I find that some of the best budget-friendly recipes are successful because they use only a few low-cost ingredients that pay off tenfold in flavor. When it comes time to get a quick weeknight meal on the table, reach for ingredients you already have on-hand that are big and bold.
Take these Hoisin-Sweet Onion Pork Chops for instance. They’re flavored with hoisin, which is a Chinese barbecue sauce, essentially, that’s made with vinegar, garlic, red chili peppers, and toasted soy beans. With all of these ingredients already packed into that jar of sauce, just a couple of spoonfuls are enough to flavor this entire meal.
Bottom line: Invest in ingredients that provide a big punch of seasoning in a small portion. You’ll pay a little bit more upfront, but it’s an add-in that you’ll be able to use over a longer period of time. If you haven’t already, stock your pantry with these five essential meal boosters:
Fish Sauce: As the flavors of Southeast Asia are becoming more popular, you may want to add fish sauce to your pantry – a key ingredient in the kitchens of Thailand and Vietnam. Use it sparingly to season vinaigrettes, soups, or even a hearty pot of beef stew.
Balsamic Vinegar: This is one of the most versatile ingredients on the shelf. Its robust sweet and sour flavor punches up sauces and pasta dishes. It also reduces beautifully for glazed and roasted items like meatloaf or grilled chicken.
Dried Oregano: Oregano isn’t just for Italian food – it actually appears in the cuisines of many parts of the world including the Southwest, Mexico, India, and most of the countries that border the Mediterranean. Keep the dried stuff in your pantry for an instant global dinner passport.
Worcestershire Sauce: A friend to burgers the world over, Worcestershire is one of those great universal seasonings. Use it as a marinade for steaks and chops, or add a few dashes to a pan gravy and watch the crowd go wild.
Sriracha or Chili Paste: Asian markets have some of the best chili pastes around because the foods of East and Southeast Asia rely heavily on heat as a flavoring agent. Keep a bottle of chili oil, sriracha, or sambal (a garlic-chili paste) to punch up everything from morning eggs to a weeknight chicken parm.
Hoisin-Sweet Onion Chops
Makes 4 servings
2 tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil, divided
4 thin-cut, bone-in pork chops (about 1/2-inch thick)
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large sweet onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat with the oil. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and sear them in the oil until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chops to a plate and reserve.
2. Return the sauté pan to medium heat and add the onion. Cook the onion until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, hoisin, lime juice, and chicken stock to the pan and simmer the sauce until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
3. Serve the chops, slathered with the pan sauce and a garnish of cilantro.