My mother was an incredible cook. Growing up, even on days when I didn’t see much in the refrigerator, she somehow constructed a delicious, nutrient-dense meal. And though I complained back then, I still cannot have a meal without something green on my plate (at least not without a little guilt).
When I prepare my meals, I often use a combination of fresh and frozen veggies and fruits with a ton of vibrant color. It is said that we first eat with our eyes, and personally, I know this to be true. Fresh produce doesn’t last long, so I make sure my pantry is stocked with options that will go well with what I have left, and staples that can stand alone as a delicious meal.
Here are my top suggested items to keep in stock, so that you will always have ingredients for a meal you love.
Oils: Since oils can be used for roasting, sautéing, stir-frying, sauces and more, it’s important to make sure you’re covered for every occasion. The great thing about good-quality cooking oils is that they can also be used for beauty purposes. I often mix grapeseed oil, brown sugar and essential oil to make a luxurious body scrub. Stores sell scrubs for about ten times the cost of making your own at home. The recipe is easy. Start with a 1:1 ratio of brown sugar and oil – I typically mix 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Then I add 2-3 drops of essential oil (my favorite right now is lavender). For more ideas and must-knows, check out my “Cooking Oil Essentials” story.
Rice: I love jasmine rice. It’s nice and fluffy and cooks up fast. It works well in quick veggie sushi rolls (even though sushi rice is “preferred”) or a fresh poke bowl. One-or two-day old rice makes the absolute best fried rice – if you are low on groceries, with maybe just a few eggs and some random veggies, you can make a great meal.
Beans: Dried varieties are great for slow-cooker meals, especially in the colder months. At other times, dried beans may take more time than you’d like to prepare. Canned beans can be used for a variety of dishes, but I suggest rinsing them well to get rid of excess sodium (look for low-sodium options). Canned chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, can be used to make a quick hummus to spread on a sandwich or to accompany a veggie platter with pita chips.
Canned tomatoes: They may not taste quite like fresh tomatoes, but they can make a delicious base in a number of recipes. Whether you are cooking chili, making a sauce or tossing them into pasta with fresh herbs, they are definitely a must.
Noodles: Cook them al dente and whip up a quick pasta salad, or toss them with stir-fried veggies for an Asian-inspired dish. Noodles are a great way to make a meal hearty and add a little more protein. I always keep a few different types of noodles on hand to leave my options open. My favorites are thin spaghetti, Pad Thai rice noodles and mung bean noodles, which are the thin, clear noodles used in soups and stir-fries.
Seeds: Seeds make great toppers for salads, parfaits and other desserts. I add seeds for texture and flavor, but most importantly, they provide additional protein. Pumpkin and hemp seeds are my current favorites.
Bragg Liquid Aminos: As a soy sauce replacement, this product can be used in salad dressings, stir fries and more. It makes an excellent marinade, as its saltiness can help bring out flavor. Why use this instead of soy sauce? It happens to be gluten free (if that is a dietary concern or preference), and as the name implies, Bragg Liquid Aminos is an excellent source of amino acids (it contains 16 of the 20 types), which are the building blocks of protein.
Vinegars: I have completely given up buying salad dressings because of food allergies, cost and the inconvenience of having them expire before I can finish the bottle. I always have mirin (seasoned rice wine vinegar), red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar on hand. And I use vinegars for more than salad dressing. I use them in marinades and stir fries, and I also take apple cider vinegar shots to boost my immune system and help manage seasonal allergies.
Honey: From face masks to baked goods and sauces, there are so many uses for honey (for vegans, I recommend agave nectar or grade B maple syrup instead). I prefer raw, organic honey and I make a point of buying local when possible. I often use honey at breakfast time when I make parfaits. Instead of sugary flavored yogurts, I buy plain and just add a drizzle of honey to lightly sweeten it.
Nuts: Nuts can be added to cereal or parfaits, or eaten plain as a snack. Pine nuts or walnuts can be used to make a quick pesto sauce, or toasted and tossed into a pasta dish. The possibilities are endless, especially if you have a food processor or high-speed blender. Although nuts are an excellent pantry item, they can last much longer in the refrigerator – up to 12 months, compared to 6 when stored in the pantry. Keep this in mind if you buy in bulk.
I bought a whole flat of Mason jars for a DIY project some time ago, and then realized that they come in handy for bulk items like rice, pasta and flour. As soon as I get home from the grocery store, I transfer my pantry staples separately into dry, clean jars for storage.
What are your favorite pantry items?
Photos Styled by Rachel Rivers