6 more cheap ingredients to brighten up everyday meals

Last year we did an article about how carefully spending a pound or two here and there can make everyday meals much more flavourful and interesting. It proved very popular, and it soon became clear that the list could have been longer, so here are six new suggestions for more store cupboard ingredients to brighten up your cooking.

cheap ingredients to make plain everyday food more interesting and tasty

Hot pepper sauce

Can’t believe this wasn’t in the first list, because it’s so versatile. Hot chilli sauce can add a subtle warmth, some zippy heat or an all-out endorphin rush, depending on how much you chuck in. Add it to soups, spreads, dips, chillis, wraps, casseroles and hotpots, pizzas, Bloody Mary cocktails, seafood and whatever else you like.

Example price: the classic Tabasco pepper sauce is available at multiple retailers, £1.89 for 57ml. Heinz has started making a similar version for £1.49 per 150ml.

Worcestershire sauce

The tangy, savoury sauce that goes well with cheese on toast, and adds depth to soups, gravies, marinades and stews. The most famous brand is Lea & Perrins, but many supermarkets make their own versions. Most Worcester sauce recipes include anchovies which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians, but Henderson’s Relish is a fish-free alternative approved by the Vegetarian Society.

Example price: Sainsbury’s own brand Worcestershire sauce is 90p for 150ml.

Flavoured vinegar

An easy way to make salads, dressings and dips more interesting, and usually not too expensive. Balsamic vinegar can be added to gravies and sauces in small amounts for a richer flavour, and tarragon vinegar can be used in recipes like Eggs Benedict.

Example price: Asda own brand balsamic vinegar is £1.00 for 250ml. You can also make your own infused fruit or herb vinegars.

Soy Sauce

One of the easiest ways to get that perfect savoury ‘umami’ flavour into your cooking. Great for stir-fries, dipping sauces and oriental-style soups and salads, and for general seasoning purposes. Tamari is a variation on this seasoning, with less salt and a richer, more complex flavour.

Example price: Amoy dark soy sauce is £1.19 for 150ml at Tesco. Larger bottles from Chinese grocery shops and supermarkets can work out better value.

Dried porcini mushrooms

These can be rehydrated in tiny amounts and then finely chopped and added to soups, sauces, pie fillings and casseroles. The strained-off soaking liquid can be used too for extra flavour in stocks and gravies, as long as you make sure there’s no sand or grit in it. You can also be less thrifty and use larger slices of porcini to flavour risottos, bakes and pasta dishes.

Example price: Merchant Gourmet dried porcini mushrooms are £2.00 for 25g at Sainsbury’s. If you’re prepared to pay another £1, many supermarkets sell their own 50g or 100g versions for about £3.00.

Fish Sauce (nam pla)

Fish sauce is ideal for seasoning Thai-style curries, soups, salads and stir-fries. You can also add it to marinades and dips. Thanks to @cha0tic for the reminder.

Example price: Squid Brand fish sauce is £1.50 at Tesco for a big 750ml bottle.

And this list still isn’t complete! Do you have your own favourite store cupboard item for making plainer food more interesting, especially if it’s something that costs under £2?

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  1. The porcini mushrooms sound really interesting, I’ve never even heard of them! Will try and sniff out a bottle on my next shop.

  2. Hi Gemma – if you’d like to give them a try for less, @TracieFK just told me that they’re selling tubs of dried porcini mushrooms for £1.25 in Lidl at the moment. If you like mushrooms in general, you will almost certainly love porcini. Enjoy!

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