The "Secret" Ingredients We Can't Live Without


Our core team jumped on a Zoom recently with a few of our friends and contributors — Samantha Irby and her partner, Kirsten Jennings, Kayla Stewart, and Holly Haines — to gush about our favorite secret ingredients, why we love them, and what we do with them.  We want you to be involved in this, too: In tomorrow’s discussion thread, we’ll be asking you to reveal your favorite “secret” ingredients. It’ll all be explained in the email you get tomorrow, and I’ll be live in the thread from 12 pm to 2 pm ET.

We pulled out a few tasty bits from our conversation below (sorry about the audio quality; Zoom has its limits). Take a listen—we had a lot of fun, and I think this will get your juices flowing for tomorrow.

There was some real spice blend love happening

Three of us raved about our special spice blends: Tony’s Creole Seasoning for Kayla, (a Texas native with Louisiana roots; makes sense), garam masala for Holly ($100 says she makes her own), and baharat (the word is simply Arabic for “spice”) for Daniel Meyer, who I know for a fact is obsessed with this version). I don’t know how Tony works his magic, but I do have good recipes for the other two. Here you go:

Garam Masala
Put the seeds from 10 cardamom pods and one 3­-inch cinnamon stick in a dry skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon each cumin seeds and fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. Cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool, then grind to a fine powder. Makes about 1/4 cup.

Grind 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon each whole cloves, cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and allspice berries to a fine powder. Put in a small bowl with 2 teaspoons paprika and 1/2 teaspoon each ground ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg; stir to combine. Makes about 3 tablespoons.

My new book: “How to Pour This on Everything”

OK, that’s not really my new book (this is), but maybe it should be. As I now know, Holly puts spicy chile crisp (Laoganma brand, homemade, or bust) on everything she eats —including ice cream; Kayla puts Kecap Manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce) on everything she eats, and Melissa McCart puts green Sichuan pepper oil on everything she eats (like Brussels sprouts, which is kind of genius). Check out the podcast (14:20) for my not-so-dramatic reading of the absurdly highfalutin pepper oil description.

Brothy is in the eye of the beholder

Not that we didn’t all know this before, but there are so many easy ways to make delicious broth you can’t count them. Exhibit A: All of the following topics came up during our 20-minute call.

  • Parmesan rinds, one of Kate’s secret ingredients, make an unusual, rich, creamy stock. Parmesan Stock Recipe: Combine a few Parmesan rinds, 2 crushed garlic cloves, a rosemary sprig, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, simmer, then strain. If you for some reason have them, add prosciutto rinds or ends to the pot if you want.

  • Dried porcini mushrooms (an essential in my pantry) produce a stock that’s big in umami and meatiness. (The mushrooms are also great to eat.) Mushroom Stock Recipe: Toss a pound of trimmed button mushrooms and a few dried porcini into 6 cups water. It need not be more complicated than this, but adding some onion, carrot, or celery makes it even better. Bring to a boil, and simmer. Strain the mushrooms out if you like, but make sure to use them for something. This is where our colleague Kerri Conan gets her dried porcini (and other mushrooms); they’re really great.

  • I am never without dried kelp (kombu) and bonito flakes, because I make a lot of dashi, in my book the best stock you can make in ten minutes. (The shopping is the hardest part.)

  • Sam Irby proclaimed “loose chicken bouillon” as her favorite ingredient (I gotta convince her to make dashi).

  • And Kerri’s secret ingredient, a broth of sorts, is so brilliant/nuts that I don’t even want to spoil it here. Listen to the podcast and judge for yourself. We’ll get her to do a follow-up on this with more detail, but some encouragement from you will help.

If you have some front-burner thoughts about this, please type a comment below: Better yet, save them for tomorrow’s thread.

Super-Cheap Dinner #1

We’re gonna make subscribing to The Bittman Project worth it, in part by offering super-cheap, super-delicious recipes you’ll want to cook. The idea is that we’ll post one ultra-budget-friendly recipe each week, for subscribers only. While this can’t ever be more than back-of-the-napkin math (“affordable” is subjective), we figure that cooking your way through these recipes over the course of the year will more than offset the cost of an annual subscription, which amounts to about $1.35 per week.

We’re starting with beans, one of our favorite ingredients; rather than sticking with the more traditional pot-o-beans, we’re offering up a recipe that’s a little more creative and allows for lots of variations.

Have a question on how to save money on food shopping or meal planning? Drop us a line and we’ll come up with some solutions.

Bean Griddlecakes

Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes

These are delicious and wildly inexpensive. As is true for any bean dish, starting with dried beans that you cook yourself is more flavorful and cheaper, but canned are completely fine, and you can use any kind you like. You roughly mash the cooked beans and make what basically amounts to a thick pancake batter that you can jazz-up in any number of ways (see the list below). Cooked in a skillet (just like pancakes), the cakes get golden and crisp on the outside while staying slightly creamy in the middle. I eat these with a handful of dressed greens, raw or cooked, on the side. Easy, rustic, good.


  • 2 cups drained, cooked, or canned beans

  • 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk, plus more if needed

  • 1 egg

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, olive oil, or good-quality vegetable oil, plus more for cooking

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • Salt and pepper


1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat or heat an electric griddle to 375 degrees. Put the beans in a large bowl and mash them roughly with a fork. Use the fork to stir in the half-and-half, egg, and melted butter. Stir until thoroughly combined.

2. Add the flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper, keeping in mind how well-seasoned the beans were to begin with. Stir with a fork just enough to incorporate the flour, adding more half-and-half or reserved bean cooking liquid if necessary to achieve the consistency of thick pancake batter.

3. The skillet or griddle is ready when a drop of water dances on the surface. Working in batches, first brush with a little butter or oil. Spoon on about 1/3 cup batter at a time to form 3-4-inch griddle cakes. Cook until bubbles form on top and the cakes firm a bit, then turn and cook the other side until golden, about 4 minutes per side. As they finish, transfer the griddlecakes to the prepared pan and keep warm in the oven while you finish the others. Serve hot or at room temperature.

10 Additions to Bean Griddlecakes

  1. 2 tablespoons minced mild fresh herbs like parsley, mint, chervil, or cilantro

  2. 2 teaspoons minced potent fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, tarragon, oregano, or epazote

  3. 2 teaspoons minced fresh or candied ginger

  4. 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  5. Up to 1/4 cup chopped or sliced scallions or minced red onion

  6. Minced fresh chile like jalapeño or Thai red chile flakes or cayenne, to taste

  7. 1 tablespoon any spice mixture like curry powder or chaat masala

  8. Up to 1/4 cup chopped nuts like almonds, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, or walnuts

  9. Up to 1 cup corn kernels (frozen are fine; fresh are also fantastic added raw)

  10. 4 ounces bacon or sausage, chopped and cooked until crisp

    — Recipes from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised 20th Anniversary Edition