Pantry Staples – The Essentials for your Kitchen Cupboard
Keeping a healthy, well-stocked pantry is key to simplifying mealtime. I shop frequently for fresh produce and meat, but I rely on what’s in my pantry to turn fresh ingredients into delicious meals. In fact, there are certain things that I always try to keep in my cupboard because they never fail to help me when I’m in a pinch for time, flavor, or inspiration.
Pantry Essentials include:
Salt, pepper and spices. For every day cooking, I use kosher salt, so-named for its role in making meats kosher. For baking, I use fine sea salt. I always have some flaked sea salt around to sprinkle on top of vegetables, chicken, or salted caramel brownies. You will always find a pepper mill by my stovetop. Fresh ground black pepper makes it into almost every savory dish or salad I make. I try to keep several spices on hand including cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, cayenne, cardamom, Herbs de Provence, and Italian seasoning. Those are the basics. There are so many more to be had. Buy your spices in small containers so you can get through them within six months to one year, while they are still good.
Oils. I always have extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil and grape seed oil on hand. Olive oil can have a distinct flavor and smokes over high heat, making it a poor choice for some dressings and high-heat applications like stir-fry. For those occasions, I use grape seed oil. Grape seeds are a natural by-product of the wine-making process and their oil has a light, clean taste and performs well over high heat. I keep coconut oil on hand as a substitute for butter in vegan baking. I also keep small amounts of specialty oils like toasted sesame oil and walnut oil on hand for use in ethnic dishes, dressings and for dipping bread.
Vinegars. Vinegars really vary in flavor, which is why it’s so great to keep them around. White wine vinegar is colorless and very versatile. Red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar and other flavored vinegars are great for dressings and help brighten flavors in almost any dish.
Dried fruit, nuts and seeds. When toasted, nuts and seeds can provide a depth of flavor to all sorts of dishes. They make great toppers for soups and salads. I regularly add nuts and dried fruit such as cranberries, raisins, or apricots to whole grain salads, breakfast cereal, and baked goods. They also make great snacks or nibbles for when you have unexpected guests.
Honey. Honey is a wonderful way to sweeten salad dressings, sauces, oatmeal, muffins, granola, hot tea – you name it.
Mustard. Whole grain and Dijon mustards are my favorite. Commonly used as a condiment for sandwiches, sausages, and hamburgers, I also use mustard regularly to boost flavor in salad dressings, sauces and glazes.
Beans. I keep both dried beans and canned beans in my pantry. Unseasoned canned beans are great for simple stews, soups, dips and salads. My favorite varieties include black beans, chickpeas and cannellini beans. If a reduced sodium option is available, I take it. Dried beans are cheaper and take a little more effort. They are great for stews, slow cookers, and cooking in large quantities.
Whole grains. Buying a selection of whole grains, even when I don’t have an immediate plan for them, always works in my favor. I regularly have some variety of the following in my cupboard – bulgur, cornmeal, rolled oats, quinoa, faro, wild rice, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, or whole-wheat couscous. I use quinoa and oats to make a hot breakfast cereal. The cornmeal typically goes into polenta or cornbread. Bulgur, faro, pasta, couscous and various rices make great additions to stew and soup, or get dressed up as main dishes all by themselves.
Dairy. I always have milk and plain yogurt on hand. The plain yogurt is used for breakfast with berries or as a common substitute for sour cream and mayonnaise in a variety of dips and spreads.
Broth. When I’ve got the ingredients and the time, I make broths myself and freeze them for future use. I also regularly buy natural chicken and vegetable bases or bouillon cubes. I rarely cook rice and other grains in water – I almost always use broth for flavor. I also use broth regularly for making soup and pan sauces.
Baking basics. I love to bake, so I always have whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda and powder, sugars, natural extracts, unsweetened applesauce, eggs and butter on hand.
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