How Do You Perk Up A Bland Recipe?

How Do You Perk Up A Bland Recipe?

Today, upon logging onto Slack, I was greeted with a horror story. Last night, our dear managing editor, Virginia, was making a lentil soup recipe from [redacted], only to find it called for a paltry 1/4 teaspoon of salt. “Reader, it was bland,” she told us, to which A.A. Newton replied “I’m going to scream,” because she is basically a salt-rights activist.

This led to a discussion on bland recipes, and how to fight them. Adding more that an 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt to a vat of soup is a good start, but increasing the garlic was also popular because, let’s be honest, even a whole head of garlic is not that much garlic.

  • Virginia: My go-to is “double or triple whatever amount of garlic they recommended,” and usually, “add cumin”

  • A.A. Newton: For baking recipes: use salted butter, and double the vanilla. Always salt big pieces of meat overnight, and salt the soaking water for dried beans and legumes. [You can] also double the salt [in a recipe] usually, because EVERYONE’S AFRAID OF SALT.

    I also find myself doubling or tripling the acid in most vinaigrette recipes. I like something closer to 1:1 acid-to-oil ratio, rather than 1:3 because then you don’t need as much dressing to make the salad taste good. I [also] put adobo in EVERYTHING .

  • Alice: Red pepper flakes. [Claire note: YES.] I often use soy sauce, coconut aminos, or FISH SAUCE in soup, or all of the above!

  • Alicia: Mine is that I at least triple the garlic and add in a bunch of other seasonings to chicken soup, etc. There’s never enough! Also, yes, usually more salt. You have to taste throughout and add accordingly

  • Beth: Conversion factor: 1 clove of garlic = 1 head. [Claire note: Emphasis mine.] I like to use spice blends in place of salt and pepper. Garlic salt, 21 seasoning, whatever’s at hand that will be a little more interesting.

  • Meghan: My husband’s uncle taught me to season as I go along. salt in the beginning, salt again in the middle, cook/simmer, taste and adjust at the end. I don’t know if that’s something everyone does but it seems to enhance the flavour.

My kind of secret, slightly shameful tip for boosting flavour — besides all of the above brilliance — is adding a little (or big) spoonful of Better Than Bouillon paste to gravy, soups, stews, and pan sauces. Just a smidge ups the savoury factor so much, it almost feels like cheating.

(And yes, some varieties of BTB contains a little naturally-occurring MSG, but that shouldn’t bother you. MSG is fine.)

Oh, and you should always finish your dish with a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon. Acid is important.

But enough about us. What do you add to ho-hum recipes to make them delicious, and what’s your most common under-seasoned recipe complaint? Also please share how much garlic you add to any given recipe that calls for garlic. The people need to know.


  • Most meals i add some fresh chilli.

    It gives it a nice subtle flavour as well as a good kick. You can also use chilli paste or dried chilli flakes.

    • Same here. I have a chili bush right outside my door (I planted it there to fill a gap in the garden) which fruits about 10 months of the year. Its only through December its not fruiting, but they’ll ripen in the next couple of weeks and it’ll be good.

      1 chili in a dish adds flavour, 2 adds a nice amount of heat, 3 makes it spicy. And always there as needed. Wish I’d dried a few though, some stuff is tasting pretty bland at the moment and some chili would really do the trick.

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