Are you limited when cooking with the same basic ingredients? Not when you know how to use them creatively. And you’d be surprised at how many ways you can enjoy five simple ingredients.

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Five Ingredients, Five Ways

Have a look and you may find yourself adding these versatile ingredients to healthful weeknight meals.

Lemons

The fresh flavor of citrus complements so many cuisines.

  • Lemon Cream Sauce. Simmer heavy cream in a pan until reduced by half. Stir in one cup of chicken stock and the juice of one lemon. Toss sauce with pasta, peas and prosciutto.
  • Salad Dressing. Lemon juice adds the same acidity as vinegar, but with a brighter, fresher flavor. Try olive oil, salt, lemon juice and garlic, mixed to taste. Make a large batch to keep in the fridge so you can quickly toss together a healthy salad.
  • Marinade. Easy marinade: lemon juice, olive oil, dried thyme and salt. This turns the simplest grilled chicken into a mouth-watering dish. Marinate chicken breasts about one hour.
  • Ceviche. The acid in citrus juice “cooks” the seafood in ceviche. Shellfish Ceviche combines shrimp and avocado, with lemon juice as a base.
  • Green vegetables. Sauté spinach or broccoli in lemon juice with a little garlic and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. The citrus delivers flavor without fat.

Cinnamon

Do you only use cinnamon when you’re baking? Try its earthy undertone in savory dishes, too.

  • Spice Rub. Mix equal parts cinnamon, coriander and cumin. The subtle sweetness of cinnamon nicely complements cumin’s smokiness. Rub the mixture into meat before grilling.
  • Rice Pudding. Stir a teaspoon of cinnamon into a traditional rice pudding recipe to complement the cream and sugar in this classic comfort food.
  • Mexican Hot Chocolate. Put a fiery spin on a cold-weather favorite. Combine a bit of Mexican chocolate and a little cinnamon with a store-bought hot chocolate mix packet. Sprinkle cinnamon stick shavings over the top of your mug for more flavor.
  • Churros. Churros are homemade Mexican doughnuts. The dough recipe is simple; one example can be found here:  Place the mixed dough in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air and snip off a corner of the bag. Pipe the dough through the hole and into hot oil, and fry until it’s golden. After removing from the fryer, sprinkle with cinnamon.
  • Cilantro Aioli. Try a steak salad topped with a cilantro aioli. The secret ingredient is cinnamon! For a homemade version, make aioli with cilantro, thin it with a little water and stir in a pinch of cinnamon.

Chipotle in adobo

Chipotle in adobo are smoked, dried jalapenos preserved in vinegar and spices. The deep, smoky flavor adds a kick to classic American dishes. Puree a can of them in your food processor and refrigerate in a plastic container; the vinegar will help keep the puree for months.

  • Chipotle Mac & Cheese. Give a fiery twist to a standard favorite. Add a tablespoon or two (depending on taste) of your pureed chipotle mixture to traditional macaroni and cheese sauce.
  • Barbecue Sauce gets an extra layer of smokiness from chipotles. Stir a tablespoon of pureed chipotle in adobo into your favorite barbecue sauce.
  • Chipotle Mashed Potatoes. Add zip to mashed potatoes with a tablespoon of pureed chipotle. Serve this spiced-up version alongside grilled meats that have been dry-rubbed with Mexican spices. Add the same amount to boxed mashed potatoes for an even quicker side dish.
  • Chipotle Mayonnaise. Mix pureed chipotle in adobo into prepared mayonnaise.
  • Chipotle Lime Dressing. Mix olive oil, lime juice, chipotle in adobo and salt for a fresh and spicy salad dressing.

Soy Sauce

The exotic flavor of soy sauce is traditionally reserved for Asian cuisine, but it’s fine in American dishes.

  • Orange and Soy Baby Back Ribs. Before cooking, marinate ribs for several hours in a mixture of orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar and cumin. The brown sugar combines with the soy to create a salty-sweet caramelized crust.
  • Maple Soy Glazed Salmon. Whisk soy sauce and maple syrup together and pour it over salmon before searing it. The sticky glaze complements the salmon’s meaty texture perfectly.
  • Sesame-Soy Salad Dressing. For a delicious Asian-inspired salad dressing, mix a bit of sesame oil, vegetable oil, soy sauce, brown sugar and lime juice. If you like it spicy, add some red pepper flakes. Serve over a Chinese chicken salad of grilled chicken, chopped iceberg lettuce, scallions and fried Asian noodles.
  • Broccoli with Soy and Peanuts. Blanch broccoli florets and toss with soy sauce. If you like, add a little brown sugar to the soy sauce. A touch of sesame oil will make the dish richer. Garnish with chopped peanuts.
  • Asian Noodles. For a quick no-fuss lunch, blanch scallions, caramelize shallots, and toss with noodles, soy sauce and garlic. If you like, stir in cooked chicken or shrimp.

Wine

Wine give special flavor to food. Use red wines for braising meats and in pasta sauces. Use white wines for lighter fare. Two key rules: never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink, and be sure the dish doesn’t end up tasting like alcohol.

  • Risotto. Wine is a traditional ingredient in risotto, so don’t leave it out. After sautéing the onions and toasting the rice, add wine to deglaze the pan, then prepare to add the stock. A favorite summertime risotto combines lemons, shrimp, corn and peas. In the winter, make Risotto with Spinach and Goat Gouda.
  • Compotes. Add wine to fruit compote while cooking to make it richer. Use the compote as a topping for ice cream, cake, French toast or yogurt.
  • Chicken Piccata. This traditional chicken dish wouldn’t be the same without its lemon, caper and white wine sauce. Add the wine at the beginning, making sure to cook off the alcohol before adding the other ingredients.
  • Meatballs. Try meatballs in a white wine tomato braise. Make your favorite meatball recipe and braise the meatballs in a large pot. When they’re completely browned, remove them. Then sauté some onions, add white wine and stock and cook until the alcohol has evaporated. Put the meatballs back in the pot with some chopped tomatoes. Cover and simmer until you’re ready to eat.
  • French Onion Soup. Sauté onions until they’re caramelized, then stir in red wine and beef stock, simmering until flavors are combined. Top with a toasted baguette slice and melted cheese. Voilà!
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