7 Flavor-Boosters You Can Make With What's in Your Pantry Right Now

by Ani Manukian, RDN, LD

Last Updated: April 12, 2020

In simpler times, we might have run to the store for a seasoning packet or premade sauce to spice up our meals. But with limited store access and reduced availability of some ingredients, the question of “What’s for dinner?” may be harder to answer than ever. With just a few staple ingredients you’re likely to have on hand, you can create multi-use seasoning blends, toppings, and sauces to liven up any meal. Don’t worry if you’re missing one or two of the ingredients, you can still achieve the flavor you’re looking for by subbing in a similar item, or even leaving it out entirely. For some ideas on shelf stable items you can add to your shopping list, click here.
  1. Taco Seasoning
    How to Make: Combine 1 teaspoon each of cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder (add a pinch of cinnamon and cocoa for greater depth of flavor).

    How to Use: Add to ground or shredded taco meat, lightly sprinkle in bean + cheese quesadillas, add to sauteed peppers and onions, or use as a dry rub for grilled or baked meats.

    Extra Tip: The taco seasoning base can double as chili seasoning with the addition of 2 more teaspoons of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, and one teaspoon of any seasoning with a kick, such as cayenne, paprika, or red chili flakes.
  2. Ranch Seasoning
    How to Make: Combine 1 tablespoon of parsley, 2 teaspoons of dill, 1 teaspoon of dried chives, 1 tablespoon of garlic powder, 1 tablespoon of onion powder, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper.

    How to Use: Use to season roasted vegetables, or toss with broccoli and cauliflower (+ 1 tablespoon cooking oil) and roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

    Extra Tip: Mix with plain Greek yogurt to make an easy dip, dressing, or sandwich spread, or add to buffalo chicken dishes for extra depth of flavor.
  3. Roasted Garlic
    How to Make: Peel all of the outer skin from a head of garlic, leaving all cloves intact. Cut straight across the top of the head of garlic, exposing each clove. Drizzle olive oil on the head of garlic and gently massage to coat all surfaces. Bake for 40-45 minutes in a 400-degree oven on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish. Garlic is done when the cloves are tender and starting to brown. Once cool, gently remove each clove from the head and store for up to 2 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Freeze for up to 2 months.

    How to Use: Roasted garlic can serve as a subtle replacement for fresh garlic in any recipe. Use it to make fresh garlic bread or to top salads, soups, or pasta dishes.

    Extra Tip: Spread roasted garlic directly on crusted bread for an indulgent appetizer.
  4. Pickled Red Onion
    How to Make: Slice about one cup of red onion very thin with a mandolin or sharp knife (if using a mandolin, make sure to wear gloves as these are very sharp). In a small saucepan, mix 1 cup of any vinegar or mixture of vinegars (balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar or white vinegar all work) and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Stir mixture as you bring it to a simmer, ensuring all the sugar dissolves. Once simmering, pull the mixture off the heat, and add the sliced red onions, making sure to submerge all the onion pieces. Allow to cool fully, about 1 hour, before storing in the refrigerator in the airtight jar. It is best if used within a week.

    How to Use: Pickled red onions are a great topping for any Mexican dish, especially tacos, on pulled pork/chicken sandwiches, or in wraps.

    Extra Tip: Love how red onions look on salads, but dislike the strong/sharp flavor? Pickled onions provide a more subtle flavor while keeping the beautiful, rich color.

    Dressings and marinades can make the difference between a dry, bland salad, chicken breast, or veggie side, and one that has excellent texture, flavor, and color. These three are not only incredibly easy to whip up, they’re also quite versatile.
  5. Thai Peanut Sauce
    Combine ¼ cup of peanut butter, 1½ tablespoons of soy sauce or coconut aminos, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup or other sweetener, 1½ tablespoons of lime or lemon juice (or any acid ingredient like vinegar), ¼ teaspoon of chili powder or chili flakes, and 1-2 tablespoons of water as needed to thin sauce. Pair with a Thai-inspired salad or grain bowl, use as a dip for spring rolls, or drizzle over curried meat and vegetable satay.
  6. Balsamic Marinade + Dressing
    Combine ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of any mustard, 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning mix (or a combination of Italian-like seasonings you may have such as basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme). Use as a marinade for grilled or baked chicken or serve with a salad.
  7. Creamy Hummus Dressing
    Combine 3 tablespoons of hummus, 1½ teaspoons of lime or lemon juice (or any acidic ingredient like vinegar), and 1 teaspoon of honey or sweetener of choice. Whisk until combined, or blend in a blender or food processor. Add any herbs or spices you’d like. Add to any salad, wrap, or grain bowl for a punch of flavor.

Think of these flavor-boosters as ways to make healthy staples, be it lean proteins, salads, or vegetables, much more palatable, colorful, and exciting. By keeping these core items on hand, you’ll never lack ideas for how to elevate your favorite dishes.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Ani Manukian RDN, LD

Ani Manukian RDN, LD

Ani is living her dream as a real food dietitian, helping her patients merge the science of nutrition with the art of creating tasty, balanced meals. She competes in the sport of weightlifting and has personal and professional experience in sports nutrition, flexible dieting, and weight loss.