The Smart Eater’s Kitchen

Take a quick look around your kitchen. If you pride yourself on eating healthfully, chances are you’ll find plenty of veggies, fruits, whole grains, fish, lean meat, olive oil and nuts. Pat yourself on the back…then go to the grocery store!

Even the most health-conscious among us are likely to be missing out on the “secret” foods that allow us to turn a nutritious—but sometimes boring—dish into something fantastic. These are the healthful foods that add zing to the basics.

For advice on the items that you need to keep your taste buds popping, Bottom Line/Health spoke with John La Puma, a medical doctor and a trained chef. His favorite must-have foods that may be missing from your kitchen…

        • Beef broth. This is an ingredient that most chefs would never do without—but that many people never buy or make. Chicken broth—which is much more popular with home cooks—is OK, but beef broth (also called stock) is far more flavorful.If you’re a vegetarian: Try mushroom stock (available in natural-food stores or online).

      How to use broth: A rich broth is the secret to good soups—or even a plate of beans. Use it in place of water to cook brown rice…to braise inexpensive cuts of beef, pork or poultry…or to moisten leftovers when reheating them.

      To make your own stock: Roast leftover beef bones for 30 minutes in a 400°F oven, and then simmer them for four hours with onions, carrots, celery and herbs (usually thyme, bay leaves and parsley).

      But boxed stocks are also good—they’re virtually calorie-free and are available in low-sodium, fat-free and organic versions. Hint: Bouillon cubes or powders work in a pinch, but high-quality, ready-made liquid stocks taste much better.

      Tasty shortcut: A demi-glace sauce or stock from MoreThanGourmet.com. Just add water and heat.

        • Dijon mustard. Usually made with white wine and mustard seeds, Dijon mustard is more flavorful than the classic yellow version and adds a nice “bite” to leftovers.

      How to use it: A good-quality Dijon mustard is more than just a sandwich spread. You can mix it with olive oil, vinegar and a little lemon juice to make salad dressings…mix it with a touch of honey and plain yogurt for a tangy vegetable dip…or spread it on chicken to deepen the flavor and brown the skin during roasting.

        • Ground turkey. Assuming that you eat meat, it’s a good idea to keep some antibiotic-free ground meat in the freezer. Ground turkey is an excellent choice. It defrosts in minutes in the microwave, and it cooks quickly on the stove. Compared with ground beef, it’s also a little higher in protein.

      How to use it: Because ground turkey highlights the flavors of other foods more readily than ground beef, it’s great in casseroles, meat loaf and chili. You can add it to just about anything—even canned beans or frozen or canned vegetables.

        • Hot sauces. These high-octane condiments include old favorites like Tabasco Pepper Sauce (at grocery stores) and newer-to-the-market specialty products such as Acid Rain Hot Sauce or Captain Spongefoot Sriracha Table Sauce, both available at HotSauceWorld.com…and Third-Degree Burn Hot Sauce, available at PepperPalace.com.

      Capsaicin, the chemical compound that puts the “hot” in hot sauces, is not only a natural flavor-enhancer but also causes the body to burn more calories.

      How to use it: Try hot sauce on eggs, meats and otherwise bland-tasting foods, such as cottage cheese and macaroni and cheese. Hot sauce also goes well with cooked carrots or on popcorn.

      • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I might be biased (I am a third-gen­­­eration Italian-American), but I think that finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano gives foods a better flavor than any other cheese and that it’s worth its price compared with cheaper, less flavorful versions of Parmesan cheese. Parmigiano-­Reggiano is nearly lactose-free, helpful for people who have trouble digesting this sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

      How to use it: The slightly nutty taste of Parmigiano-Reggiano goes well with practically all vegetables, fresh salads and even bean dishes. It makes an attractive, delicious garnish—and because it fluffs up when it’s grated, one-half cup is only about 121 calories and has just 1 g of carbohydrates and 8 g of fat.