Meet Vegeta, The Prince Of All Seasonings

This versatile blend will improve your cooking (and has nothing to do with anime).

Dreary January is the best time for a comforting soup. The best cold-weather soups feature rich broth packed with flavor, a savory, aromatic blend of vegetables, herbs, and spices. But you know I love finding secret ingredients that make cooking a little easier and a lot more delicious, and I've recently come to rely on one that you'll want to sprinkle in all your winter soups and stews. What is this magical element? A seasoning blend called Vegeta.

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Before one of you anime fans starts shouting, let me clarify that this product has nothing to do with the character from the show Dragon Ball Z of the same name. (I always thought that Vegeta was an odd name for an anime character, but whatever.) And no, this isn't a newfangled seasoning blend, either, it's one that's been used in Eastern Europe since 1959, and is a household staple for many.

What is Vegeta?

Vegeta is a seasoning blend from Croatia composed of vegetables, spices, herbs, salt, and MSG (though there is a version with no MSG as well). The vegetables include parsnip, carrot, onion, potato, and celery; if that combo sounds familiar, that's because this is essentially a dried mirepoix base with concentrated flavor. It's also vegan, which is always a plus.

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The blend is particularly popular in Eastern Europe. I purchase my Vegeta from a local Polish grocery store here in Chicago, and it's a product you can even find in some major supermarkets. Look for it in the section of Eastern European ingredients, or the all-purpose "ethnic" aisle. It comes in a blue package; a cartoonish chef winks at you from the label.

How to use Vegeta in your cooking

I liken Vegeta seasoning to chicken bouillon powder, sans animal, and like bouillon, it's extremely useful in the kitchen. You can use it in practically anything, including sauces, dressings, breading, roasts, marinades, casseroles, and sautées. I particularly like to sprinkle it in a brothy recipe like soup or stew. It adds a robust background flavor to virtually any dish, which means a pinch here or there will add that extra bit of savoriness that you're always aiming for, but never quite seem to achieve.

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You can even eat it as-is, sprinkling it dry on top of a finished dish—but some of the granulated veggie bits are pretty crunchy, so I generally prefer to incorporate it as an ingredient in whatever I'm cooking. I can't think of a dish that wouldn't benefit from at least a dash of Vegeta. There are very few seasoning blends that I can consider all-purpose, but Vegeta is certainly one of them.

Pick up at least a small container of Vegeta if you spot it on your next grocery run. You'll realize that your food finally has that last bit of flavor that you never knew it needed.

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