For The Most Flavorful Instant Mashed Potatoes, Skip The Water

Dinner shortcuts like instant mashed potatoes help make weeknight meals run like clockwork. The ingredient requires minimal attention and time to produce a consistent side dish for meat, fish, poultry, or veggies. Best of all, the dehydrated flakes are cheap and shelf-stable, making them an easy option to keep on hand.

Another benefit is that the spuds are a blank canvas for creative chefs. Although you can prepare your favorite brand according to the directions on the box, a simple swap can add richness and depth to any kind you choose. The tip: Instead of water, reconstitute the powder with vegetable stock.

The vegan-friendly add-in is similarly affordable and another pantry staple, but you can also make up a batch from scratch or with powdered bouillon cubes. Since the starchy side contains only a handful of other ingredients, it's in a cook's best interest to maximize the flavor of each ingredient. This allows you to season as you prepare the meal, resulting in a more savory serving.

Adding rich, vegetable-forward umami to your mash

Substituting veggie stock for water in your instant mashed potatoes couldn't be simpler — use the same amount of the enriched liquid in place of water, keeping in mind that the more liquid you have in total, the creamier the mash, whereas less hydration makes for a thicker consistency. If you're hoping for a richer flavor, chicken stock will work, too (just keep in mind that it will be more seasoned and salty than veggie stock).

If you want to plan ahead, make a big batch of veggie broth to keep on hand in the freezer and customize the flavors to your tastes. To bring in more complementary notes, add Parmesan rinds for enhanced umami flavor, or ginger for a fresh zing. To bulk up your vegetable base, keep a running bag of trimmings and scraps in the freezer to simmer at a later date.

Alternatively, you can also whip up a fast and simple dashi, the easiest plant-based broth for flavorful vegan cooking. The homemade route is also a great option for those watching sodium intake, as you can spice and salt the liquid as you see fit. A lower-sodium version of the store-bought ingredient would also suffice.

Seasoning instant mashed potatoes

Though your instant mashed potatoes will already taste noticeably fuller with this trick, you can keep more shelf-stable and frozen ingredients in your kitchen to replicate the flavors of a restaurant-quality side dish. A jar of grated horseradish, for instance, can transform ho-hum spuds into a side fit for steak or roast beef. Add a tablespoon of the spicy root to start, along with roasted garlic or garlic powder. If you have any tangy sour cream or cream cheese in the back of your fridge, use it to balance and mellow the flavors.

You can also make up a batch of flavorful butter to keep in your fridge like Ina Garten. Compound butter, flavored with leftover fresh tarragon, sage, dill, citrus zest, and even grated Parmesan, is easy to shape into a log and freeze for a busy day. Even better, you can slice off a pat or two to melt atop your fluffy instant mashed potatoes and save the rest of the rich topping for later.

For a fuller side dish, enhance the meal with defrosted vegetables. Pureed edamame adds a splash of color, whereas leafy greens, roasted corn, or a Mediterranean medley bring texture. You can also pull from the pantry and add a dollop of canned pumpkin for sweetness. The packaged items add more nutrients and dimension without a hefty price tag or looming expiration date. Plus, if you choose pre-cut ingredients, you won't even have to dirty a knife.