5 Paleo Flavor-Making Juggernauts

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5 Flavor BoostersThink back to the best meal you’ve ever had…go ahead, I’ll wait a moment. What was special about it? The flavors…complex yet subtle, layered by the chef to compliment each other left you with an experience. Far from plain chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, right? With a little know-how and a bit of creativity, you can make super tasty, rockstar-status meals.

It’s all about balancing flavors (this could be a long lesson but I’ll keep it to the basics). For novice cooks, try working with this simple triad: salt, acid and aromatics. For example, if a dish just tastes flat, try adding an acid like vinegar or citrus juice to brighten it up.

If you want to go a bit further, you can play with notes of bitter, savory (umami) and spicy.

You can create big flavors, too and it’s as simple as having these five Paleo-friendly, taste-tickling juggernauts on hand. These are my must-haves that I always have around my kitchen.

Vinegars

The options are pretty endless here and it’s generally accepted that vinegars (except for malt vinegar…derived from grain) are Paleo-friendly. Besides the obvious use in dressings or condiments, vinegar is a great way to add a bright note to veggies or heavy dishes like stews.

My favorites: apple cider, balsamic and white wine vinegars

Salts

Okay, this one can be controversial. Some folks who follow a very strict Paleo template don’t use any salt. At all. I tried this when I started Paleo 4 years ago, and it made food pretty boring. By avoiding processed foods, the amount of sodium intake in your diet is already substantially lower. As someone who enjoys cooking and my food, salt is part of the game. I use regular salt during cooking to adjust the overall flavor and sometimes flavored finishing salts as a very light sprinkle before serving. Which type of salt is best? Read this article from Chris Kresser for a comprehensive answer.

My favorites: Maldon Sea Salt flakes, smoked sea salt (pictured), truffle salt

Citrus Juice and Zest

DSC_0033Another option for adding a note of acidity or brightness to your food. Besides the obvious lemons and limes, you may want to experiment with others like grapefruit for savory foods (one of my favorite ceviche recipes uses grapefruit juice). If you’re throwing the zest out with the spent fruit rinds, though, you’re missing a gold mine of flavor! The outermost, colored layer of the skin (not the white pith underneath) contains the citrus oils that make the fruit so fragrant. I use a microplane grater to remove the zest and toss it in everything from dressings and marinades to desserts.

My favorites: lemons, limes and grapefruit

Aromatics

DSC_0035 These form the backbone of your dish…the flavor foundation everything’s built on. Used in cooking from cultures around the world, they can be used as a dominant note (think garlic chicken) or as a subtle layer. I always have plenty of aromatics hanging around! The powdered / ground form is useful for some dishes (especially where you don’t want to introduce a lot of extra moisture) though I lean toward the fresh variety just because the flavor is so much more pronounced.

My favorites: onion, garlic, and ginger

Fresh Herbs

DSC_0037Fresh herbs are so great! Not only are they relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to grow your own no matter your space constraints, from pots on a balcony to huge backyard gardens. Heartier fresh herbs like rosemary hold up well to cooking (like in Rosemary Balsamic Butternut Squash) while more delicate leaves like cilantro do better in cold applications (because they’ll wilt otherwise). They’re great to sprinkle on top of a finished dish for another layer of flavor or to brighten up the colors on a plate.

My favorites: flat leaf parsley, mint and rosemary

Let me know what your flavor-making essentials are in the comments below!

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11 thoughts on “5 Paleo Flavor-Making Juggernauts

  1. Joyce

    I wholeheartedly agree with all your suggestions. What a difference they make! One of my new favorites is Red Boat Fish Sauce introduced to me by Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo. Per Michelle it adds so much flavor, aka umami. I add a couple of tablespoons to my pot of bone broth, prior to simmering or pressure cooking. Lovely with stews too, and of course seafood curry!

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Joyce, I learned the very same trick from Michelle…she’s my Paleo (s)hero!! In fact I just made chicken broth yesterday and put my fish sauce in :)

      Reply
  2. Linda Sand

    Now I know the what so I just need to learn the how. When and how do you use these things and how do you know which to use when?

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Hi Linda! Look for another post on that in the near future but basically in most dishes, I try for a balance of three flavors…sometimes it’s sweet, salt and acid. Sometimes it’s sweet, aromatic and spicy…etc. The sweet could be anything from a sweet veggie (like a sweet potato, carrot or beet) to something like a sprinkle of raisins. Example: http://stupideasypaleo.com/2013/04/21/garlic-pistachio-broccoli-rabe/. In this recipe, I added some dried currants (sweet) to balance the garlic (aromatic) and the red pepper flakes (spicy).

      Reply
  3. Roy

    Hey Steph; I’ve been trying to add lemon zest in as much as I can, especially fatty meals, seems to help the flavor a lot.
    Totally unrelated, do you have or can you create a good paleo cereal recipe, I sometimes crave some cereal in the mornings. I”ve tried a few versions the you can buy but just don’t seem to care for them.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Danielle Thomas

      Hi Roy,

      I’ve recently switched to eating (I wish I had the link I honestly can’t remember where I first saw it) no oats-meal.

      It’s not exactly cereal but it’s really tasty and good in the morning.
      1 cup almonds
      1/2 cup chia seeds
      1/2 cup hemp seed
      1 cup pecans or walnuts
      1/4 cup flaxseed or sunflower seeds
      1-2 tbsp of nutmeg
      1-2tbsp of cinnamon
      2 tsp vanilla

      Blend it all up in a food processor. I store it in a mason jar. Add about 1/2 to 1 cup of coconut milk. Throw it on the stove for a few minutes and you’re all done. My other half adds a pinch of honey for flavour but I find the spices and vanilla do the trick.

      Hope this helps.

      Steph, this is a really great article. Super useful.

      Reply
    2. Steph Post author

      Hi Roy! How the heck are you?

      Good deal on the lemon zest…definitely helps cut the fat (pardon the pun). Danielle, another reader, posted a suggestion for a cereal if you’re interested in checking it out. Are you looking for something cold or hot?

      Reply
      1. Roy

        Cold preferably. Hope your training is going good, I’m still rehabing from shoulder surgery but get better each day, if only I new how to rest and not “crossfit rest”.

        Reply
  4. morgan

    A good way to to what goes good with a dish or flavor is to remember trinities. Every cuisine has a trinity of ingredients and spices. A good example is onions, carrots and celery. You can make a variety of dishes with just those three ingredients. Each region/cuisine has their own variation.

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Awesome point, Morgan! Love that…the base of so many good dishes starts that way…mire poix for the win!

      Reply

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