10 versatile ingredients you can make almost anything with

JacquesPALUT/iStockRice is incredibly versatile, especially when it’s already cooked.
  • I worked in a professional kitchen for years, and I learned that a lot of ingredients are more versatile than you might think.
  • A bag of uncooked rice is handy, but properly storing some cooked rice in your fridge can save you a lot of time on busy weeknights.
  • Eggs can be used to prepare baked goods or to create entire meals, like a frittata.
  • Soy sauce can be used to season just about anything.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If there’s one thing you learn in a professional kitchen, it’s how to think on your feet when it comes to limited ingredients.

I worked in a restaurant kitchen for years, and it taught me how to use the ingredients we already had stocked in new and creative ways in order to save time and money.

From canned tomatoes to eggs, here are 10 versatile ingredients and how best to use them.


Eggs work well by themselves or with almost any other ingredient.

iStockTry topping steak with eggs for a high-protein meal.

Best-loved for their brunch-time versatility and key roles in many of your favourite baked goods, eggs are a kitchen staple – and it’s easy to forget just how good a savoury frittata can be at dinner.

A fried egg can make a decent burger even better, and never underestimate the power of eggs in classic sauces, like Bearnaise, that can go with just about any protein and veggies you like.

BĂ©arnaise sauce typically consists of egg yolk, clarified butter, and white wine, and it pairs especially well with fish, steak, green beans, and potatoes.


Whole potatoes can become almost anything.

Carlo Allegri/ReutersYou can turn them into potato wedges, or even french fries.

Potatoes aren’t just full of carbs – they’re also full of protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

As registered dietitian Ryan Raman wrote for Healthline, there’s a lot of nutritional value in potato skins, so keep those peels on for the biggest nutritional benefits.

You can shred them into hash browns or potato pancakes, boil and mash them to make mashed potatoes, croquettes, or shepherd’s pie.

You can also cut them, season them, and bake them as wedges for a lighter french-fry alternative. Potatoes are also great in soups and stews and, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can always try a gnocchi(small potato-based dumplings) or pierogi (a type of boiled, potato-based dumpling) recipe.

If you want to thicken a sauce, soup, or stew without using wheat flour, you can also just incorporate potatoes since their starchiness will thicken your finished product. In a pinch, instant mashed-potato flakes or potato starch can also thicken up a dish.


Canned chickpeas are a powerhouse plant protein.

Hilary Brueck / InsiderConsider making hummus to store in your fridge.

A good hummus recipe works as a tasty snack or small meal when paired with pitas, crackers, and veggies.

You can also roast or bake chickpeas until they are crispy, which makes them an ideal salad topping or snack. After you roast them in the oven with your favourite seasonings, they take on a delicious nutty flavour.

If you’re worried about opening a can of chickpeas and not being able to use them all in one meal, keep them refrigerated in an airtight container and throw them on top of salads.

If you’re vegan or interested in vegan baking, keep the canned chickpea liquid – called aquafaba – to whip into an airy froth in baked goods in place of egg whites. Note that although chickpeas themselves are full of protein – 3 grams per ounce, according to Healthline – aquafaba is not.


Canned tomatoes are good for more than just chilli and sauce.

Kathleen Elkins for InsiderUse canned tomatoes when making chicken tikka masala.

There’s nothing like a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato on a BLT sandwich or in your Caprese salad, but this produce isn’t always in season.

In my experience, if you’re planning on cooking with tomatoes, as opposed to eating them fresh, it’s best to opt for canned ones.

Stick to canned tomatoes that are just seasoned with salt and add your own basil, oregano, or other herbs as each recipe demands.


Soy sauce is excellent for seasoning many dishes.

ffolas/ShutterstockSoy sauce can be used in all sorts of dipping sauces.

Soy sauce is bursting with umami flavour and also has at least some salt, even in reduced-sodium varieties.

Although there are tons of different soy-sauce varieties associated with different cooking traditions across Asia, it’s a condiment that’s rarely used by itself. Instead, it’s a component of many dipping-sauce recipes for dumplings and noodles. It’s also tasty in salad dressings.

The next time you’re cooking, try reaching for the soy sauce instead of the salt to add flavour depth in addition to seasoning. Use a small amount of soy sauce to boost the flavours of your dish and remember, you can always add more if you need to, but you can’t take it out if you accidentally add too much at once.


Dijon mustard comes in handy for much more than just sandwiches.

Andrew Balcombe/EyeEm/Getty ImagesDijon mustard can also be used to add a kick to sandwiches.

Homemade vinagrettes benefit from a spoon of dijon mustard to help them emulsify. Without it, oil and vinegar won’t always come together very well, in my experience.

Dijon mustard is also very handy for baking savoury tarts or dressing a sandwich.

Epicurious also has double-digit suggestions for dijon-mustard use, to which I’ll add one more – use it to mix up your own tonkatsu sauce, a delicious Japanese barbecue sauce that you’ll want to put on everything.


Butter is good for much more than baked goods and toast.

ShutterstockTry using butter to make hollandaise sauce.

Shortbread and croissants aside, butter can be used in just about anything.

From hollandaise to beurre blanc, so many sauces are either butter-based or can be heartily improved by using butter.

Compound butters (butters that are mixed with other ingredients, like herbs) can greatly improve most proteins or even just fancy up your bowl of mashed potatoes. If you’re someone who likes to grow fresh herbs in your window, you’re already halfway to compound butter and you might not even have known it.


Keeping cooked rice in your fridge is like a present to your future self.

ShutterstockRice can be the base of a hearty meal.

A bag of uncooked rice in your pantry is one thing, but having some cooked rice in an airtight container in your fridge means you’re already most of the way to something quick and tasty.

Throw your favourite proteins or veggies on top of it, turn it into a bowl of fried rice, top with a fried egg, or even use it to make rice pudding for dessert or breakfast.

If you’re cooking up some rice with the intention of keeping it in your fridge for those hectic weeknights, consider pressing some of that freshly cooked rice into burger buns, like these from Just Bento. These buns freeze well and can be perfect for those who are avoiding gluten.

It’s worth noting, however, that, according to the National Health Service, leftover rice has the potential to make you sick and should be cooled within one hour of making it.

In addition, rice should not be reheated more than once nor should it be kept in your fridge for more than one day. It’s perhaps best to cook rice the night before you plan to make something with it.


Greek yogurt can add a delicious tang to just about any recipe that calls for milk or sour cream.

ShutterstockMashed potatoes get a tangy flavour with the addition of Greek yogurt.

If you choose Greek-style yogurt, you get more protein in each serving, according to SF Gate.

Try substituting Greek yogurt for milk in a pancake recipe, or use it to make your favourite buttermilk-ranch dressing even creamier.

You can also use it in mashed potatoes in lieu of tons of sour cream and butter. Plus, you can mix a cup of Greek yogurt with honey and/or fruit for a tasty snack or dessert.


Frozen veggies are easy to prepare, especially if you buy them pre-cut.

ShutterstockFrozen vegetables can be easy to steam in a pinch.

Unless it’s the peak season for specific fresh vegetables, you might even be better off with frozen vegetables, as far as flavours and nutritional value are concerned.

Frozen vegetables are comparably nutritious to fresh ones, particularly because they’re often preserved when they are at their peak freshness.

And since frozen veggies are often sold pre-cut, they’re ready for you to use when you’re too busy and too tired to deal with cutting up fresh vegetables.

You can heat them up and easily add them to salads, breakfast bowls, frittatas, pasta dishes, and more.

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