the unusual suspects: surprising additions and substitutions in cooking

We like to keep things interesting here at Martha and Marley Spoon's test kitchen, and often times that means highlighting new and special ingredients.
By: Anna Becker / 06/13/2016 /

We're lucky to be working and developing recipes out of a test kitchen in Manhattan, which means we're within easy and close access to some of the best grocery shopping in the country – great farms and butchers upstate, abundant outdoor markets in the city, and unique little hideaways for those special additions to a simple dish.

But sometimes, we come upon a pretty amazing occurrence, in which the ingredient that completely transforms a dish (or component to a dish) was right under our nose all this time! Like stirring almond butter into chicken soup, or using flour tortillas in place of noodles—experimenting with a classic dish can occasionally yield new favorites. These ingredients often go undetected or unnoticed, but we guarantee your guests will notice the special twist. A kitchen magician must not reveal all their secrets, however! So we'll keep these between us: below you'll find some of the cleverest tricks and most interesting substitutions, all of which we're very proud. And when you're cooking without a recipe (gasp, we know) and developing your own dishes, don't be afraid to, like us, have a little fun in the process.

seared pork chops with strawberry chimichurri and herbed quinoa Our own twist on a classic and common Argentine herb condiment, this strawberry chimichurri spooned over these simply seared pork chops is as delicious as it is beautiful. The flavors are both sweet and savory at once and are a perfect complement to the pork.

pork chops

french toast for dinner(!) with curried peas Breakfast for dinner doesn’t have to be sweet, but it can be just as fun and delicious. We whisked fresh herbs and a spicy serrano chile with eggs for a savory French toast. Peas, cooked in curry, are the perfect spiced topping. No need for maple syrup!

savory french toast

sesame coated chicken paillards with crispy salad Bye-bye breadcrumbs–chicken breast gets a makeover! Pounded into a flat cutlet, then coated in toasted sesame seeds to form a golden, fragrant crust. There’s a refreshing side of baby lettuce leaves, mint, tiny sweet tomatoes and cucumber to balance the meal. Remember to scrape any extra hot sesame seeds from the pan and sprinkle onto your salad.

sesame breaded chicken breast

espresso rubbed steak with roasted fingerling potatoes & Brussels sprouts Believe it or not, ground espresso makes for a mind-blowing steak rub. The coffee is subtle and infuses the meat with a slightly sweet and earthy flavor. Combined with smoky chipotle powder and ground coriander, it forms a bold mix that will make any piece of meat feel all that more special. We melted a little butter with the spiced steak juices to then drizzle on top. By then you’ll have perfectly roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts to sop up this delicious buttery sauce.

espresso rubbed steak

chicken soup with sweet potato, quinoa, and almond butter! This soup is so delicate and light it’s easy to forget you’re eating chicken, sweet potatoes and collards. The secret? We poached every ingredient in broth and added plenty of fresh ginger at the end. It’s also packed with superfoods thanks to red quinoa and almond butter.

chicken soup

kimchi pancakes with sesame spinach and rice We’ve been slightly obsessed with these kimchi pancakes – we can’t get enough of those crispy edges. To balance the heat of the kimchi we’ve added a bowl of fluffy rice and a side of cooling sesame spinach. We like to cut our pancakes into wedges so we can eat with our fingers, though you’re welcome to leave them whole. If you’re in the mood, you might want to play around with a bigger pancake, though beware, they’re harder to flip!

kimchi pancakes

tortilla cannelloni with spinach and mozzarella We love baked pasta and we’re always looking for riffs and shortcuts to deliver those satisfying flavors in a fraction of the time. Enter: flour tortillas! We used them like fresh pasta, stuffed them with a savory ricotta mixture and smothered them in a quick tomato sauce. Don’t worry, we snuck in a layer of fresh spinach so the vegetables go down easy.