Smart Supermarket Shopping: International Inspiration

Shopping for your week's groceries is always a puzzle. How do you get everything you need in one shot and avoid midweek runs for forgotten items? Here are some tips from the Food Network Kitchens.

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Do you find your grocery shopping trips are stuck in a rut? Do you get into a routine of buying the same foods each week because you know what works, and you know what satisfies your family? This week, switch things up a little by sticking to the basics but putting an international spin on it. You can try new flavors and exotic ingredients but still deliver dishes your family will be excited to eat.

Build your cart the way you usually do with all the produce you need, but substitute a few new ingredients from the international foods and spice aisles, as well as a couple different proteins and dairy items.

Center aisle shopping: The easiest way to change it up is by starting with your condiments: Leave the ketchup and mustard where they are! Instead, slowly stroll down the international aisle and pick up some new ingredients. Readily available in most supermarkets, these can turn your average dinner into a global meal.

  • Asian condiments: With just a few new jars, you can spin vegetables and proteins into something completely new for your family. Try buying some of the following:
  • Hoisin sauce: This thick condiment is a staple in Chinese cooking and is a mixture of soybeans, garlic, chile peppers and various spices. It’s a great flavoring agent for proteins, so try it instead of barbecue sauce when glazing your grilled chicken breasts for a sweet, salty flavor. 
  • Curry paste: Do you usually buy jarred soups or stew bases? If so, try curry paste for a Thai-inspired noodle dish or vegetable curry. Combine with stock or coconut milk for a stew that your family won’t forget.
  • Soy sauce: Soy sauce replaces salt this week. Try low-sodium soy sauce not only for dipping sauces, but also for making delicious rice side dishes or even soy sauce-tossed broccoli that gets roasted in the oven.
  • Sriracha: Does your family like it spicy? Well, shelve the Tabasco sauce this week, and try using Sriracha instead. This thick, bright red-colored Asian hot sauce is perfect on eggs, hot dogs, stirred into an Asian-inspired salad dressing or even mayonnaise for spicy sandwich spreads.
  • Harissa: This North African spicy sauce is a combination of chiles, garlic, coriander, cumin and other spices. It is an intensely flavorful blend which adds character to whole grains like couscous or quinoa, vegetable and meat stews or even roast chicken. If you usually make vegetable soups for dinners and lunches, try adding a couple spoonfuls (depending on how spicy you like your food) for a whole new version of a classic.


Food stylist: Anne Disrude Prop stylist: Marina Malchin,Food stylist: Anne Disrude Prop stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Con Poulos

Con Poulos

Food stylist: Anne Disrude Prop stylist: Marina Malchin,Food stylist: Anne Disrude Prop stylist: Marina Malchin

Once you steer your cart out of the international foods aisle and into the grains, pasta and bread aisles, look for a couple substitutes: 

  • Couscous: if you usually buy rice, try buying couscous this week. Extremely quick-cooking, couscous is a North African staple that makes a perfect bed for many a stew. Also check out Israeli couscous, which are a bit larger in size and work perfectly with thicker meat stews.
  • Lentils: If your family loves beans, lentils are a great way to change things up a little. This healthy legume is perfect for soups, warm salads or side dishes. Make a big batch of lentils on Sunday and use throughout the week, spicing as you go.
  • Pita: Instead of your usual loaf of bread, try buying a package of pita, which come both white and whole wheat. Pita is soft and chewy and makes for a great sandwich vehicle, as well as a soup or stew dipper. Even better, cut pitas into small triangles, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin and toast for healthy baked chips. Try dipping in a Greek yogurt dip.
    Instead of stocking up on spaghetti this week, try some of the various Asian noodles that are available. From udon to ramen to soba to vermicelli to pad thai-style rice noodles, these are all great alternatives to pasta. Try making Asian-style chicken noodle soup with buckwheat soba noodles; or instead of a spaghetti and shrimp dish, try making pad thai with shrimp and peanuts.

Move on to your proteins aisle. Now, it is very easy to fall into a chicken breast, ground beef and salmon routine, but this week, step outside your comfort zone without straying too far:

  • Ground lamb: Who doesn’t love meatballs? If you love to make beef or turkey meatballs for your family, whether with pasta or on a sandwich, try using lamb instead this week. Lamb is a bit gamier, but a classic in Middle Eastern cuisine. With just a touch of cumin, coriander and cinnamon, your meatball takes on a whole new meaning. Serve with couscous, top with a little crumbled feta cheese and chopped mint.
  • Whole chicken: A roast chicken makes for such a simple, elegant dinner, not to mention great sandwich leftovers. Instead of the classic roast with lemons and herbs, try roasting the bird with salty, juicy olives and plump, sweet dried fruit for a Mediterranean twist.
  • Tuna: Instead of salmon, try tuna this week. Marinate with a little soy sauce, hoisin and cilantro or scallions and toss on the grill for just a few minutes per side. Buy sustainable, sushi-grade tuna and you can cook this fish rare if you’d like. Serve alongside some sautéed bok choy and seasoned rice, and you have an elevated fish dinner with an Asian flare.


Photo by: Victor Schrager

Victor Schrager

A couple items from the dairy section will round out your meals:

  • Eggs: Eggs were already going in your cart, right? Though you may intend to make those for breakfast, save a couple for a comforting, healthy dinner dish: shakshuka. Eggs baked in a spiced tomato sauce, served with crusty bread for dipping, this Israeli dish is sure to be a winner this week.
  • Greek yogurt: This thicker variety of yogurt is not only a healthy breakfast option, but a staple in Mediterranean cooking. Combine some Greek yogurt with lemon juice and grated cucumber for a refreshing dip, condiment for your lamb meatballs or even an arugula salad topper with some pita bread for dipping.
  • Cheese: Try forgoing cheddar and American this week, and pick tasty, international cheeses like Greek feta, Indian paneer or Mexican Cotija. These cheeses pair up with all the different ingredients you have picked up along the way, and you’ll be happy to top your meats, veggies, soups and even sandwiches with these salty, crumbly alternatives.

Now that we’ve talked about all the different spinoff dishes you can make, there are a couple of spices or spice blends you may want to pick up to enhance your dishes:

  • Smoked paprika turns any meat dish or vegetable side into something Mediterranean-inspired and delicious. 
  • Essential Indian spice blends are garam masala and curry powder. 
  • Sumac, a citrusy, savory red spice, will elevate your basic salad or tomato sauce (like one you make for shakshuka).

Check out recipes on if you need any ideas for how to cook some of the dishes mentioned here. Enjoy your week of eating around the world!

Before you head to the store, make sure your pantry is stocked, and check out more smart shopping strategies and recipes and ideas from Food Network.

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