When you’re starting a new dietary protocol, it can seem like you’ve got none of your favorite foods or flavors left. I didn’t find it too hard to stick to Paleo, but when I first began the AIP, I felt like I was really missing out. Bye bye eggs for breakfast, nuts for snacks, my favorite seed spices and – worst of all – my favorite spicy foods. I was not a happy camper. But, over time, I’ve moved away from that negative perspective of pining after “can’t have” ingredients and instead learned to embrace the huge variety of new-to-me ingredients and fun flavors that are already out there. I want to share some of those with you guys today, to help inspire you to try new things and play with your food a little more!
I haven’t included “standard” paleo ingredients like coconut aminos and the like in this list (although you will see how I pair some of those ingredients with these more exciting new flavors). Instead, I’m showing you some more fun ingredients you can stash in your pantry and some of the ways I like to use them. And if you’re wondering, “but, Rach, where am I gonna buy these bizarre ingredients?!”, don’t worry! I live at least an hour away from stores and about 3 hours away from the nearest international market, but these are all ingredients I’ve been able to find in small-town Arizona or order online. So if I can find ’em, you can! For those of you with more variety and Asian stores near you, you should have no trouble finding any of these ingredients. Lucky you! The best part? None of them cost an arm and a leg, either. So you can try these new fun flavors without breaking the bank.
Now onto the fun flavors!
These are flakes of dried and smoked fish that are traditionally used in Japanese cuisine, the best quality of which is made from tuna. Bonito flakes are a great source of umami and are most often combined with kombu (dried seaweed) to make simple broth or fish stock known as dashi. The basis of miso soup and so many tasty Japanese sauces? Dashi. So you see that it’s a great little flavor booster in the right places. When it comes to bonito flakes, I like to sprinkle them over cauliflower rice, use them to whip up a quick broth for soups or drinking, or sprinkle them as a topping for vegetables stir fried with ginger in coconut aminos and fresh lime juice. Try roasting white sweet potato with a sprinkle of bonito flakes – it adds a lovely smoky flavor that isn’t fishy at all – or make a great dipping sauce by mixing coconut aminos, a touch of honey, some bonito and sliced green onions.
I’ll admit it: I love fresh chives, but I never manage to make my way through a package of them without at least half of them going bad. These dried chives have a mild onion-like flavor and are great to have on hand in the mean time, especially for perking up home made dressings: try whipping up a ranch style dressing by combining dried chives, garlic and parsley in coconut milk or a vinaigrette style dressing with chives, fresh lime juice and mint. I’ll also throw them on top of baked sweet potatoes with a little bacon fat, stir them into mashed parsnips with dried dill or pop them on top of soup for a crispy garnish.
I didn’t come across these things until I dragged my long suffering husband around an international market in Vegas. We were supposed to be on vacation, but he knew that it was easier to humor me than fight me when it came to food shopping. Smart man. Even if he didn’t emerge back into the sun until about three hours later! These dried leek pieces are on the large side, so I tend to only leave them whole if I’m throwing them into a veggie skillet hash or a stew which allows them to rehydrate without any extra effort from me. Otherwise, I like to break them up a little using my inexpensive little spice mill. They pair perfectly with lamb, so I’ll often use them in lamb meatballs or kebabs. Ground up fine and mixed with thyme, rosemary, garlic, tarragon and savory with a smidge of lavender makes what I call my “French blend” seasoning, which I use often on chicken dishes and roasted vegetables.
Ok, this is a confusing one. Despite the fact that dried lime is often labeled as “lemon omani” or “black lemons”, this seasoning is just sun dried limes that can be found whole, sliced, or ground into a chunky, almost black, powder. Dried limes are a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and have a citrusy, sour flavor that really livens things up a little! I like to add the ground dried limes to simple baked or poached fish or mix it with cinnamon, mace and cloves as a dry rub or the base of a marinade for beef or lamb. It’s actually a key ingredient in the AIP Taco Seasoning recipe from my cookbook, Nourish, where it replaces the cilantro seed that I used to use pre-AIP for a tangy yet earthy flavor. Try adding it to your Mexican inspired AIP dishes, along with oregano, garlic, ginger and a little turmeric or stir frying beef with dried lime, fresh ginger and cinnamon.
I used to very occasionally buy fresh mint and only then usually with a very specific recipe in mind, like this Ahi Tuna Ceviche. It was really something I’d tend to buy on a whim in the summer and then, again, waste most of by leaving it in the fridge too long. For some reason, it never occurred to me to even think about dried mint. In my mind, it seemed like a poor substitute for the real thing. But if you stop comparing fresh vs dried flavors, dried mint is actually a really fun and versatile little extra to keep in your pantry. It goes wonderfully with Greek, Moroccan and Persian dishes, meaning it is delicious with lamb: make a stew with dried mint and apricots, try a Greek style lamb meatball with dried mint, oregano and fresh lemon zest or make a Persian style roast lamb with a dried mint, rose petal and cinnamon crust, inspired by Mel Joulwan’s recipe here. One of my favorite ways to liven up my breakfast soup is to top it with a little ground beef sautéed with garlic, mint and fenugreek (see below) for a little Middle Eastern flair.
Bear with me on this one! These are actually pretty darn great. While I do know someone who happily chows down on these suckers as a snack (can you imagine him bringing those on a plane?!), I’m not going to advocate for that here, promise. Dried shrimp pack a ton of umami since they’re just what they sound like: boiled shrimp that have been sun dried. You want to look for packages that don’t have any weird added dyes or preservatives. Whether you buy shell on dried shrimp or the shell-less variety, the only ingredients should be the shrimp themselves and maybe a little salt. Traditionally, these guys come in all kinds of sizes and are found in plenty of Chinese and Thai dishes. They can be chopped up as or even fried crisp as a garnish and can be substituted in lots of Thai dishes where peanuts are used, such as green papaya or cucumber salads.
You can drop a few dried shrimp into some dashi broth with your favorite vegetables and some sweet potato noodles for a simple noodle soup, blend them into vinaigrettes or add them as an umami-bomb to stir fried cabbage or asparagus. I like to grind them up with kelp flakes and stir that combination through sea salt to make what I call “umami salt”, which goes well with Asian inspired and seafood dishes. They’re also key to my AIP friendly Thai Green Curry Paste. You can find both of those recipes in my AIP cookbook, Nourish. (Here are some tips on shopping for and storing shrimp.) If you’re feeling brave, fry them up in a little avocado oil until crispy, then throw them on top of a salad, crazy crouton style!
Unlike Italian sweet basil, Thai basil has a hint of an anise-like flavor which makes it a little different. I like to use it when I’m trying to build layers of Thai flavor without the heat of chili, like in my Thai Clams in a Coconut, Ginger and Lime Broth. Dried Thai basil doesn’t have an overwhelming strong flavor, but paired with ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce or coconut aminos, it brings some extra life to stir fried veggies and curry dishes that can be a little one dimensional on the AIP otherwise. I especially like to add it to a milder proteins, like when making a chicken or pork Larb dish with plenty of fresh cilantro and lime juice (crispy dried shrimp would be perfect as a topping!). If you have a favorite Thai dish that you make at home, adding some Thai basil is never a bad idea!
Not to be confused with fenugreek seeds, most commonly found in various curry powders, but which aren’t included on the AIP. Fenugreek leaves (also labelled in as “kasoori methi” or “shanbalile”) have a sweet herbal scent, with a little kick of bitterness which I like to use a few different ways. My go to basic burger recipe these days makes use of that, seasoning ground beef with garlic powder, fenugreek leaves and a pinch of cinnamon. That combination really helps draw the natural richness from the meat, but is a little different enough that people often ask me about the recipe. Try mixing fenugreek leaves with parsley and leek as a seasoning for sautéed bitter greens like kale, mustard or turnip greens to serve along side beef or lamb.
I also find that fenugreek leaves go well with Indian inspired vegetable “rice” dishes, especially when using sweeter root vegetables like sweet potato and carrot for the “rice”. If you have a copy of Nourish, try out the Kedgeree recipe! I like to use fenugreek leaves in marinated roast chicken or curry dishes alongside ginger, turmeric and cinnamon – the slight bitterness is a lovely balance to all those warm spiced flavors.
If you like ginger, you’ll love galangal. It’s like a grown up version of ginger that packs a punch of heat. If you miss hot, spicy food, galangal tastes like a cross between ginger and pepper, so it adds a little kick that is hard to find in AIP recipes. When it comes to dried galangal, you’ll want to buy the kind that is used in Thai cooking (krachaai), often labelled as Laos or lesser galangal. (Check this page out for info on fresh galangal). You can buy whole dried slices of the root, but I find it more convenient to keep dried galangal powder to hand in my pantry. I use it whenever a recipe might call for ginger, but I want a little extra heat.
You can buy these fresh, dried or ground and they add an aromatic citrus flavor with a floral hint that is characteristic in Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes. When it comes to using the whole leaves, you’ll want to use them like you would cinnamon sticks or bay leaves: let them steep in a cooking liquid to develop flavor over time, like in coconut milk based soups, then fish ’em out before serving. If you’re going to buy fresh leaves, they freeze well and can be added to soups and curries from frozen. I like to keep ground kaffir leaves to hand in the pantry to add to other dishes when the leaves wouldn’t be convenient: try adding it to your favorite fish or chicken rubs, adding to your breakfast sausage seasoning or adding to dressings along with ginger and cilantro for shrimp or crawfish salads (bonus points for adding mango to that last one!). If you want to really keep with a Thai theme, blend together kaffir lime with Thai basil and galangal for a seasoning that works in everything from a pork burger to a seafood soup.
This is the sister spice to nutmeg, which you can’t have on the AIP. Whereas nutmeg is the seed of the fruit, mace is the aril surrounding the seed, so while nutmeg is a seed spice, mace is not! In terms of flavor, they are fairly similar, although nutmeg is a little sweeter and mace a little more delicate. Ground mace is easy to keep to hand and has a deep orange mustard like color, with a sweet-spicy aroma. It can be used sparingly in sweet dishes, but it’s most often that secret ingredient in a savory dish that adds an “I can’t quite place it, but it’s good!” flavor. Some good examples of this are my Swedish meatballs from Nourish and Julia Child’s meat & poultry rub. When it comes to using mace day to day, I love to add it to homemade sausage, meatballs and stews or add a pinch to mashed white sweet potatoes, roasted carrots or squash. It traditionally pairs well with creamy sauces and spinach, too. (Like the recipe for Creamy Artichoke Dip with Spinach from Nourish, which you can find here).
You have to be careful when looking for pomegranate molasses. Despite having “molasses” in the name, traditionally it’s simply a reduced down form of pomegranate juice which looks like a thickened syrup. It actually has nothing to do with sugarcane derived molasses at all! Unfortunately a lot of the bottles of pomegranate molasses you’ll find on the shelves are packed with things like corn syrup and tapioca starch, then have an inferior pomegranate flavoring added to them. You don’t want to eat those yucky versions! Look for a brand of pomegranate molasses (sometimes labelled “pomegranate syrup”) that is 100% pomegranate juice, with no weird additives.
Although it’s a fruit based syrup, it’s surprisingly unsweet. It has a tangy, almost wine-like flavor that is surprisingly rich and hearty. As a result, you can use it in everything from super light to more wintry comfort food-type recipes. I like to make a really simple vinaigrette by pairing pomegranate molasses with balsamic or red wine vinegar: try that over arugula & pear, cucumber & mango or watercress & avocado salads. It makes a great addition to your favorite glaze: try adding it to your sticky chicken wing recipe with a little orange juice and cinnamon, or combining it with mint and garlic over beef or lamb.
Fermented lemons might sound a little strange, but hear me out! Preserved lemons are a wonderful combination of citrusy, just-sweet and tart flavors, as they’re made by simply brining fresh lemons to bring out all their natural concentrated flavors. They’re really easy to make yourself if you ever find yourself with an abundance of lemons in the winter – try this easy tutorial from Stupid Easy Paleo. Don’t worry if you don’t have the time to make your own! You can buy preserved lemons whole, halved, quartered or diced, but however you buy them, make sure that the ingredients are just lemons, water and salt. Sometimes spices are added to them, which you’ll want to avoid on the AIP.
When using preserved lemons, most of the flavor is concentrated in the rind and pith. If you’re using them in a stew or similar, you can leave the fruit in there, but usually you’ll want to scoop out the fruit, then chop and use the rind and pith. Just like normal lemons, preserved lemons go well with chicken, fish, and seafood dishes and pair especially well with artichokes and olives, along with basil or mint. I like to finely dice them and add to olives or as a topping for my Garlic & Artichoke Hummus as easy appetizers, roast them with chicken and artichokes or mince them finely and stir them through cauliflower rice or “couscous”. Their light, bright tart flavor goes especially well with warm seasonings like cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
Usually labelled as just plain savory, there are actually two types of savory, summer and winter. Both are in the same botanical family as mint, however summer savory is more popular and common, since the winter variant is more bitter. In terms of flavor, think of a less earthy, more vibrant version of thyme with a peppery kick and you’re close! You’ve probably come across savory before without realizing it, since it’s a key element in the French seasoning Herbes De Provence. (Side note: Herbes de Provence blends can by AIP compliant like this one, but you’ll need to check labels to make sure they haven’t added things like pepper or fennel seeds, which I’ve seen occasionally). Savory is especially good with pork, chicken and rabbit and lends itself well to stews and stuffing mixtures, similar to where you might use sage in a recipe. I like to blend savory, marjoram and rosemary in meatloaf, add it to the meat filling for cabbage rolls or use it braised chicken or rabbit stews.
Tamarind is a flowering bush that produces a pod-like fruit, the pulp of which is edible. The fresh fruits are sour when green and much sweeter when ripened, which means they are often used in drinks, jams, ice creams and other desserts. You can also find jars of tamarind paste (also called concentrate, puree or extract), which are essentially concentrated tamarind fruit made by mixing tamarind pulp with hot water and soaking, then squeezing the pulp through a mesh sieve to extract a thick, syrupy extract. The flavor is a blend of sour and sweet that is commonly used in Indian dishes: I used it in the Hot and Sour Dipping Sauce as part of the AIP Indian Feast Menu in Nourish. I like to add it to coconut milk based soups with fresh ginger for a hot and sour soup, combine it with garlic and honey for a sticky, sweet chicken glaze, or mix it with fish sauce, garlic, cilantro and a little water or coconut milk for a dipping sauce that is great with shrimp.
This is another herb that I just love fresh, but can never use up before it gives up the ghost. (Note to self: grow some fresh tarragon this spring!). Tarragon has a slightly bittersweet flavor and a glorious anise like aroma which I freaking adore: it’s a staple in classic French cooking, so you’ll traditionally find it in chicken and egg dishes, as well as Bearnaise sauce. Dried tarragon isn’t quite as pungent as fresh, but is a great standby that carries well into vinaigrettes and rubs. Try adding some dried tarragon to homemade vinaigrettes (especially good with chives), roast leeks tossed in a little oil and tarragon with chopped preserved lemons or make a creamy pan sauce for chicken by deglazing the pan with a splash of broth, then adding a little coconut milk, dried tarragon and garlic. If you want to add a little brightness to the heat of fresh horseradish (check out my AIP recipes in Nourish), add some dried tarragon and lemon zest – that’s one of Mr Meatified’s favorites!
Never heard of this one? I hadn’t, either! When I started college, I became close friends with a girl who lived a few dorm rooms down – there’s nothing like bonding over a few all night last minute essay crises! She kept me sane (kind of) while we bemoaned the injustice of our crazy course loads. Her parents still lived in Hong Kong and she would regularly get care packages from home, which were (to me) filled with both the strangest and most exciting new foods I’d ever come across. One day she threw me a little individually wrapped candy from her latest package and I enthusiastically shoved the entire thing in my face. Only to discover, much to my horror, that what I was actually eating was a really salty, pickled plum-like… thing. Needless to say, my super Western, unsophisticated palate couldn’t handle it and I spat it out, at which she laughed hysterically. Years later, I realized: that was umeboshi!
Umeboshi are the pickled fruit of a tree that, while referred to in English as a “plum”, is really closest to an apricot. They are extremely sour and salty and traditionally are condiments for rice or eaten on rice balls. They’re traditionally made by salting the dried ume fruits, packing them in barrels and letting them naturally ferment with purple shiso leaves as a natural red dye and flavor. While labelled as ume plum “vinegar”, the bottled liquid is actually the liquid left behind from the ume fermenting process, so it’s technically a flavored brine. (Side note: don’t confuse Japanese ume plum vinegar with Chinese plum vinegar, as the latter is a true vinegar, which is rice based, and flavored with plums or, often, artificial plum flavor).
This means that Ume Plum Vinegar has a very distinctive flavor: a blend of salty, sour and sweet all at once. Flavor wise, it’s basically a fruitier, brighter fish sauce. Because of the high salt content, you’ll want to pair it with ingredients that will cut that natural saltiness and be careful not to add extra salt until you’ve tasted whatever you’re making first. Use it to make a simple dressing with your favorite salad oil and a dash of white wine vinegar – it pairs especially well with light, fresh flavors like citrus and fennel. Try making a ponzu-type dressing or dipping sauce using ume plum vinegar, coconut aminos and lots of fresh lime juice. Try adding a dash to your pot roast or meatball recipes – it adds a certain something that I can’t quite explain! I also like to pair it with cabbage dishes: try adding a splash to plain ol’ braised cabbage or coleslaw.
Looking for more flavor inspiration?
Check out my seasoning series! My favorite homemade seasoning blends, plus a recipe that uses them:
- Taco Seasoning + Ultimate Loaded Nachos
- Persian Seasoning + Herbed Persian Meatballs with Apricots
- Greek Seasoning + Marinated Greek Pork Tenderloin
- ….with more to come!
TL;DR flavor combinations to try!
- bonito + ginger
- bonito + coconut aminos + honey
- chives + garlic + parsley
- chives + mint + lime
- chives + dill
- dried leek + tarragon + sage
- dried leek + rosemary + thyme (+ lavender)
- dried lime + cinnamon + mace
- dried lime + ginger + cinnamon
- dried lime + oregano + ginger (+ turmeric)
- dried mint + oregano (+ lemon zest)
- dried mint + rose petal + cinnamon
- dried mint + fenugreek + cinnamon
- thai basil + kaffir lime + galangal
- thai basil + ginger + lemongrass
- fenugreek + garlic + cinnamon
- fenugreek + parsley + dried leek
- mace + cinnamon
- mace + rosemary + thyme
- pomegranate molasses + balsamic
- pomegranate molasses + garlic + mint
- preserved lemons + cinnamon
- preserved lemons + basil
- preserved lemons + mint
- savory + rosemary + marjoram
- pomegranate molasses + garlic + mint
- pomegranate molasses + cinnamon + orange
- savory + leek + tarragon
- savory + rosemary + lavender
- tarragon + chives + vinaigrette
- tarragon + preserved lemons
- tarragon + horseradish
- ume plum vinegar + oil + white wine vinegar
- ume plum vinegar + coconut aminos + lime
So, those are my favorite new-to-me-since-AIP pantry staples and seasonings. What are yours?