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15 Secret Pantry Ingredients That Make Your Recipes Better

Try these surprising ways to make your favorite recipes taste better, using everyday pantry items.

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Greek yogurt in a bowl, downward view with cloth and spoon on a white marble

Make guacamole better with …yogurt

Yogurt and sour cream can add so much zing to guacamole! Line the bottom of a strainer with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or paper towels and set over a medium bowl. Spoon in 1/2 cup plain yogurt, cover, and chill eight hours or overnight until the yogurt ‘cheese’ is thick and creamy. Mix up all your favorite guacamole ingredients in a large bowl. Then fold in the yogurt cheese and 1/2 cup sour cream to make an amazing dip. These secret ingredients might just change the way you eat—just like these surprising secrets food manufacturers won’t tell you.

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Fresh ripe lemons on dark stone background. Top view with copy space
Evgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock

Squeeze lemon over pasta

Skip the salt when you boil the pasta, instead squeeze in half a lemon. You’ll give your pasta some zip, and cut down on your sodium intake.

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Coffee mocha in a white cup on a black wooden table.

Perk up your steak with …coffee

Mix fine coffee grounds into a spice rub for a rich, aromatic flavor. For an especially good combination, mix together ground espresso or other coffee, paprika, chili powder (or pure ancho chili powder,) cumin, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Add a touch of sugar.

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Amp up your eggs with …cream cheese

close up texture of cream cheese like ricotta, food background
GCapture/ShutterstockOnce you try this dish, you may never want your eggs any other way. Cream cheese gives the eggs a smooth texture that is irresistible. Melt 2 tbsp. butter and 1/4 cup cream cheese in a skillet before adding the beaten egg mixture. Cook over medium-low heat until the eggs are just firm yet moist. Keep taking your breakfast to the next level with this secret ingredient for extra fluffy scrambled eggs.

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Fresh grated Horseradish roots on wooden table. Rustic style from above.

Wake up potato salad with …horseradish

Potato salads tend to be mild and creamy from mayonnaise or sharp and puckery from vinegar. But for a truly amazing potato salad, prepare your usual potato salad recipe, and simply stir in a teaspoon or two of prepared horseradish.

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Homemade yogurt or sour cream in a wooden bowl

Add sour cream to pasta sauce

To give your sauce a rich flavor, stir in 1/4 cup sour cream per 2 cups sauce. Cook over low heat until sour cream blends into the sauce. Keep the sauce warm over low heat, but don’t allow it to boil or the sour cream may curdle. Spoiler alert: Sour cream is also the secret ingredient for the best brownies ever.

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Top view of a serving of organic cinnamon applesauce in a small plastic container on a marble table.
BW Folsom/Shutterstock

Make meatballs juicier with …applesauce

Grandmas have used this trick for decades. Combine 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef, two slightly beaten eggs, 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 cup applesauce, 1 teaspoon salt, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Shape into balls and roll in flour. Brown them in a skillet and then add your favorite pasta sauce and simmer until cooked through.

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Crackers in a snack dish with cubes of cheddar cheese

Put Cheez-Its on your chicken

Use cheese crackers such as Cheez-Its in the breading. First soak the chicken in evaporated milk and fresh lemon juice for two to four hours, then dip in seasoned flour, beaten egg, and finally the crushed cheese crackers. Pan-fry or bake as usual.

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Homemade Creamy Honey Mustard dressing in a bowl

Add salad dressing to soup

Stir in some bottled blue cheese salad dressing toward the end of cooking your soup and enjoy the mouthwatering results! Never think you’ll have enough time to try all these secret ingredients? These brilliant kitchen shortcuts will cut down on cooking time.

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Glass with tomato juice and fresh tomatoes on a table

Give ribs zest with …V8

Combine 1 and 1/2 cups spicy V8 juice, 2/3 cup peach or apricot nectar or pineapple juice. 1/2 cup spicy barbecue sauce, and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. Mix with 3 pounds boneless country spare ribs in a baking pan, cover with foil, and bake at 350°F until tender, about two hours.

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Milk tea on wooden background.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Brew a sauce with …Earl Gray

To make an orange-scented sauce for pan-seared chicken or pork, remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm. Sauté 1/3 cup chopped shallots in 1 teaspoon olive oil in the same pan. Add 1 cup chicken broth, 3/4 cup fresh orange juice and two Earl Gray tea bags. Boil until the liquid is reduced to 3/4 cup. Remove the tea bags and whisk in 1 1/2 teaspoons honey and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter.

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Bread texture. Bread pattern as background.

Thicken gazpacho with …bread

Most soups are enriched with cream or a mixture of butter and flour. Give your gazpacho body with a different thickener: bread. Just puree one slice of bread, torn into pieces, right along with the vegetables (as per your usual gazpacho recipe) for a delightful texture and refreshing taste. Find more ways to make your recipes the best ever with these cooking tricks that are only taught in culinary school.

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Homemade mashed potatoes.

Bake focaccia with …instant mashed potatoes

Prepare the mashed potatoes according to package directions and cool for ten minutes. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, and make a well in the center. Stir the mashed potatoes and the yeast in as per your favorite Focaccia recipe.

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fresh tomato ketchup in dish
neil langan/Shutterstock

Add ketchup to Pad Thai noodles

Pad Thai is one of those dishes you never feel like you can make at home. Well, we found something in your pantry that packs all the right flavors — ketchup! This condiment works perfectly as the base for a Pad Thai sauce. In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup ketchup, 3 tbsp. fish sauce, 3 tbsp. sugar, and 2 tbsp. lime juice. Voila! Stir-fry with meat/veggies and cooked noodles as per the directions of your favorite Pad Thai recipe.

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Chocolate chips background

Put chocolate chips in your chili

For deep, rich tasting vegetarian chili, stir in semi-sweet chocolate chips at the end of cooking. After you’ve cooked the chili, remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips, salt and pepper. Craving chocolate chip cookies after this one? Well, we just so happen to have lots of great cookie recipes with secret ingredients, too.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest