The hearty, heavy flavors of winter are growing tiresome but fresh spring ingredients like peas and asparagus have yet to arrive. While you wait, do yourself a favor and try out a few ingredients you might not have had in your kitchen before. It's not only the perfect way to busy yourself while you wait for spring, but you also might just find one or two that will become new staples in your pantry.
1. Preserved Lemons
A staple in Middle Eastern cooking, preserved lemons are nothing like their fresh counterpart. For starters, you can use the entire lemon — rind and all — because they've been resting in salt and their juices for long enough that the bitterness of the rind and pith mellows out. The result is citrus that is sweet, salty, and complex — it's really unlike anything you've tasted.
To use, rinse under cool running water to remove excess salt and take out any seeds that might still be lingering. Chop up finely and add instant zing to stews, risotto, pasta, salad dressing, and even pesto. Although it's slowly becoming easier to find jars at grocery stores (Trader Joe's carries them!), you can also try making them yourself.
2. Dried Fava Beans
After living in Italy for awhile, I became a big fan of fresh fava beans, which signal spring has officially arrived. Last year, I began craving them by March, but it was still just a little too early. Luckily I was visiting my sister in Egypt at the time and discovered just how great dried fava beans can be. Although they aren't as bright-tasting as fresh, they have a mellow, earthy flavor that's really comforting this time of year, when the season is beginning to change.
Prepare them as you would any dried bean — the fun part is how creative you can get in using them. Egyptians use them to make ful medammes, a dish of fava beans, garlic, lemon, and olive oil that's typically eaten for breakfast. Their version of falafel, called ta'miyya, is also made with dried fava beans, and it's delicious. You can even swap them in for chickpeas in hummus. When buying, be sure to purchases ones that are skinless, otherwise you'll have to remove the tough, thick skin yourself after soaking and before cooking them.
3. Fresh Turmeric
Sunny, vivid orange turmeric has recently been spending a lot of time in the spotlight, and for good reason — a member of the ginger family, it's a natural anti-inflammatory, which means it may help tame everything from a headache to joint pain to an upset stomach.
While most commonly seen dried and ground, on its own or in spice blends like curry powder, it's worth experimenting with fresh. Fresh turmeric has a brighter flavor than dried that's peppery, earthy, and slightly bitter. Plus it lasts in the fridge, kept in an airtight container or plastic wrap, for a couple of weeks.
Prepare it like you would fresh ginger: peel it, and then chop, mince, or grate it. Toss fresh turmeric into smoothies, steep it in hot water to make a comforting tea, or use it in place of ground turmeric in sautés and scrambles. One tablespoon of freshly grated turmeric equals about one teaspoon of ground turmeric.
4. Yuzu Kosho
You've been warned: This Japanese condiment can be addicting. It's a paste of chile peppers, salt, and citrus zest and juice. Traditionally, the citrus is yuzu, a sour, tart variety from Japan, and the chile peppers are usually Thai red or green chiles.
That powerful mix of sweet, hot, salty, and sour hits all of your tastebuds in one incredible wallop. Spoon it on top of everything from miso to udon soup, try it as a glaze or marinade for grilled meat, or toss a little into a noodle salad. Look for it at an Asian grocery store or purchase it online.
Read More: What is Yuzu?
5. Smoked Olive Oil
I received a bottle of this smoked olive oil recently and I honestly just can't get enough. No, it's not cheap, but a little goes a long way, as it's a finishing oil rather than a cooking oil. It's an incredible way to add a little extra depth of flavor to your food right before serving.
While that smoky flavor might not work well on light, crisp dishes like salad, it's perfect drizzled over roasted potatoes or other root vegetables, on grilled meat or fish, and even on popcorn. Stir a little into store-bought hummus and it's an instant and impressive upgrade. I've even drizzled a little over vanilla ice cream and orange segments, and guess what? It's amazing. Or just pour a little into a bowl and dunk crusty bread into it. It's olive oil like you've never had it before.