Small things seem to rule lately: small-batch bourbons I can’t find at any store in town and tiny restaurants where I can never score a seat. Thankfully, the nutritional equivalent of “small is big” is easy for anyone to enjoy. Crumbles, teaspoons and dashes of über-flavorful ingredients – think smoky bacon, salty miso or rich butter – add big taste and keep nutrition numbers in check.
Here’s how to make it work in your kitchen.
Butter and Oil
Okay, so there’s no getting around it: butter is full of fat and calories. But it has undisputed sweet, creamy flavor and works wonders for sauces and baked goods. Because it’s so rich, a little bit does go a long way. Whip up this easy make-ahead compound butter opens in a new tab and swirl a tablespoon into a big pot of plain brown rice or white beans or dollop a little onto baked sweet potatoes or chicken breast. Do the same with extra-virgin olive oil and just use a drop or two to finish a dish. Your taste buds and waistline will thank you.
To balance the zesty, tangy richness cheese brings along with its sodium and fat, use small amounts as a garnish, where the flavor lands in every bite. I like the punch that blue cheese gives, and you don’t need much. Here, a zesty blue adds piquant notes to sweet roasted butternut squash and wilted spinach opens in a new tab. Or top this Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup – a quick weeknight warmer opens in a new tab – with a sprinkling of flavorful Pecorino-Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese without tipping the sodium scales.
Think of cured, fatty meats as a garnish or seasoning. Thinly slice salty prosciutto to top whole wheat pasta or add a small amount of finely diced chorizo to Spanish-style soups for a little punch. The good news is you’ll keep the fat and sodium down and flavor your dishes with a little of the good stuff. Instead of a traditional overly generous portion of guanciale, this simple version of carbonara opens in a new tab leans on few slices of smoky bacon. Our version is also eggless and gets a sauce that’s rich and savory with a touch of Parmigiano-Reggiano and miso. Browning stew meat thoroughly – like in this veggie-heavy slow cooker Vegetable Beef Stew recipe opens in a new tab – before adding it to the mix makes a huge difference in building flavor, too.
Salt enhances the taste of everything we eat and balances other flavors, like bitter and sour. But too much isn’t a good thing. Besides salt, Worcestershire sauce, soy or shoyu sauce and miso paste add other layers of concentrated flavor. A little bit of these goes a long way. Use a splash of soy sauce to finish a stew or stir a spoonful of miso into a big pot of cooked greens. Marinated Tempeh Cutlets opens in a new tab make a savory, quick vegetarian dish that’s great tossed with brown rice and sautéed greens or made into a veggie banh mi-style sandwich.
What are your strategies for coaxing big flavor out of garnish-sized amounts? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments section below.