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Is there a word or a short expression to describe such basic foods like potatoes, pasta or rice in a context of dish ingredients? So you can say for example:

"Broccoli isn't usually eaten as a __".

Edit: Originally I used a word meal instead of dish, what was probably confusing

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What @Will said. In a typical "meat and two veg" meal such as sausages, peas, and mash, the sausages would usually be considered the "primary component", even though there would probably be more of the mashed potato (which you might call the "bulk"). The peas might be thought of as an accoutrement, extras, or even trimmings. – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '12 at 18:48
I meant the "main" or "basic", "least exciting" ingredient. In your example I would see mashed potato as such. Thank you for your comment! – ellockie Mar 9 '12 at 2:03
@ellockie: I don't know how widespread it is, but I'd normally use the term belly-filler for that. To me, the "main" item on the plate might still be the sausages, even if they were dwarfed by a pile of mash. But if you're now talking about the main ingredient in a particular "dish", I'd probably say it was the "key" ingredient, even if it wasn't the biggest by bulk. – FumbleFingers Mar 9 '12 at 3:05
up vote 5 down vote accepted

A basic food eaten with every meal in a particular cuisine or diet is a staple of that cuisine or diet. This term is most common, I believe, when referring to the main source of carbohydrates like bread, rice, potatoes; it would be unusual to use it in reference to a vegetable, but perhaps that is what you are trying to say.

Broccoli isn't exactly a staple of the American diet.

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Thank you, I think that's what I meant. If a dinner consisted only of broccoli (for example), it would be lacking this type of "main" or "basic" ingredient (in my opinion of course ;) ) – ellockie Mar 9 '12 at 1:26

A good term would be main course or main dish, in light of which broccoli would be a side dish, or, commonly, side.

Staple could work, but it can be a little broad, often including things such as flour, salt, and other such ingredients. The word is more often applied to an entire diet than to an individual meal. So rice and beans are staple ingredients of many countries' diets, but no one would say that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple of their picnic lunch.

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Thank you for your answer. Forgive me for lack of precision - I meant a main ingredient of a dish, so staple seems to be the best option. – ellockie Mar 9 '12 at 2:31

The word "meat" can mean more than just animal flesh, it can also be used to describe the heartier part of a meal. You could say "Broccoli isn't usually the meat of a meal." Or you could use words like hearty, bulk or base (as in referencing the food pyramid.) "Broccoli rarely appears as the (heartier part/bulk/base) of a meal."

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If you are looking specifically for "potatoes, pasta or rice", your best bet is starch. Another alternative is staple, but you'll need to add adjectives to describe what type of staple it is ("starchy staple").

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Agree with staple, but disagree that it requires an adjective. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Mar 8 '12 at 18:12
Makes sense. I was assuming that "staple" wasn't excatly what the question was asking. "Hamburger" may be a staple of an American diet, but I don't think that's what the author would include in the description. – bryanjonker Mar 8 '12 at 18:45

The only way I can think of ending the sentence is 'Broccoli isn't usually eaten as a snack.'

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Broccoli isn't usually eaten as a comfort food.

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