Top 10 Ingredients that Will Make Your Meals Pop

Want to add more pizzazz to your meal but don’t want to compromise on nutrition? Not a problem, when you select any of the following ingredients to spice up your next meal.

Fresh Herbs:

Ditch the dried, bottled spices and get thee to your local produce aisle (or, even better, farmers market) and pick out the real deal: fresh, all-natural spices. Select fresh basil for an Italian-inspired salad of mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes or in a marinade for meat or grilled vegetables using 6 tbsp olive oil, 3 tbsp minced basil, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 clove of garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Other popular fresh spices include dill, which is particularly tasty when added to sour cream as a vegetable dip or sauce for poultry and fish. A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, meanwhile, can be combined with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of onion powder as a sauce for oven baked chicken or combined with salt, pepper and 1/3 teaspoon of nutmeg to add an interesting flavor to oranges.

Fresh Garlic:

Although it’s not likely to win you any friends, adding fresh garlic to…well, just about everything, makes it taste just that little bit better. For a delicious salad dressing (or a meat marinade) that will satisfy even the most discerning of tastebuds, combine 1/3 cup oil, 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, 1 crushed clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon of A1 steak sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Use garlic to add zip to steamed or sautéed vegetables (asparagus, spinach, kale, broccoli and cauliflower particularly come alive with a touch of garlic) or add to a simple marinara sauce or pesto sauce to top off your next baked spaghetti squash. Alternatively, try roasting the garlic and then slathering it under the skin of poultry before roasting to add a unique flavor.

Indian Spices:

Love Indian food but hate all those heavy rice and bread dishes? Not to worry – there’s plenty of things that you can do with the spices that won’t compromise your nutrition goals. Consider combining curry powder, for example, with natural Greek yogurt and a touch of lime juice to create an East Indian marinade ideal for chicken (for best results, add in last 5 minutes of cooking) or as a dipping sauce for vegetables (of the hot or cold variety). Curry powder can also be used to add spice (literally!) to devilled eggs, egg salad or chicken salad or to liven up soups. Popular Indian spice garam masala (a combination of cardamom, cloves, cumin and cinnamon), meanwhile, can be added to creamed spinach or to add flavor to lamb or shrimp dishes.


Once relegated to sushi and the odd slab of tuna, wasabi is stepping out as one of the hottest (both literally and figuratively) spices in the kitchen! In powder form, wasabi can be added to cashews and walnuts to spice up snack time, or combine 1 tbsp dry wasabi with 1 tbsp soy sauce, 3 tbsp rice vinegar and a drop of oil to make a seriously delicious salad dressing. Another great recipe, meanwhile, is a meat or cooked vegetable wasabi aioli dip. To make, blend 2 egg yolks, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp wasabi and 1 clove of garlic in a mixer. Slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil and blend until mixture thickens.

Fresh Ginger:

Another sushi staple, fresh ginger can add flavor way beyond a run-of-the-mill California roll. For a tasty, Asian-inspired salad dressing, combine 2 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh peeled ginger root, the juice of one lemon, a drop of oil, 1/2 tsp soy sauce and pepper in a food processor until blended thoroughly. Allow to stand for 30 minutes before serving. For a quick and simple stir fry, lightly steam 1 bunch of broccoli florets and then stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until tender. Add 2 tsps grated fresh ginger and 1 clove of garlic and sauté for 60 seconds. Then add 2 tbsp soy sauce and 1 tbsp dry sherry, top with 3 tbsp slivered almonds and serve. To add Asian-flare to fall-themed soups, try this recipe for creamy carrot and ginger soup: Trim 1 1/2 pounds carrots and cut into 1” pieces, transfer to pot and add 4 cups of water and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, reduce and cook uncovered for about 35 minutes or until carrots are very soft. Meanwhile, peel one 5” piece of fresh ginger and grate coarsely. Wrap grated ginger in a paper towel, squeeze to extract juice and discard grated ginger. Transfer cooked carrots to food processor and puree until smooth. Slowly add cooked water, ginger juice and 5 tbsp of heavy cream as you process. Pour mixture back into pot, add salt and pepper to taste and heat thoroughly.

Chili Peppers:

On the most obvious level, chili peppers are a great ingredient in carb-friendly chili dishes, but there culinary uses are far more extensive. Dice up jalapenos to spice up your next omelet or salad or as a topping for oven backed chicken or cooked cabbage dishes. For a decidedly more spicy take on warm nut mixes, combine 3 cups pecan halves, 2 tbsp melted margarine, and 1/2 tsp each of ground cumin, cayenne pepper, ground thyme, ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste and heat in 350 oven for 15 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Another great pepper-based recipe is a lima bean (which although high in carbs, contain a hefty dose of fiber to offset their glycemic index) and peppers, recipe that combines 10 oz cooked baby lima beans, sautéed green and red pepper strips (about ½ cup each) and one finely chopped cayenne pepper. It’s a recipe even your kids will enjoy!


A discussion of chili peppers wouldn’t be complete without giving salsa an honorable mention. And, while, there’s always tomato salsa, what fun is that? Instead take a walk on the wild side with some of these unusual salsa mixes. For a fruity – yet low sugar – salsa, zest 4 tbsp of orange and then peel and cut (removing any white pith) the remainder. Then coarsely chop 2 cups of fresh cranberries and throw in a bowl with orange. To this mixture, add 1/4 cup of minced onion, 2 tbsp minced cilantro, 1 tbsp minced ginger root and minced chilies (jalapeno or Serrano work best) and mix until blended. Let sit 3-4 hours before serving. Another innovative salsa recipe that is sure to become a summer-time favorite is cucumber salsa that tastes amazing when paired with grilled chicken or fish or as an accompaniment to Greek-inspired salads with crumbled feta. To make, remove seeds of 1 large cucumber, chop and place in mixing bowls. To that, add 1 clove of minced garlic, 2 tbsp diced poblano chili pepper, 1 tbsp diced onion and 1 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro. Then, stir in 2 tbsp lime juice, a splash of oil, 1 tbsp grated lime zest and salt and pepper to taste.


If the Brits got one thing right, it’s that vinegar can go with just about anything! A foundation for many a salad dressing (just look at how many times it got a mention in the above posts!) vinegar also serves as a great dressing for warm vegetables. For roasted vegetables, combine 1 quart of red wine vinegar with 1 handful or dried, crushed rosemary sprigs. Bring to boil in non-reactive pan, simmer 8-10 minutes, and then pour into mason jar. For best results, let sit for two weeks so that flavors mingle. Balsamic vinegar, meanwhile, can be used, as is, to add flavor to asparagus, broccoli, even raspberries or strawberries.

Citrus Juice:

Much like vinegar, citrus is another popular ingredient in salad dressings, roasted vegetables, meat marinades, salsas and more. Some of our favorites here at MDA? A chili lime sauce perfect for poultry and fish made by combining 7 medium minced garlic cloves, 2 tbsp salt, ¼ cup fresh lime juice, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp sugar, 1 1/2 tsp ground chipotle chili. Another popular sauce perfect for summer veggies? A lemon caper sauce made with 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 2 tbsp minced red onion, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp chopped drained capers, 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme and 1/2 tsp grated lemon peel.


A little dab of butter never hurt anyone, so don’t be afraid to use it to add flavor to just about any dish! What to avoid? Using so much butter that your vegetables are literally awash in oil and lose all signs of freshness!

Now, what was that you were saying about another boring dinner??

(nz)dave, Muffet, Frenkieb, Hello Serjiy, y x l, nicodeemus1, Zeetz Jones, Felicea, ccsdteacher, tiny banquet committee Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

More Tuesday Top Ten Lists

SlashFood: Spice Gun

Modern Forager: How to Buy Herbs and Spices

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