The luxury of having your own kitchen comes with the responsibility of buying groceries. This mundane task can become so overwhelming at times that all you end up bringing home is a few chicken cutlets, a dozen eggs, and a few too many boxes of mac and cheese. Whether you are just starting to cook on your own, or you’ve been cooking for what feels like forever, chances are you need some new ingredients to spice up your weekly meals. I mean, you can’t eat a grilled cheese every night… maybe every other night though. On weeks when it just feels like all you can afford are the absolute basics, spending a little extra on a few more exciting ingredients can totally enhance your recipes and your mood.
That being said, you don’t want to buy ingredients that are limited in use. Sure, you can drizzle that truffle oil over those roasted garlic french fries you saw in a Buzzfeed video, but are you really going to add this complicated (and expensive) recipe to your weekly repertoire? When it comes to effective grocery shopping on a budget, you need ingredients with versatility.
Here are three food items that provide the perfect balance between the pantry staple and the once-in-a-blue moon purchase:
I begin with burrata because in my mind, burrata always comes first. Some of you may be thinking, “What the heck is burrata?!” While no question saddens me more than this, I am eager to explain what this incredible ingredient is, and why you need it in your fridge immediately. For my fellow cheese lovers and addicts, I like to describe burrata as a creamy cloud of mozzarella cheese (but it’s not mozzarella). This fresh cheese resembles a ball of mozzarella, but splitting open this creamy shell unveils rich, soft pieces of ritagli, or rags of mozzarella di bufala soaked in heavy cream. It’s no wonder that burrata literally translates to ‘buttered’ in Italian. Not only is burrata a delicious treat on its own, but it also can be served in so many different ways. Make a simple caprese salad with just burrata, tomato, balsamic vinegar and basil; drape it across a warm plate of spaghetti; or, my personal favorite, serve it on top of toasted ciabatta bread with oil, lemon, and arugula. If burrata had a slogan, it’d be “treat yo self.”
The next item you need in your shopping cart is cilantro. You may overlook this herb at the grocery store because, well, all the herbs kind of look the same. But if you take the time to search through the endless greenery in the produce section, cilantro will prove to be the perfect garnish, or even the star of your dish. Spice up your average chicken cutlet with a cilantro lime marinade, garnish your ramen noodles or your avocado toast with finely chopped cilantro, and most importantly, the more cilantro you put in your guacamole, the infinitely better. If you want to get even fancier, try using cilantro in your pesto rather than basil, and then drizzle over a bowl of ziti or a piece of grilled tilapia.
Pro Tip: Get an herb preserver like this one so you can keep your cilantro fresh for up to three weeks! Think of all the money you’ll save.
Last but not least, make sure to grab an unmistakable red and green bottle of sriracha. This sauce is the ultimate budget ingredient because a little drip goes a long way. I started drizzling sriracha on my egg sandwiches and avocado toast, and then I tried it in stir fry, and then I tried it on pizza, and then… I was addicted. Something about the fiery blend of chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, salt, and sugar makes people who have never liked spicy food suddenly want all of their food to be spicy. For some serious flavor, don’t forget to add it to your Sunday brunch Bloody Mary. The possibilities are truly endless, and not too pricy!