Things That Make You Go "Mmmmm!"

My food is not fancy. It's not complicated, either in ingredients or in techniques. In fact, typical meals around my house often include little more than salad and roasted vegetables.

Sounds boring, but it's not. With each dish I cook, I take out insurance against boring by adding just a little bit of an ingredient that contrasts the overall flavor profiles of the dish. This helps "wake up" the palette and lends variety to any dish that might have a tendency to feel a little "one note."

Here are 5 of my favorite things to add to a dish to make you go "Mmmm!"

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1. Vinegars, especially balsamic and sherry. 
It's no secret that I put balsamic vinegar in almost everything I make at home. I may have an addiction but the fact is, it makes things taste interesting. Other types of vinegar can do it too, sometimes adding just a bit of acidity to balance out earthy flavors, like beans, tempeh and mushrooms. Tinker with your own flavors by infusing plain white vinegar with herbs and spices. Studies also show that adding just 1 Tbsp vinegar to your meals aids in maintaining a healthy weight. Who can argue with that perk when it's so delicious?

2. Oil-cured Moroccan black olives.
Take some help from your supermarket's olive bar. On every trip, I grab just a few spoons (about 1/2 cup) of these midnight black oil-cured olives. Look for the pitted ones to save yourself the trouble. They are super olive-y and although salty, they are not as strong as Kalamata olives. Use 3-4 olives, chopped finely, as an addition to rice dishes or on your homemade vegan pizza. They are also really tasty in any salad containing avocado.

3. Ground cumin. 
Cumin delivers a smoky, earthy flavor that you might recognize from taco seasoning. I like to use cumin with any dish containing chickpeas and, recently, with roasted cauliflower. Cumin is strongly flavored so a couple of pinches go a long way.

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4. Roasted or marinated red peppadew peppers. 
A sweet, just slightly spicy pepper, the peppadew (also sometimes called a pepperazzi) is probably my favorite pepper. I first started using them in cold bean salads, but quickly realized that they made a fantastic addition to roasted veggie dishes (especially when paired with broccoli, asparagus or Brussels sprouts). Finely chopped, they also pump up simple pasta dishes.

5. Nutmeg.
It's an Italian thing. Add just a bit of freshly grated nutmeg to any cooked greens, especially spinach and chard. Nutmeg is also a traditional ingredient in many tomato sauce-based dishes in Italy.

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