Maybe it’s time to look beyond claims of virginity in the oil aisle.
Because, you see, our 20-year love affair with olive oil has had fallout. We’ve forgotten that there’s a whole world of oils that don’t come from the olive tree.
And they can do a heck of a lot more than just sauté and make a fine dressing.
OK, maybe we didn’t forget. It’s not as though prior to the EVOO revolution we were all swilling avocado and grape seed oils.
But olive oil has done a fine job of elbowing out other up-and-comers.
Sesame, for instance. You may have never purchased it, but chances are you’ve had it. It’s what gives many Asian dishes a nutty, savory, richly aromatic flavor.
Find out what to do with sesame oil »
Pay no attention to the many shelves of faux salsas (Blueberry-pineapple? Really?) and shove aside all those cans of low-fat, low-sodium, no-flavor refried beans.
For this week’s underappreciated ingredient, you will need to dig a bit deeper into your grocer’s Hispanic section. Your goal? Mexico’s gift to high-flavor cooking: chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
Typically sold in 7-ounce cans, these not entirely attractive (truth is, they look a bit prune-like) peppers pack gobs of smoky, chocolatey, slightly sweet piquancy.
First, the basics. Chipotles are really just jalapeno peppers that have been dried and smoked. In the U.S., they most often are sold canned in adobo sauce, a smooth tomato-vinegar blend spiked with garlic, onion and various spices.
The result is that you essentially get two ingredients in each can: peppers and sauce. The peppers marinate in the adobo, taking on its sweet tang. Meanwhile, the sauce absorbs some of the peppers’ heat.
Find out what to do with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce »
Why not just use butter?
Fair question, especially since ghee is going to be more trouble to find (it’s hidden in your grocer’s international or natural foods aisles) and you’ll pay way more for it ($5 or more for a 7½-ounce jar).
Despite that, it’s an easy answer: — because ghee is a rich indulgence that is so totally worth the effort and expense.
Ghee is a form of clarified butter. Which means it is butter that was heated until the milk solids separated from the liquid. Then it was heated some more, until the liquid evaporated and the solids began to brown.
The result is a thick yellow-brown paste with a nutty and intensely — Are you ready? — buttery flavor. But it’s true. This is butter on steroids.
And yes, it’s easy to make your own (try Alton Brown’s recipe). And no, most of us won’t.
Find out what to do with ghee »
The typical grocer sells some 50,000 different products. The typical shopper buys the same 264 over and over again. The point of this blog? To persuade you to take a second look at some of the 49,736 foods that don’t usually land in your cart.
Cardamom, for example. This spice aisle resident is a master of blurring the sweet-savory line. Yet most people know it only (if at all) for the rather dull cookies named after it. But cardamom is way more than a cookie, and it belongs on the dinner table as much as in desserts.
First, the basics. Cardamom is a seed that is related to ginger and originated in India (both of which explain why it makes frequent appearances in Indian sauces, chutneys and rubs). The taste is citrusy and floral, as well as warm and peppery.
Cardamom is sold whole (black seeds in a greyish-green pod) and ground (a fine greyish-blue powder). While the flavor is best when you get whole pods and grind them as needed, raise your hand if you can admit that’s too much trouble.
Find out what to do with cardamom »