As a recipe developer, it’s part of my job to come up with interesting recipe ideas. New ways to use sweetpotatoes, for example, or blue cheese or a client’s branded product or appliance.
But just like you, I also want what I cook at home to be interesting. I mean, why bother making it if eating it isn’t going to excite and delight you?
So in both instances, one of my favorite tricks is to take a familiar recipe and swap an ingredient or two for another. Basically, put a new twist on an old favorite.
Take my Latin-Inspired Caprese Salad. We all know the basic caprese—tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Why does it work? Because tomatoes, cheese, and herbs is a killer combination. But why limit yourself to an Italiano trio? Why not tomatoes, queso fresco, and cilantro? Tomatoes, gruyere, and thyme? Tomatoes, goat cheese, and tarragon? Any and all will be as just as killer, and a delicious showcase full-flavored, in-season tomatoes.
At the risk of job security, let me say that once you start thinking like this, you’ll see tons of ways to use simple swaps to create new recipes from old favorites. I mean, is there a law that says you can’t make carrot salad with shredded zucchini instead of carrots? There is not. Similarly, you could make cheeseburgers with grilled portobello mushrooms or lamb instead of beef. Serve bagels with smoked trout instead of lox. Top pizza with roasted red pepper sauce instead of one made with tomatoes.
For some of you, that last one may have been heresy. But you get the idea.
Over the course of my career, I’ve made sloppy Joes with chorizo instead of beef, sushi with farro instead of rice, tabbouleh with peas and carrots instead of tomatoes and cucumbers, apricot bars with orange marmalade instead of apricot jam, Chinese chicken salad with roasted eggplant instead of chicken, and most recently, Mexican street corn with sweetpotatoes instead of corn. To name just a few.
Each resulting in a deliciously delightful twist. Plus a paycheck. :)
Even substituting another liquid for water can make a difference—often a huge one since water is so, literally, tasteless. Depending on the recipe, instead try stock or broth, wine, juice, milk, buttermilk, or even soda pop. Rice cooked in coconut milk, for example.
In fact, I once met someone who tried boiling pasta in ginger ale.
Which inspires me to point out that not every ingredient swap will be a great idea. But you can’t find something new if you don’t explore.
Recipes to serve with Latin-Inspired Caprese Salad:
Hibiscus Sangria Cocktail or Mocktail
Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup with Crab
Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
Chicken with Lemon-Lime, Corn, and Jalapeño Relish
Pan-Roasted Salmon with Cilantro-Scallion Salsa