Flavour is subjective, but there are a few tips and tricks for really bolstering and getting the most out of your mealtimes. These are perfect items to have ready and waiting in the fridge or cupboard, to add that extra something and make dishes really sing. You don’t have to go out and buy all of these, but if you can get your hands on just one or two you’ll really notice the difference.
Spices can really make or break a meal – use spices in your everyday cooking for some added oomph and flavour, and don’t be afraid to experiment with a whole array. Turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, mustard and coriander seeds and, of course, chilli (ground and flakes) are some of our favourites.
Dried herbs are a wondrous thing. The delicate, light flavours associated with fresh will have disappeared, but in return, you’ll experience savoury, robust, comforting flavours, which when added to soups, stews, sauces, breads and pulses have the ability to elevate a dish to the next level. They’re super-convenient too.
Like any chilli paste or oil, harissa brings a wonderful background warmth to a dish. Made with ground spices and dried herbs, sometimes with preserved lemons or rose water, it adds a ray of sunshine to all kinds of dishes, such as tagines or roasted veg. Definitely one to look out for!
Pickles, chutneys & preserves
These provide layers of flavour, depth, surprise and crunch. Whether you’re making a stir-fry, stew, tagine, curry or a cheese toastie – just a little amount here and there can bring dishes to life in a fast and convenient way.
Whether buying or making your own (they freeze well in ice-cube trays), these are the most fantastic flavour bombs to have on hand. Made from a blend of herbs, spices and fragrant ingredients, there’s so much flavour in just one little spoonful.
Miso paste is a fermented soy or rice product and there’s a lot of fun to be had with it. Providing a deep, savoury umami flavour, it adds a real oomph to noodle or rice dishes. Traditionally used in soups or broths, it can also be added to gravies and stews or even tossed into veg before roasted. Enjoy experimenting.
This fermented product are brilliant for adding deep umami seasoning to noodles, rice dishes and even dressings. There are standard and low-salt versions – just remember to use in moderation to keep your salt intake in check.
Nuts & seeds
A small handful of nuts and seeds can have a real benefit because of the heart-healthy fats they contain. Brilliant crushed, crumbled, chopped or pounded into flour, they’re fantastic at perking up salads, stews and curries. Use raw for added creaminess or toast for incredible texture and nuttiness. Have fun with your nuts!
A delicious sesame paste, tahini is essential in houmous. It’s really good in marinades and sauces, or in breakfasts and desserts – and is perfect for drizzling and dunking too! So good.
Dried mushrooms give you big beefy, meaty flavour. Use them instead of stock cubes and you get a lovely dark colour and deep flavour. In Asian supermarkets, you can sometimes pick up bigger bags at really great prices.
Capers & olives
These are both widely used around the Mediterranean. Just a small amount of these can really lift a dish, with pops of concentrated flavour. You can use them instead of salt to give you a really delicious floral savouriness.
Condiments such as chilli, teriyaki, Worcestershire and HP sauce, as well as things like Marmite, peanut butter and mustard, are real gems – a splash, dash or spoonful can add an accent flavour to all kinds of dishes. Use with restraint but enjoy when you do.
This is a fun way to have an array of preserved flavours just a pinch away. Simply whiz sea salt in a blender with your chosen flavours – herbs, chillies, citrus zest and juice, and dried mushrooms work really well, to name just a few. Spread out on a tray to fully dry, then bash up and keep in sealed containers until you need them!
Remember that salt can be harmful if consumed to excess and we should limit salt intake to no more than 6g per day. This not only includes the salt we add to foods, but also the salt that is already in foods such as bread, ready meals, sauces and condiments. All we need to do is to use this wonderful ingredient with respect, seasoning intelligently to bring the best out of your food.
Find more great store-cupboards ideas here.
Veg by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2019 Veg). Photography: David Loftus.