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Small Amounts = Big Flavor

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.

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.

Butternut Squash with Wilted Spinach and Blue Cheese
Vegetarian Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup

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 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.

Cheese

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. Or top this Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup – a quick weeknight warmer – with a sprinkling of flavorful Pecorino-Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese without tipping the sodium scales.

Not Your Nonna’s Spaghetti Carbonara
Slow Cooker Vegetable Beef Stew

Meat

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 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 – before adding it to the mix makes a huge difference in building flavor, too.

Salty Flourishes

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 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.

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