When it comes to flexible grocery staples, we all know ground beef and eggs and onions and coconut milk. All those foods really do live up to their reputation as versatile staples that go well with almost anything, and you can do dozens of things with every one of them. But here are 6 lesser-known foods you might want to consider for their power to become anything you like.
1. Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
Coconut flakes can be crunchy or chewy, and work in sweet or savory recipes. They’re good in everything from breaded chicken tenders to Paleo cookies, and they’re particularly noteworthy for adding some nut-free crunch to just about anything.
- Crispy Coconut Shrimp with Mango Sauce (use the shredded coconut to make a crispy crunch on these shrimp)
- Banana Raisin Cookies (coconut can be chewy as well as crunchy – here it gives you the traditional oatmeal texture with no grains required)
- Coconut Macaroons with Lemon Curd (a little involved, but so worth it)
Cauliflower is white and reasonably mild-tasting, which makes it a Paleo stand-in for all kinds of other white and mild-tasting foods that might not be the very healthiest foods around (pizza crust? Bagels? Rice? You got it).
- 8 creative cauliflower substitutions for unhealthy foods (from bagels to pizza crust, cauliflower is a good sub for all your bland-white-carb needs)
- Beef and Winter Vegetable Soup (use the cauliflower to add a rice-like texture to the soup)
- Cauliflower Chowder (the cauliflower gives you that thick, creamy texture)
3. Ground Not-Beef
Ground beef is a Paleo staple because you can make it into anything, but what about all the other ground meat? Ground chicken or pork can add something new to your recipes. Sick of chili? What about white chili? Done with meatballs? What about an Asian-inspired version with pork instead of beef? Ground anything-but-beef is an easy way to dramatically increase your recipe possibilities and keep the old favorites interesting.
- Buffalo Chicken Meatballs (or try them with turkey)
- Beef-Stuffed Butternut Squash (would also be great with ground pork for a change)
- Greek-Style Meatballs (the recipe calls for lamb, but these would also be good with chicken or turkey)
4. Cocoa Powder
It’s not everyone’s first thought when it comes to versatility, but if you know how to use it, cocoa powder is actually good for all kinds of recipes, including the savory ones. Throw it into chili or a steak rub to add a deep, warm flavor (and no, your steak won’t taste like dessert). Or keep it on hand so you can always make an instant Paleo treat.
- Chocolate-Coconut Bites (completely dairy-free; it’s basically an easy way to make your own, high-fat/low-carb chocolate)
- Frozen Chocolate Smoothie (another quick and easy treat, or try coconut milk hot chocolate for the warm version)
- Grilled Chicken with Lime Butter (use chocolate to give this recipe an extra base of flavor)
Avocados are another grocery staple that easily go from sweet to savory and back again. Cool avocado is great for temperature contrast on top of soups or chilis, and a few slices or cubes add some flavor (and nutrients!) to almost any salad. On the sweet side, try them in smoothies or even chocolate mousse.
- Cranberry Avocado Salad (the avocado here is a pleasant contrast to the tart cranberries).
- Chocolate Avocado Strawberry Smoothie (it’s not just for savory recipes: avocado is also mild enough to go in desserts)
- Chicken Enchilada Casserole (this recipe uses avocado as a garnish for temperature and texture contrast)
- Chicken Tenders with Avocado-Cilantro Dipping Sauce (the avocado and herbs in this sauce give it a smooth texture and a nice richness)
Stuff it! Slice it! Use it as a pasta substitute, or just cut it into cubes and roast it with curry powder and paprika. Eggplant is good for a lot more than just lasagna and grossing out children under 10. Because it’s both large and flexible, it gives you a lot of options for shapes and presentations, and it’s particularly good with anything Italian.
- Shrimp-Stuffed Eggplant (eggplant halves make a beautiful edible “bowl” for a shrimp curry)
- Eggplant Cannelloni (who needs pasta when you could have this?)
- Baba Ghanoush (a savory Middle Eastern dipping sauce, with eggplant standing in for the chickpeas)