There are some less-common and specialty ingredients that I consider staples for DASH diet cooking. “Common” is quite subjective, but if you don’t know an ingredient or are wondering where to find it, start here.
Carob as an ingredient is the seedpod of the carob tree, an evergreen that is native to the Mediterranean. Carob has a sweet, mellow flavor somewhat similar to chocolate, although each has its own distinctive flavor. Carob powder can be found in health food stores and online, and is often used in recipes and other products as a substitute for chocolate. Unlike chocolate, carob does not have the same bitterness, and is naturally sweet. It also lacks the compounds that give chocolate its stimulating affects.
Guajillo peppers are the dried form of mirasol chiles. Usually used dried, these peppers are very common in Mexican cooking. I also used them in my DASH barbecue sauce. They’re long, dark red chilis with mild spice that have a rich, slightly smokey flavor and aroma. Often you’ll soak or cook them in liquid since to dehydrate them. If you can’t find them in the ethnic foods section grocery stores in your area, try a Hispanic market or order them online. Don’t worry if you have to buy a big bag, because they keep for ages!
There are many varieties of date, a type of tropical fruit. Medjool dates are very large and very sweet, mild-flavored with notes of caramel or brown sugar. Dates, obviously, start off as a fresh fruit, but you’ll usually find them sold dried (at least in my part of the world). When I use them in my recipes, I am referring to dried ones, often found in the baking or dried fruit section of the grocery store. They are high in calories, but also high in nutrients, and have a lower glycemic index than sweeteners like sugar or agave.
I recommend buying them with the pits still in, as they tend to be much softer and more moist. The pitted ones dry out and become tough and sad. Softer is also better because in many of my recipes, such as these brownies, you’ll have to blend them up! So, when I say “pitted” in my ingredients lists, I mean that you should remove the pits yourself before chopping, measuring, etc. It’s very easy–I often just pull them apart with my fingers!
monosodium glutamate (MSG)
MSG adds umami, or savory flavor to foods, and is frequently used in Asian cooking. Although there’s a fair amount of negative sentiment towards MSG, it’s not clear to me whether this is actually well-founded. Like many, I grew up believing MSG was unhealthy, but there’s a fair amount of evidence that this concept was born of racism rather than actual science. If you are concerned about the effects of MSG on your health, please consult your doctors. I use it with moderation in some of my recipes, like this seasame ginger soba, because it adds flavor with much less sodium than adding the same amount of salt. For this reason, it is often found in commercial low-sodium products as well.
“natural” nut & seed butters
Most of the time you’ll want to buy nut butter than is 100% nuts. You’ll have to seek it out specifically as the majority of nut butters contain some combination of salt, added oils, and sugar. It might take a little getting used to if you’re accustomed to Skippy, but I genuinely enjoy the natural ones. If you can’t find unsalted and you’re using it in a recipe remember to omit or adjust any other salt being added. Natural peanut butter you can likely find at most grocery stores, and maybe almond butter too. For less common varieties, try natural or higher-end food stores. It is also possible to make your own nut butter, but I have not found this practical for most nuts without a purpose-made machine (especially if you want to avoid adding oil). Opinions differ.
As a general rule avoid “no-stir” nut butters, most flavored nut butters, and most popular name brands (but really, just read the ingredients). I often use nut or seed butter in place of oil or butter in baking recipes, and for flavor or creaminess in certain sauces. Keep in mind that different nut/seed butters may not always substitute well. Try to use the one listed in the recipe when possible, because they can have very different consistencies, fat content, and flavors. When practical, I will sometimes list multiple good options to make this easier.
A flavor powerhouse that also happens to be nutritious, low sodium, and low fat. Sounds weird, I guess, but it’s very tasty. Often used in vegan cooking, nutritional yeast (aka nooch) can lend savory depth to many a dish. The flavor can be described as almost cheesy, and offering plenty of umami. Cheapest to purchase it in bulk from a natural or online grocer, but you can also sometimes find small containers at regular shops too.
A bit on the pricey side, but I usually don’t use much of it in one go in my recipes, so a bag will likely last you a while. Oat flour has a different flavor and different properties than wheat flour. It doesn’t contain gluten (look for certified gluten free if that’s important to you), and has a mild but distinctive flavor often described as “nutty”. Unlike wheat flour, oat flour is safe to eat raw, which also makes it idea for things like edible cookie dough. In large quantities, it’s unlikely to work well as a direct substitute for wheat flour, so do your research if you’re trying to adapt a recipe! I usually buy this online, but you may also be able to find it at a natural or specialty grocery store.
Potato flour is make from whole potatoes, dried and finely ground. It is not the same as potato starch, which is highly refined, harder to digest, and has very different properties. I can usually find potato flour in my regular grocery store with the specialty/natural baking ingredients. It is also easy to order online, being non-perishable. I use it in some of my wholegrain recipes because adding potato can yield a lighter texture, retain more moisture, and impart a pleasant flavor to many bread recipes. You can sub it directly for a small portion of the wheat flour in many cases–there’s a good article about this here. Potato flour also has a benefit over mashed potatoes, in that it requires no additional prep for a recipe and is easy to keep on hand as it’s non-perishable.
I generally try to avoid recommending specific brands or products. This is, in part, because I don’t wish to appear biased, and in part, because specific products may not be available in different regions. Occasionally though, there is a product that just makes sense for DASH cooking. Lily’s Dark Chocolate for Baking is generally what I use for sugar-free chocolate. It tastes good, uses stevia instead of sugar, and the dark chocolate, specifically, uses lecithin instead of cocoa butter. So not only are we sugar-free here, but we’re also reducing the tropical fat content hugely! It’s a little on the pricier side, but I highly recommend it. One downside is that it’s a little fiddly to work with when melted. I’ve included some advice on this below.
Tips for melting Lily’s Dark Chocolate:
- Once you’ve started melting, keep working steadily until you’re done. Don’t stop in the middle or dawdle too much.
- Use a double boiler over low heat to ensure the chocolate doesn’t get too hot. It’ll melt slowly, so be patient!
- Ensure no water from the lower pot gets into the upper bowl of your double boiler, as this can cause the chocolate to seize.
- You can smooth it out by adding a tiny bit of nut butter to the melted chocolate and mixing well. Try 1 tsp per 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.
- It really only melts smoothly once. Any leftover chocolate I like to spread thickly on a piece of parchment paper, allow to harden, and then chop up for use as chocolate chunks in some other project.
Most of my recipes utilize 1-to-1 granulated sugar substitutes (meaning they measure the same as sugar, 1 tsp = 1 tsp, etc). You don’t usually need a specific sweetener or brand, but since they do vary somewhat, I often share what products I used so that you can follow along exactly, in the event that your go-to choice doesn’t yield good results. I am not sponsored by any of these products, and I provide this information purely for your reference. At the moment, my go-tos (for flavor and value) are a monkfruit/erythritol blend and the Truvia baking blend. King Arthur Flour’s baking blend is also nice. It has less aftertaste, but it does add a fairly strong vanilla flavor. It is more expensive, so I use it only for things where I feel the aftertaste of another sweetener can’t be easily covered up.
People have different feelings about sugar-free sweeteners, but personally, I feel very comfortable eating stevia and sugar alcohols in moderate amounts. The aftertastes of many of sweeteners can be unpleasant though, and I always strive to minimize my recipes. Mixing multiple sweeteners or brands can help with this, and in recipes which need more than a little sweetness I usually try to find ways to combine sweetener and other naturally sweet ingredients (or even a small amount of sugar), as in these brownies.
white whole wheat flour
White whole wheat flour is a whole grain flour, unlike regular white flour. It is made from white wheat berries rather than the more common red wheat. It’s appearance is light with a softer, finer texture and more subtle flavor than regular whole wheat flour, while still offering the nutritional benefits associated with whole grains.
It can be more difficult to find though, and in some recipes I’ve found it creates a gummy texture. This flour sometimes requires additional liquid to be added when subbing it into recipes. I have found this flour at Target and QFC, but not at my usual grocery stores. It can also be ordered online (such as from King Arthur Flour). I find this flour quite handy for achieving an appealing texture in certain wholegrain things, like mantou or my blueberry orange muffins, and I recommend keeping some on hand, even though I don’t use it in the majority of my baking projects. I tend to use blends both to reduce unpredictability, and minimize the cost of using this more expensive flour.