Ryan Raman wrote for Healthline, there’s a lot of nutritional value in potato skins so keep those peels on for the biggest nutritional benefits.
Shred them into hash browns or potato pancakes, boil and mash them to make mashed potatoes, croquettes, shepherd’s pie or cut and season and bake as wedges for a healthier French fry alternative. They’re also great in soups and stews and if you’re feeling ambitious, you can always try a gnocchi or pierogi recipe.
If you want to thicken a sauce, soup, or stew without using wheat flour, just incorporate potatoes. Their starchiness will thicken your finished product by itself. Instant mashed potato flakes or potato starch can also work this way in a pinch, but you don’t need either of those potato products to do the same thing if you have whole potatoes in the house.
Canned chickpeas are a powerhouse plant protein just waiting to happen.
A good hummus recipe works as a tasty snack or small meal when paired with pitas, crackers, and veggies but crispy baked chickpeas, like these from Minimalist Baker, also make an ideal salad topping or snack. After you roast them in the oven with your favorite seasonings, they take on a delicious nutty flavor.
If you’re worried about opening a can of chickpeas but not being able to use them all in one meal, keep them refrigerated in an airtight container and throw them on top of salads.
If you’re vegan or interested in vegan baking, keep the canned chickpea liquid – called aquafaba – to whip into an airy froth in baked goods in place of egg whites. Please note that although chickpeas themselves are full of protein – 3 grams per ounce, according to Healthline – aquafaba is not.
Canned tomatoes are good for more than just chili and sauce.
- Kathleen Elkins
There’s nothing like a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato on a BLT or in your Caprese salad, when they’re in season. But if you’re planning on cooking with tomatoes, as opposed to eating them fresh, it’s best to opt for canned ones.
Stick to canned tomatoes that are just seasoned with salt and add your own basil, oregano, or other herbs as each recipe demands.
Soy sauce is excellent for seasoning and punching up flavors.
It’s bursting with umami flavor and also has at least some salt, even in reduced-sodium varieties.
Although there are tons of different soy sauce varieties associated with different cooking traditions across Asia, it’s a condiment that’s rarely used by itself. Instead, it’s a component of many dipping sauce recipes for dumplings and noodles.
The next time you’re cooking, try reaching for the soy sauce instead of the salt to add flavor depth in addition to seasoning. Use a small amount of soy sauce to boost the flavors of your dish and remember, you can always add more if you need to, but you can’t take it out if you accidentally add too much at once. It’s also good in salad dressings.
Dijon mustard comes in handy for much more than just sandwiches.
Homemade vinaigrettes benefit from a spoon of dijon mustard to help them emulsify. Without it, oil and vinegar don’t like to come together into a tasty unit with which to season your greens.
But it’s also very good for baking savory tarts, especially a beautiful fresh tomato tart like this one David Lebovitz when fresh tomatoes are at their peak.
Epicurious also has double-digit suggestions for dijon mustard use, to which I’ll add one more – use it to mix up your own tonkatsu sauce, a delicious Japanese barbecue sauce that you’ll want to put on everything.
Butter is good for much more than baked goods or toast.
Shortbread and croissants aside, most people know you can cook with butter. But from hollandaise to beurre blanc, so many sauces are either butter-based or can be heartily improved by using butter.
Compound butters can greatly improve most proteins or even just fancy up your bowl of mashed potatoes. If you’re someone who likes to grow fresh herbs in your window, you’re already halfway to compound butter and you might not even have known it.
Keeping cooked rice in your fridge is like a present to your future self.
- GI15702993/ iStock
A bag of uncooked rice in your pantry is one thing but cooked rice in an airtight container in your fridge means you’re already most of the way to something quick and tasty.
Throw your favorite proteins or veggies on top, make a bowl of fried rice, top with a fried egg and some furikake, or use to make rice pudding for dessert or breakfast.
If you’re cooking up some rice with the intention of keeping it in your fridge for those hectic weeknights, consider pressing some of that freshly cooked rice into burger buns, like these from Just Bento. They also freeze well and are ready for all your favorite burgers. If you like rice and/or are avoiding gluten, this is probably the easiest gluten-free bun you can make.
It’s worth noting, however, that, according to the NHS, leftover rice has the potential to make you sick and should be cooled within one hour of making it.
Plain yogurt can add a delicious tang to just about any recipe calling for milk or sour cream.
If you choose Greek-style yogurt, you get more protein in each serving, according to SF Gate.
Try substituting it for milk in that pancake recipe, or to cream up your buttermilk ranch dressing. It’s also great in mashed potatoes instead of mountains of sour cream and butter. Also unlike sour cream, you can mix a cup of yogurt with honey and/or fruit for a tasty snack or dessert.
Frozen veggies are good for more than just icing bruises.
Unless it’s the peak season for specific fresh vegetables, you might even be better off with frozen vegetables, as far as flavors are concerned. Tomatoes, lettuces, and cucumbers don’t freeze well but most other vegetables do.
They’re good for you, too. Nutritionists have found that frozen vegetables are comparably nutritious to fresh.
Fiona B. Lewis, DrPH, MS, RDN, LDN, chef, and founder of LLBJ Culinary and Wellness Enterprises LLC and Chef Enthusiast previously explained to INSIDER that vegetables destined to be frozen are picked at a time when their nutrition and freshness is optimal making them a nutritious alternative to their fresh counterparts.
Bon Appetit even went out on a limb and said they think frozen peas might even be better than fresh peas most of the time.
Plus, since they’re usually already cut, they’re ready for you to use when you’re too busy and tired to deal with cutting up fresh vegetables.
So get some frozen chopped spinach and class up your mac and cheese – it’ll taste good and be more nutritious.