Building up a pantry of kitchen staples can take time (and money). There are so many things that make up well-stocked cupboards, and it differs from person to person. I can’t live without dried pasta, but friends of mine swear by stocking up on cans of kidney beans, or piles of quinoa. These ten ingredients, however, are non-negotiable in the kitchen, no matter what you like to eat. Keep them in the house and you’ll always be ready to whip up a feast.
1. Olive oil
I like sesame oil for stir fries and Asian dishes, rapeseed oil for dipping and salads, vegetable oil for roasting. But I like olive oil for everything, and sometimes it’s easier to just have one bottle on the countertop. I buy whatever’s on offer, and make sure to always have my stash topped up.
2. Salt and pepper
It seems obvious, but I’m always surprised how often people don’t have decent salt and pepper in the house. Seasoning is essential in almost every dish, and makes such a difference to flavour. You need good quality sea salt and a pepper grinder – not the powdery stuff. It’ll make you feel fancy every time you cook if you can throw a pinch of real salt up in there.
3. Dried chilli flakes
A pinch of dried chilli flakes can liven up any dish, whether it’s a plate of pasta or a vegetable curry. They last ages and they pack enough of a punch without going overboard (which is far too easy to do with fresh chillies…).
Garlic is the basis of so many of my favourite foods, and no doubt yours as well. Anthony Bourdain says ‘Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.’ and he is so, so right. That stuff in jars? Not worth the time. Get fresh or don’t bother. I like the ‘Chef’s Garlic’ which is larger and easier to peel and always buy a couple of bulbs when I’m at the supermarket.
5. Chopped tomatoes
I get a bit panicky when I use my last can of chopped tomatoes. You need some in the cupboard at all times – you’ll be grateful to have some on hand next time you want to rustle up a quick dinner. Like garlic, chopped tomatoes make the basis of so many good dishes so keep them stocked!
Bonus points if you also keep fresh cherry tomatoes in the fridge at all times. Then you’ll be unstoppable.
6. Balsamic vinegar
A good bottle of balsamic vinegar will work wonders in your kitchen. Not only does it dress a mean salad, you can also use balsamic vinegar to add depth and flavours to sauces, to marinate meat and tofu, and to make a fancy glaze that’ll add some wow factor to almost anything you put on it. Even if you’re just throwing it over some tomatoes and mozzarella, you’ll be glad you have it on hand.
Soups, curries, stews, casseroles, sauces: you name it, they probably start with some onions. They last pretty well, so it’s good to keep a few in the cupboard. Chop them fine and sweat them down before creating some delicious dishes and revelling in your excellent handiwork.
8. Soy sauce
A bottle of soy sauce will serve you well. Not only will you be able to whip up the easiest stir fry in the world, but you can use it in a myriad of different scenarios. Use it to make gravy great, to dip dumplings, to glaze and marinate meat and fish, to add flavour to noodle soups and broths. The list goes on. In fact, is there anything you can’t do with soy sauce?!
9. Coconut milk
You only need a handful of ingredients and a can of coconut milk to make a delicious Thai curry. That’s my main use for coconut milk but it also makes a good base for soups, sauces and even puddings. You can bake with it, you can add it to rice for a bit more flavour, or you can pour it over some oats for a tropical-tasting version of Overnight Oats. Buy some now, thank me later. (P.S. It’s way cheaper at Asian supermarkets and in the ‘world foods’ aisle at supermarkets – that Blue Dragon stuff is always overpriced).
10. Parmesan cheese
A smattering of freshly grated parmesan is luxury personified. Give me that freeze-dried stuff in a plastic pot to put on my bolognese and you are dead to me, but whip out a lump of parmesan and a fine plane grater and we’ll be best friends for life. Parmesan lasts for ages in the fridge, and has the power to turn a bad day into an excellent one. You deserve it, friend.
What are your must-have ingredients?
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