Cooking

Hippie Chow

7 weird healthy ingredients you should stock up on
Photo: Katie Foster/Tasting Table
Healthy Ingredients

We're going clean in 2016—and not only because it rhymes. Recharge and renew yourself with our favorite healthy recipes.

The first step to eating clean is having an arsenal of healthy products in the pantry, so clear out the Cheez Whiz and stock up on these not-at-all scary ingredients—as weird as they may seem. They might sound like ingredients out of a hippie cookbook, but they are all gaining popularity, and for good reason.

① Nutritional yeast: While the name is anything but inviting, nutritional yeast's cheesy flavor is a vegan's best friend. Add it to tofu scrambles to get shockingly close to scrambled eggs and sprinkle it over popcorn. Annie Pettry, chef at Decca in Louisville, says some of her earliest food memories involve nutritional yeast (which she attributes to her "health-conscious hippie parents"). Today, she still uses it as a savory seasoning for the full flavor of cheese but without the fat.

② Liquid aminos: This soybean product contains an impressive amount of amino acids, sneaking protein into your diet—a task that can be difficult for vegans. It tastes similar to soy sauce and is essentially used in the same way to spruce up salad dressings, stir-fries and the like. But unlike soy sauce, it's naturally gluten free and has much less sodium.

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③ Hemp seeds: No, they're not going to get you high (unless you count the buzz you'll get from eating healthfully). Use them in granola bars and as a protein-packed salad topper; add them to desserts for a nutty, savory touch. And you can even candy them as a coat for chocolate-covered cherry ice pops; their healthful omega-3 acids won't disappear.

④ Chia seeds: These tiny seeds can do more than sprout afros in Shrek- or Scooby-Doo-shaped flowerpots. They have plenty of fiber to help you feel fuller longer and can also be used instead of eggs to make a recipe vegan friendly. Take advantage of their ultra-absorbent properties by adding them to overnight soaked oats or creamy pomegranate pudding, and, like hemp seeds, they make another solid choice for homemade granola bars.

⑤ Açaí: Google açaí, and the first suggestion is "açaí pronunciation." The antioxidant-rich super berry is becoming a popular option in satisfying breakfast bowls. Buy the frozen purée and top it with anything you want, like granola, fresh fruit or seeds. Is it a smoothie? Is it soup? If nothing else, it's about as close as you can get to eating the color magenta without chewing on a crayon.

⑥ Kombu: Otherwise known as dried kelp, this Japanese ingredient is umami embodied. If you look closely at the surface of this tough, dark seaweed, you can see its glutamate crystals. It's your go-to when making dashi, the simple stock that acts as a base for many soups, stews and braised dishes. Chef Ernesto Uchimura of L.A.'s Plan Check uses kombu in pickle brine to make a Japanese Jewish pickle and even melts cheese into a milk-based dashi to make a base for Americanized dashi cheese.

⑦ Wakame: In other sea vegetable news . . . wakame is often sold dry and then rehydrated to be used in miso soup or that ubiquitous seaweed salad at Japanese restaurants. It's rich in many minerals and vitamins, and since it's basically timeless in its dried form, pulling together a salad is no problem, even without fresh greens on hand. At The Progress in San Francisco, chef Stuart Brioza uses pickling liquid from turnips to rehydrate dried wakame, which he serves with a kale salad.

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