Marinades: Spice Things Up With These Recipes!

If you live off of chicken breasts and fish, chances are, you get bored sometimes. Marinades are an easy way to spice things up. Store bought varieties are loaded with sugar and chemicals. They also have very few choices.

You can flavor your food in any number of ways to simulate those cultural cuisines that you’ve been missing. 

Asian flavors

Chinese and Thai take out are both super popular. They’re also super fattening. We’ve successfully thrown together some of the basic flavors to create marinades that will satisfy both your taste buds and your diet.

  • Dark Sesame oil is a perfect base. You don’t need much but the smell automatically lends an Asian flare.
  • Soy sauce adds flavor and salt. Go lightly or it will be too salty.
  • Cilantro is typical of Thai cuisine.
  • Garlic
  • Fresh ginger
  • Rice wine vinegar (it comes in flavors now. We use orange…very sparingly)
  • Coconut water has turned out to be a surprisingly effective addition. It lends all of the flavor and aroma without the fat, sugar or calories of coconut milk. It’s actually a much better choice. Coconut milk tends to loose flavor and texture quickly, the water doesn’t.
  • Peanut butter works well in Thai styles but it adds calories. We do not enjoy peanut butter. That’s a personal idiosyncrasy but we do add crushed peanuts or cashews sometimes.
  • Curry powder is great for meats and shellfish or swordfish
  • Fruits like mango
  • Pineapple
  • Orange
  • Papaya
  • Even fresh cherries work well
  • If you like spicy use some cayenne.
  • Scallions are more subtle than onions

Pour a small amount of sesame oil into a bowl. Add any of the flavors that appeal to you. Choose just one or two fruits though. And if you use citrus or pineapple, remember that they are acidic so less is more. Fresh fruit is better than juice. Smell as you go and remember the golden rule. If it smells good, it tastes good.

We always use sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and scallions. We vary the fruit and spices/herbs.

Blend your ingredients in a Cuisinart before you add scallions. Toss those in at the end. * That is what you should do ideally. Frankly, we have just mashed the ingredients together by hand, plenty of times and it was perfectly good. So if you don’t have a food processor, let it go. You’ll be fine.

  • Fatty fish work best
  • Chilean sea bass
  • Black Cod
  • Tuna
  • Swordfish
  • Salmon.
  • Shrimp and scallops work well too. You only need to marinate fish for an hour or two.
  • Chicken and meats are best marinated overnight.
  • Turkey wings and legs are easy to take on the go and they are always a hit.

Poke the protein with a fork or a knife in order to get the flavor into the meat.

You can use a bowl covered in plastic wrap or just use a big ziplock bag.

We like the ziplock bag because you can just give it a shake every once in a while without any mess. If you prefer a bowl, stir everything up every few hours. Remember though, that’s raw meat or fish. Don’t reuse the spoon and if you drip, clean it up thoroughly.

  • Japanese
  • Teriyaki
  • Equal parts. Soy sauce
  • Mirin
  • Sake

If you use 1/2 c each add 2 tsp sugar and 1/4-1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil then reduce to simmer for about 10-15 min. Let it cool before using it as a marinade.

  • Miso for black cod. (So delicious)
  • 1/4c mirin
  • 1/4c sake
  • 4 Tbsp white miso paste
  • 3 Tbsp sugar

For this one marinate the cod overnight


Italian flavors tend to be more bold

  • Tomatoes (we don’t use tomatoes in the marinade. Add them at the end)
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Pine nuts
  • Balsamic vinegar.
  • Pesto makes a terrific marinade of sorts

You don’t have to leave your meat or fish in it for long. An hour for fish and a few hours for chicken.

Overnight is excessive

Pesto is a mixture of fresh herbs like basil

  • Cilantro
  • Arugula (not an herb but it works)
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesan or Romano
  • And nuts. Pignoli/pine nuts (same thing) you can use almonds or walnuts too.
  • Olives and olive oil

Most recipes call for an enormous amount of olive oil. It’s not necessary.

  • Use a cup or two of fresh leaves
  • About 2 cloves of garlic (some people cook the garlic first, some don’t. We do because we find that it burns some people’s throats or mouths when it’s raw)
  • A small handful of nuts
  • 1/2 to 1 cup Parmesan
  • And enough olive oil to make it smooth.


Greek flavors rely on these ingredients. These flavors are strong. Lamb is ideal but chicken or swordfish work too.

  • Cucumber
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Honey
  • Lemon
  • Mint
  • Olives
  • Oregano
  • And feta cheese

Use feta and diced tomatoes at the end as a garnish not in the marinade.

Also a lot of people get carried away with spices initially. Don’t worry. It’s a matter of trial and error to find the mix that best suits you. If you over spice it toss the cooked meat in some tzatziki

  • Yogurt
  • Dill
  • Cucumber
  • Garlic
  • Squeeze of lemon

And no one will be the wiser.  Or serve it on the side as a dip. If you throw the whole shebang in a pita, you can call it a gyro.

Indian flavors

  •   Cinnamon
  •   Turmeric
  •   Cardamom
  •   Coriander
  •   Onion
  •   Garlic
  •   Chili pepper
  •   Cumin
  •   Garam masala
  •   Mustard seed
  •   Ginger
  •   Curry

Indian spices can be tricky too. Don’t get carried away and try to use everything at once. Pick just a few.

This one works well.

  • Curry
  • Ginger
  • Onions (sautéed first)
  • Garlic
  • With a dash of garam masala
  • And either cumin or cardamom (both if you’re feeling daring)
  • Cayenne in small amounts
  • And a neutral oil
  • Most people will enjoy this kind of spicy marinade much more with a dollop of honey.
  • Blue cheese dressing. (Ok, not low cal but so good that we had to add it)

Southern ladies taught us this one and it’s amazing. Ideally you should marinate the chicken for a couple of hours and during that time, candy some pecans. Truth be told, those ladies used pounded cutlets and breaded and fried them. Then they sliced them decoratively on top. (We’ve only done it that way once, for a party. Everyone loved it. It was gone instantly, but we caught some lip for the diet sabotage.)

The blue cheese marinade and dressing. Use some as marinade and some as dressing. Or steam the chicken and just use the dressing on buttercup lettuce with the pecans and sliced ripe Bosc pears.

  • 1 c crumbled blue cheese
  • 3 minced shallots
  • 1-3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Up to 1c neutral oil. Safflower oil is what we’ve used
  1. In a hot skillet (test it with a few drops of water. They should dance as they hit the pan)
  2. Throw in a cup of pecans. Stir them around until they smell toasted. Don’t burn them.
  3. Add 1/4-1/2 c sugar. Stir constantly. If you’re getting crazy because the sugar isn’t liquefying quickly enough, you can move it along with a splash of water (don’t ever tell any southern women that you pulled that stunt though. It means that your skillet wasn’t hot enough from the start. But unless you grew up frying eggs in bacon fat and chicken frying every meat to pass your lips, it’s a learning curve)
  4. Once the pecans are coated in the liquid sugar, get them off the heat fast and spread them on a sheet of parchment paper or on a buttered marble slab. (Liquid sugar is really hot and it sticks to skin and continues to burn, so be careful)In a pinch we’ve used foil. That’s a hit or miss though. Sometimes they stick and you have to peel off foil. Slice the chicken. Cube the pears (2 should do it) Toss it with the dressing. Throw the candied nuts in at the end. Then stand back. The natives get restless over this one. You don’t want to lose a hand.

Finally Persian Style

You can use the ingredients as a marinade that mimics the flavor of a traditional stew called Fesenjoon.

  • Pomegranate juice or syrup.
  • Crushed walnuts
  • A dash of sugar (2 Tbsp max)
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • Sautéed onion.

This one is delicious as a marinade and insane as a stew.

Stews are tomorrow’s topic though, so you’ll have to check back for that one.

Enjoy your marinades.

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