No matter your cooking skill level, it can be easy to fall into a grocery shopping rut, picking up the same familiar ingredients and making the same recipes over and over again. You might think about trying something new, but some ingredients can look so intimidating and foreign that they are discouraging from the jump.
There’s no need to let that stop you from expanding your home cooking palette, though. Here are 6 tricky or intimidating ingredients that you can easily learn to prepare — and some recipes to make with them once you do.
After you prepare tomatillos by removing the husks and perhaps roasting them, the tart green nightshades are a delicious way to bring some punchy acidity to your cooking. Try this recipe for tomatillo green salsa from Love and Lemons, or this recipe for cucumber tomatillo gazpacho from Bon Appetit to get your started. Looking for warmer fare? Check out this tomatillo chicken stew from Simply Recipes.
Preparing rutabaga is simply a matter of getting past the pungency and owning a nice, sharp peeler. Once your rutabaga is ready to cook, try this recipe for root vegetable green curry from Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen, rutabaga-sweet potato mash with garlic and sage from Martha Stewart or mashed roots with bacon vinaigrette from the Ellsworth American (also written by Cheryl Wixson).
Hazelnuts are sold in a variety of ways at the grocery store, from sans-shell and roasted to fully shelled and nutcracker-ready. If you figure out how to prepare the hazelnuts that you have purchased, you can then use them in any of these incredibly sweet and savory recipes for hazelnuts, including brown butter and hazelnut mashed potatoes, hazelnut pesto fish and hazelnut cornmeal cakes.
Fennel has a unique, licorice-like flavor that is hard to replicate in cooking. Once you get past the feathery fronts and learn how to prepare fennel, check out this recipe for braised fennel and leeks from Yankee magazine, this fennel salad with orange-balsamic vinaigrette from Taste of Home or this twist on the classic Waldorf salad including a bulb of fennel from The Splendid Table. Or, check out this recipe on Food Republic for seared scallops and grapefruit salad featuring fennel. It’s from the storied Maine restaurant The Lost Kitchen’s head chef Erin French.
Locally cultivated mushrooms
Ok, you probably have some experience with the classic baby bella mushrooms sitting around the grocery store, but what about those funky looking mushrooms grown by local producers, like shiitake, oyster and enoki? Learning the essential steps of preparing all shapes, sizes and textures of mushrooms will open a weird and wonderful world of mushrooms to your kitchen. Once you have the basics down, try this simple recipe for herb roasted mushrooms, or a slightly more complex barley risotto with caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms and roasted red peppers.
Artichokes may look spiky and intimidating, but they are well worth the effort to prepare for their uniquely grassy, flavorful flesh. One of the simplest ways to prepare whole artichokes is to steam it and strip the meat off of individual leaves, perhaps after dipping it in a delicious sauce. Try one of these artichoke sauces from Boulder Locavore, including melted lemon garlic butter and tarragon chive dipping sauce.
Carving out an artichoke heart is a skill that experienced home chefs might want to have in their arsenal, but if your knife skills are lacking, you can always purchase canned or frozen artichoke hearts. If you have the chance to challenge yourself, though, you might want to try fresh artichoke hearts on crostini, or this scrumptious vegetarian mushroom and artichoke stuffing.
Learning how to use new ingredients will not only make cooking more enjoyable, but it will open your mind to all sorts of different possibilities when you shop at your local grocery store or farmers’ market. You just have to be willing to experiment.