5 Simple Habits That Help Me Cook with New Ingredients

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Lisa Pepin)

I cook often. Most nights I cook from a stash of my tried-and-true, favorite recipes, but I also make an effort to cook with new-to-me ingredients. I love experimenting with different types of produce, spices, and unique finds from ethnic markets.

Want to try cooking with new ingredients in your kitchen? See how I do it. Here are five simple habits that help me cook with new ingredients on a regular basis.

1. Browse the aisles of the grocery store.

Go shopping on a day when you’re not in a rush, and take time to browse the store. But don’t just walk up and down the aisles — really take notice of the items on the shelves. There are plenty of new-to-you ingredients within arm’s reach.

Forget about the items you buy on a regular basis, and keep your focus on sections where you might not pull items from very often. I bet you’ll find a lot of interesting things you’ve probably never noticed before.

2. Try a new-to-you ethnic market.

Instead of hitting up your regular grocery store for a one-stop shop, take a trip to a local ethnic market. You don’t have to go with a list in hand — in fact, it’s probably best if you don’t. Browse the shop, see what you find, see what other people are buying, and don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. Also, be sure to switch things up — try a Middle Eastern market one month, maybe a Japanese market the following month, and perhaps an Indian market after that.

(Image credit: Cambria Bold)

3. Join a CSA.

Joining a CSA is an adventurous way to take advantage of the most current farmers market offerings. The best part is, not only do you not have a say in what you get, you might not even know what’s inside your CSA box until you open it. Every delivery is a surprise, and you’re guaranteed to get some new-to-you ingredients.

And, if vegetables aren’t quite your thing, consider a grain, meat, or seafood share, which all work very much in the same format.

4. Dive in to a new-to-you cookbook.

The great thing about cookbooks is that there’s one for everything. Want to try cooking with vegetables or seafood? Want to try your hand at Vietnamese or Moroccan cooking? Wondering how to incorporate more spices and fresh herbs into your meal? There’s a cookbook out there for every one of those things and so much more.

5. Buy interesting ingredients when traveling.

One of my favorite things about traveling is experiencing new cultures through food. Two travel souvenirs I always bring home are a local cookbook and local ingredients. I especially love spices and condiments since they’re easy to pack. Though, I once carried home a one-gallon tin of olive oil from a small town in Greece, and it was worth every cent of that hefty baggage fee.

What’s your best advice for cooking with new-to-you ingredients?