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Dress it up a bit

Most people have a repertoire of about a dozen most often eaten meals. If your mealtime is suffering from a lack of culinary creativity, infuse your favorite recipes with new life. The right topping can change a humdrum dish into a culinary feast fit for a king.

Most cookbooks provide elaborate recipes requiring a lot of time and ingredients to prepare, but there are a variety of easy DIY dressings and sauces that will crown your everyday meals marvelously, and homemade dressings — regardless of their simplicity — always taste better than bottled. Here are a few ideas to inspire you.

Salads

Nutritionists encourage us to eat salads featuring the colors of a rainbow. Sure, it's more work to chop up vegetables or mix greens of different shades, but if you want nutritional value and especially taste, it's well worth the extra effort.

Toss in nutrient-packed ingredients such as sliced avocado, a sprinkling of raw or lightly toasted chopped nuts or seeds (such as hemp, chia, sesame or flaxseed), or crumbled feta or blue cheese (just a sprinkling for taste). For a hint of sweetness, add a few currants or dried cranberries.

Top raw or lightly steamed greens with grilled or steamed red peppers, onions and potatoes, and any of the dressings listed here.

Add some protein to turn your salad into a main course. Good protein sources that nicely accompany greens include quinoa, chicken, tuna, salmon and goat cheese.

Occasionally prepare a vegetable salad without greens.

Dressings:

You can't go wrong with these salad dressings. They're easy to prepare and require only a few ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to each if desired. Otherwise, simply whisk ingredients together and serve.

Simple

Balsamic:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon water or maple syrup

Flax:
2 tablespoons flax oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

Tahini:
1/2 cup tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Olive-lemon:
2 tablespoons olive oil
a generous squirt of fresh lemon juice

Advanced

These dressing recipes require a few more ingredients, so save them for special occasions or for when you feel like treating yourself.

Yogurt-herb:
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup light mayonnaise or mayo substitute
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley and/or dillv Also works well in pasta and potato salads.

Blueberry:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1 cup fresh blueberries, divided
Mix half the blueberries with the other ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth
After dressing your salad
Sprinkle the remaining blueberries over top

Feeling saucy:

These easy toppers for pasta, fish, poultry or meat will tantalize your taste buds.

Tomato sauce:
1 cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large or 3 small cloves garlic
crushed or chopped, and 1 tablespoon fresh basil

Coconut milk:
For 2 servings
simmer fish or chicken in half a can of coconut milk.

Garlic-herb:
1/4 cup olive oil, 3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped, a pinch of fresh basil or oregano, freshly grated pepper.

Yogurt-dill:
For an exceptional accompaniment to fish, mix 1 cup plain yogurt (low- or full-fat) with 1/2 cup fresh dill (fresh is essential). For a nutritional boost, reduce the amount of yogurt to 3/4 cup and add 1/4 cup kefir or quark. This sauce tastes even better if it's prepared a few hours ahead of time.

Quick fixes

In a pinch, these will make a lackluster dish delish:
A drizzle of soy sauce
A tablespoon of miso paste
Hot sauce
A squirt of fresh lemon, lime, or orange juice

Fruit, spices, nuts and more
Forget about having the same old boring chicken dish tonight. Bake chicken breasts topped with pineapple slices or with mango salsa on the side.

Spices such as paprika, ginger and chili powder can perk up a meal while reducing the need for salt.

Chopped fresh or dried herbs give your meal and health a boost. There are many to choose from: parsley, mint, dill, basil, chives, cilantro, oregano, rosemary or thyme.

Or go raw with any of these ingredients:

Green onions
Chopped olives
Capers
Chopped jalapeno
Sliced mango or pineapple
Applesauce
Roasted red peppers
Chopped garlic or onion sauteed in olive oil
Chopped nuts (walnuts, peanuts, almonds) raw or lightly toasted
A generous sprinkling of nutritional yeast (a substitute for parmesan cheese)
Grated raw or toasted coconut
Chopped pine nuts (lightly toasted if you prefer)
A quarter cup crumbled feta or blue cheese

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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