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Knowing your ingredients is very fundamental because you are what you eat. It's the foundation which sets the limits to how your dish is going to turn out, both gastronomically and nutritionally. Ultimately an ingredient should be a balanced mix of both these factors. Availability of the ingredient is another determining factor because some ingredients are seasonal, you have to know what is available in which season.

Babies get the first priority when it comes to food. Although babies are fussy about what they eat it's important to feed them nutritious food. When your cherub is ready to start eating solid foods, puree these baby-friendly ingredients.

Carrots, are a rich source of beta-carotene (vitamin A), pureed carrots are popular with babies.

Potatoes, contain plenty of carbohydrates, potassium, and vitamin C.

Winter Squash, are rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, iron, riboflavin, and beta carotene.

Bananas, ripe pureed or mashed, will provide your toddler with fiber, vitamin B6, and potassium.

Peaches, poach and puree them for a tasty diet of vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants.

Pears, contain fiber and vitamin C.Since they rarely trigger an adverse reaction, they are an ideal starter food.

Finding Substitutes

Many a times run out of bread crumbs or fresh basil. Here are some quick tips to use substitutes.

Lemons, use fresh lime juice or half the amount of white or red wine vinegar

Fresh Basil,use fresh mint (very little) or fresh cilantro

Dry Bread Crumbs, use crushed cracker crumbs, cornflakes, or croutons

Chili Powder,forevery teaspoon, use: 1/2 tea spoon dried oregano, 1/4 tea spoon dried cumin, and a dash of bottled hot sauce

Kosher Salt,use fine table salt, substituting 1/2 to 3/4 the amount required

Fresh Cilantro, use fresh flat-leaf Parsley

Cheddar, use Colby, Monterey Jack, or American

Fresh Herbs, use the dried version, substituting 1/3 the amount required

Nutmeg, use cinnamon, ginger, or allspice (only for sweet recipes)

Buttermilk, for 1 cup, use 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or vinegar), plus enough milk to equal 1 cup, then let it stand 5 minutes

Parmesan, use pecorino or Asiago

So never be caught empty-handed again. Download our checklists of which basic spices and gourmet spices should always be stalked in your pantry.

Some Winter Ingredients

How to get fresh produce in the middle of winter?Here are some fabulous cold-weather finds.

Brussels Sprouts:These less used and smaller members of the cabbage genus taste slightly bitter, and nutty, and packed with phytonutrients, vitamins C and A, and potassium.

Oranges: This fruit is a mainstay on the breakfast table in juice glasses. Rich in vitamin C, they also impart a sweet, tangy flavor to foods.

Potatoes: This widely consumed vegetable is a rich source of low-calorie carbohydrates, potassium, and vitamin C, and their skins are full of fiber. The larger variety is the most earthy tasting, but smaller specimens are sweeter.

Parsnips: It looks like a white carrot (both belong to the same family).Has a sweet flavor, and containsvitamin C, folate, and potassium.

Cabbage: Traditionally served boiled with corned beef,or raw in coleslaw, this cruciferous vegetable brings healthy additions to many dishes.

Lemons: This fruit will perk up almost everything with their bright, acidic flavor.

Kale: A nutritious power pack, it is a great source of vitamins A and C, calcium, and cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Gives a mild cabbage taste, without the bitterness of other winter greens.

Fennel:A bulb with feathery fronds and a mild licorice flavor, this fruit is widely used in Italy. It can be eaten raw, salted, or cooked, and goes well with fish.

Winter Squash: An American native, hearty winter squashes are full of complex carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, iron, riboflavin, and beta carotene.

Broccoli: Packed with potassium, vitamin C, antioxidants, it's also versatile and is equally at home on a crudités platter, tossed into stir-fries and quiches, or when pureed into an elegant soup.

Rich Antioxidants

Besides helping ward off diseases, these fruits are delicious too.

Cherries:From deep red Bings to pink-kissed golden Royal Anns, all cherries are rich in antioxidants.

Strawberries: This popular fruit is full of vitamin C and health-boosting antioxidants.

Raspberries:These fragrant fruits are the most delicate of all berries, but provide plenty of dietary fiber and antioxidants.

Blueberries:These fruitsare rich in antioxidants and contain vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium.

Chocolate:Good source for antioxidants,and a dark chocolate is good for your heart.

Cranberries:These are high in vitamin C, and tart berries prevent urinary tract infections, heart disease, and cancer.

Avocados:These are rich and buttery, high in fat. And the monounsaturated kind will keep that helps lower cholesterol—just eat them in moderation.

Apples:With all those fibers, vitamins, and minerals packed in it the saying'An apple a day keeps the doctor away,' is very apt.

Plums: Are high in vitamin C, and full of disease-fighting antioxidants.

Spinach:Full of vitamins A and C, its a versatile vegetable that's great either raw or cooked. Even Popeye de Sailor has it to become strong.

Beets: This root has an earthy taste but are packed with nutrients, like vitamin C and folate.

An Indian Checklist

If you do Indian dishes stock your pantry with these basic ingredients.

Dried Beans:Mung beans, lentils, or chickpeas are staple for Indian dishes, and you can also serve them in a traditional dal.

Cardamom:Full of medicinal properties, it's used in sweets, tea, curries, and rice dishes.

Chili peppers:The uniqueness of Indian cuisine for spiciness is largely due to chili peppers. They come in different varieties and it depends on the recipe or the chef which one to use. Their versatility also lies in the fact that can be used in different forms, paste, powder, or just fresh.

Cinnamon:This sweet flavored spice is used mostly in savory dishes.

Coriander: Both its seeds and leaves are used well in Indian cooking—mostly in curries and as garnish on dal.

Cumin: A regular ingredient in Indian curries, its strongnessadds a warmth and earthiness to recipes.

Garam Masala:This blend of spices is found in all Indian kitchens. It will contain everything from dried chili peppers to coriander to mustard and garlic. It's always added late in the preparation to ensure the fragrance lingers on.

Ginger: Apart from its strong flavor ginger has many medicinal properties. It is used in curries, vegetable dishes and adds flavor to tea and coffee. To keep ginger fresh, wrap it tightly and store in the refrigerator.

Mustard seed: Indian cuisine uses mostly the small, dark version of the whole seed, it has a light smell similar to curry.

Onion and Garlic: These are “wet seasonings” in Indian cuisine, used in a wide variety of dishes.

Turmeric: An intensely yellow spice used in many Indian dishes, it also has antiseptic healing properties and is often used to heal wounds.

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