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Five Ingredients You Can’t Live Without

When it comes to identifying food trends emerging in 2020, a good place to start might be to Google it. The search engine will give you a meta-analysis assembled mostly by content providers doing the same thing — searching for clues on the internet.

For a more authentic take, you could interview a chef who’s been in the restaurant business for, I don’t know, thirty years? And if that same chef developed over 400 recipes last year for his dinner delivery business — well, this is a no-brainer. Want to know what’s trending in the kitchen? Talk to the chef.

I talked to the chef. Here’s the lowdown on the up-and-up on what’s hot in the culinary world, circa 2020.

1. Lemongrass

Fresh lemongrass

Atfirst glance, you might think lemongrass belongs in the wicker aisle. Botanically speaking, the long, brittle pale-green stalk is a perennial grass but identifies as an herb. As the name suggests, lemongrass adds citrusy notes to Southeast Asian curries and marinades, stir-fries, and fragrant coconut soups. Large supermarkets occasionally carry lemongrass, but you’ll have better luck finding it in Asian grocery stores.

Prep tip: Peel off the outer green husk of the lemongrass stalk before mincing the inner white core. Lemongrass is best paired with fresh cilantro, ginger, and garlic.

2. Achiote

Achiote seeds and paste

Achiote is the new turmeric. Also called annatto, achiote seeds are typically ground into a spice or paste and used in Mexican and Caribbean cooking. Achiote has a mild, vaguely peppery flavor and once added to a dish it radiates with a vibrant yellow-orange hue. (Not surprisingly, achiote or annatto is a common ingredient in chorizo, butter, margarine, and Muenster cheese.)

You can buy achiote off the grid in Latin American and Mexican supermarkets. The trip will be worth it.

Prep tip: Mix ground achiote (or paste) with oil before adding to rice dishes, soups, or applying as a seasoning rub for chicken or fish. A little goes a long way.

3. Braised Arugula

Freshly picked arugula

Move over kale, there’s a new green in town (sort of.) Fresh arugula, with its distinctive peppery flavor, has long been a popular ingredient in salads and sandwiches, but it can also be flash-braised or blanched and added to pasta dishes, burritos, soups, and stir-fries. Best of all, arugula requires minimal prep work — no stems to discard, no chopping required; the whole leaf is edible. (And cooks in half the time as kale.)

Prep tip: Add arugula to the skillet with a few drops of canola oil and coarse salt and saute for one to two minutes until the leaves are wilted. Serve immediately.

4. Cremini Mushrooms

Cremini mushrooms

For decades white button mushrooms dominated the edible fungi market, but cremini mushrooms are breaking up the monopoly. Also called baby Bellas, brown creminis have a deep earthy flavor, chewy texture and can be used interchangeably with button mushrooms. Additionally, creminis are easier to cook with than portabellas (their elephantine cousins.)

Prep tip: Most recipes call for brushing mushrooms with a damp towel, but a quick spray-rinse will do. (Never soak in water —raw mushrooms absorb liquid like a sponge.) Creminis are ideally roasted first: toss with a little olive oil and coarse salt and roast at 375 degrees for fifteen minutes. Add creminis to hearty soups, alfredo sauces, Asian curries, lasagna, and marinaras.

5. Apples

Cosmic crisp apples are grown in the Pacific Northwest

That’s right, apples. Not the Red Delicious variety you grew up with, with its mealy, oddly yellow pulp, or the Gala variety sold in every supermarket on the planet. We’re talking Cosmic Crisp, Pink Lady, Cameo, Jazz, Envy — apples with catchy names and distinctive flavor profiles that range from Jolly Rancher-sweet to pleasantly tart with a tangy bite.

Everybody knows that apples are a better snack than a bag of salty/fatty/junky potato flakes or day-glow/chemically engineered/imitation cheese puffs. Everybody knows that apples clean your teeth (and your breath) and are hyper-nutritious. The challenge for apples is to stay interesting and relevant in a world where a product is deemed old and boring if it is not Instagram-worthy. That’s where apple growers have stepped up their game. By offering more varieties with buzzworthy tastes, textures, and bright, eye-candy hues, they are appealing to a wider audience — and raising the collective health of the nation.

Prep tips: To prevent a freshly cut apple from browning, toss with a little lemon juice. Add sliced apples to fruit salads, leafy green salads, chutneys, relishes, and skillet chicken and pork dishes. When purchasing apples, remember: it’s not a grab bag. Meticulously look for apples with shiny, smooth skins and avoid fruits with bruise marks, cuts, or wrinkles.

There you have it: five ingredients that will liven up your kitchen — and your health — in 2020. You’re welcome, nod nod, wink wink.