Anyone who’s ever ran a household and had to cook meals regularly will tell you how hard it is to keep things fresh. More often than not, you’ll fall into a pattern of spaghetti bolognese or pizza and chips, and the whole process can become a bit more tedious.
And that’s why, for you and your family’s sake, it’s important to switch things up. Creating balanced, varied meals is important not just for a killer diet, but for your own sanity. Sure, spaghetti bolognese is nice, but every single week, twice a week? It’ll start to taste like cardboard.
So, the next time you sit down to devise that all-important meal plan, throw some curveballs into the mix. Literally. With thousands of different ingredients and recipes at your disposal, why not try something unusual?
Below, you’ll find a selection of recipes that use rather uncommon ingredients, that I urge you to try. At the very least, you’ll hopefully glean a bit of inspiration for the week ahead!
Grilled steak with sorghum glaze
Sorghum has recently been dubbed a ‘wonder grain’ and its wide variety of uses certainly attest to that. It’s similar to grains like quinoa and millet, only it’s gluten-free and a bit more filling. This makes it a great alternative for people who can’t eat gluten products, to be able to get some quality grains into their diet.
One of the best ways to use sorghum that I’ve seen is to fashion it into a glaze for your cooked meats. Grilled steak, BBQ ribs, gammon… the list goes on! One option is to buy sorghum syrup and spread it over the meat at intermediate periods during cooking. Or, you can mix sorghum with garlic powder, melted butter and paprika to create a tastebud-popping glaze.
Alternatively, another good way to use sorghum is in a sorghum salad. If you’ve ever made a salad with rice or couscous, the same principle applies. Just swap out those grains for sorghum!
Food producer Hampton Creek uses sorghum in plenty of dishes, and many, many people are following suit. Its special properties are quickly taking the cooking world by storm, and now is a good time to start experimenting.
Lasagna with mushrooms and orach
Besides being associated with Popeye and superhuman strength, spinach is known for being rather tasty to eat. Orach, a purple plant that can be used as a substitute for spinach, possesses many of the same qualities too. The fact that it’s purple could put some people off, but it’s hard to deny the beauty of orach and rice, with the rice slowly turning purple.
But rice is not the focus here - rather, we’re going for a delicious vegetarian lasagna. Vegetarians don’t often get that special treatment that they deserve, but fortunately, they can enjoy this one!
The recipe is simple; you’ll first need some sliced mushrooms and a bag of orach. Orach can be quite hard to come by, so try looking in specialist or organic food stores, or order online. If you want to go the easy route, but some ready-made lasagna sheets and layer the veggies with some cheese.
You can add whatever you like to your lasagna too - garlic, rosemary, thyme or even paprika for an exotic taste. The orach will provide that chewy, spinach-esque texture and is packed full of goodness to boot.
Vegetable mix with fried cardoons
Cardoons are traditionally known as a plant, and not necessarily as a food. They’re edible, sure, but it’s rare that you’d find people eating them. It doesn’t exactly look welcoming, with it’s thistly exterior and intimidating size.
And that size can grow rather large indeed. Cardoons are celery on steroids, and there’s a reason why they aren’t used in too many recipes. They’re hard to get right, but rewarding if you manage it.
They possess an artichoke-esque flavor, and resemble a rather odd stick of celery. They’re not easy to prepare - you’ll have to significantly trim them down and blanch them to remove bitterness. But, once ready to cook, they’re incredibly tasty, and even better when fried.
It’s important to keep this one simple, as the cardoons will easily dominate your plate. A simple side mix of vegetables will do - perhaps some chopped potatoes, tomatoes and onions in a basic dressing. Again, this one’s suitable for vegetarians - unless you choose to serve up some meat too.
To fry the cardoons, trim them and remove the stalks, and cut into smaller pieces. Mix some eggs, water and cheese in a bowl, coat the cardoons in flour, then drench them in the mixture. Quickly transfer to the frying pan until they’re golden brown, then transfer them somewhere to drain. Voila!
Stuffed kudzu leaves
Kudzu, like orcha, is bright purple. Sensing a pattern here? It wasn’t intentional. Anyone who’s ever tried kudzu will tell you it’s incredibly tasty, so I couldn’t help but put it on this list. The color purple isn’t really indicative of anything other than kudzu’s unique look, and that’s what we want here.
Anyway, this recipe is one of the more simple, easy to prepare one’s. You’ll want to hoard some kudzu leaves (the seeds can be bought online), and wash them thoroughly. You’ll need to remove the stems using a knife, and mix together the ingredients to be stuffed. The basics here include garlic and diced tomatoes, but you can go wild here.
Personally, I use Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and pre-packed smoked ham. Whatever you decide to use as a stuffing, it’s simply a case of adding the mixture to the leaves and rolling them. Make sure they’re packed in a tight cigarette shape, so none of the food falls out.
Now all they need is a brief stint in the oven. Kudzu is an extremely versatile plant, and the flower can even be cooked or turned into jelly. This means that if you get hold of some, literally none of it will go to waste.
Braised hogget pie
“What on earth is hogget?” I hear you ask. It sounds rather odd, but in reality, it’s not. It’s a younger form of lamb, and is thought to be the absolute tastiest way to enjoy this meat.
It’s as versatile as you’d expect, able to be roasted, slow-cooked, and made into pies and casseroles. It’s the pie we’ll be focused on here; specifically, a braised pie, making the meat as melt-in-the-mouth as possible.
Besides the use of hogget, this is a traditional casserole recipe. You can season the meat however you want (try salt, olive oil and pepper) and add whatever veg you want. In the final stages of cooking, you’ll need to layer some sliced potatoes over the meat and cook until brown.
It will take a number of hours to successfully braise the meat all over, but it’s absolutely worth the wait. If you don’t have the time, you can cook the meat in any way you see fit. Try a slow cooker, and place vegetables all around the meat to get that stringy, pulled-pork texture.
Dragon fruit salad with chocolate dip
And finally, we’re cheating a bit with this one because it is technically a pudding, but it works wonders! Dragon fruit doesn’t sound welcoming, but with its sweet texture it’s one treat that’s worth experiencing.
Globally recognized chefs like Gordon Ramsay frequently use this fruit, so that does stand for something. You’ll need to create a basic chocolate sauce here, using sugar, butter and cocoa powder, before adding some cream and mixing. If you want, you can lump in some vanilla extract too, but don’t make the sauce too sweet. The fruit is sweet too, and you might have an overload.
You can make your fruit salad from whichever fruits you desire, though some work better than others. Dragon fruit is quite soft, so similar soft fruits would be better. Think oranges, mangoes and grapes as opposed to crunchy apples. Once you’ve selected your favorites, it’s time to get dipping! Alternatively, you can drizzle the sauce over the fruit itself.
And if you really want to go all out, why not combine this pudding with one of the main dishes we listed earlier? You could have orcha lasagna followed by dragon fruit and chocolate dip, a sentence that looks wacky but tastes delicious. Or how about braised hogget with a mango, grape and dragon fruit drizzle? On a side note, I’m now incredibly hungry.
And with that, our list has come to an end! Cooking should be a fun, engaging experience that frequently challenges and tests you, and these recipes will do just that. By using an ingredient that you aren’t familiar with, you can create a fresh dish will simultaneously picking up new skills.
These skills can be transferred to other dishes and other meals, improving your all-round culinary ability. I’m not asking you to become a professional chef, but a strong foundation in this art will help improve your diet, and the diet of your family.
So, on that note, thanks for reading, and I hope some of these recipes are appealing to you! If you have any ideas, suggestions or unusual ingredients of your own, let us know down in the comments.