Here are some standard ingredients I keep in my pantry so I’m ready to whip up something decent with whatever I have on hand. This is not an exhaustive list–for example, it doesn’t include staples like flour and sugar–but it should serve you well for the recipes and meal ideas on this site.
- Beans. Canned beans are a great source of protein that can be used in many ways. I find black beans and chickpeas to be the most versatile, but they’re all good.
- Breadcrumbs. I have a few breaded dishes in my repertoire so I keep bread crumbs in my cupboard. I tend to use panko more than any other.
- Cornmeal. This is something that most people probably don’t keep on hand, but I find it comes up in a lot of recipes, providing a little extra crunch and texture. It’s essential for cornbread and corn muffins. The waffle recipe that came with our waffle maker even uses it.
- Dry rub. You can make your own, but sometimes it’s easier to just pull a jar out of the cupboard. These are great for seasoning meat, vegetables, and potatoes. As an example, one of our favourites is Stubb’s Chicken Rub.
- Fajita or taco mix. You can create your own, but this will do when you’re in a hurry.
- Gravy mix. It can be high in sodium and doesn’t taste nearly as good as homemade, but when you’re in a pinch and want something to throw on top of meatballs or even burgers (repurposed as Salisbury steak), this is good to have on hand.
- Honey. A good, all-round liquid sweetener for sauces, dressings, and baking.
- Hot sauce. It’s always good to have one of these around for spicing up a dish.
- Oil. I keep olive oil and canola oil which will do for both cooking and making dressings or dips for bread. Sesame oil is another good one to have, especially if you like Asian-inspired dishes.
- Pasta. Keep a couple of varieties if you can: long, like spaghetti, and short, like penne or rotini.
- Rice. A basic long-grain rice is good to have. I use white basmati as my default. I also have brown rice for nights that I have time and feel like doing something a little healthier.
- Salsa. Always useful as a dip for all kinds of dishes.
- Stock mix. Essential for lots of sauces and sometimes for cooking grains. I keep vegetable, chicken, and beef on-hand at all times.
- Taco shells or nachos. These are fantastic for leftovers. I use them all the time.
- Tomato paste. Used frequently in sauces and stews, I buy the kind in a tube so I can take what I need. The canned variety is fine, but you may have to store leftovers which can quickly turn mouldy if not sealed properly.
- Tomato sauce (plain) or passata. Tomato sauce can be a base for myriad soups and sauces, and is also a key ingredient in a lot of slow cooker recipes.
- Vinegar. For some reason, I have a ridiculous number of vinegars, often purchased for a particular recipe and hardly used again. Many varieties can be interchanged, so I would say stick with two to three if you are limited in storage space. Rice vinegar is a good light vinegar and very mild. Just to be sure to get the unseasoned variety, as the seasoned contains salt and sugar. Red wine vinegar is a good second choice for something a little stronger. Apple cider vinegar is another one you might want to consider, since it is used in a fair number of recipes. (You can also use it for cleaning wood floors and conditioning your hair, so that’s a bonus!) There are so many others, but if you have a limited budget or small kitchen, the ones I listed above should serve you well. (For the record, I also have basic white vinegar, which I use primarily for cleaning, balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, malt vinegar, and white wine vinegar.)
- The Big Six : basil, chili powder, cumin, oregano, rosemary, thyme. I find that I use these spices more than any other for supper, save for salt and pepper. (And, yeah, have salt and pepper around all the time too.)
- Garlic and onion powder. These are great for adding some punch to dips and side dishes when you don’t have time to chop. They’re also used in a lot of dry rubs.
- Other spices: coriander, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, sage.
- Smoked paprika. I never knew this was a thing until a couple of years ago but I use it all the time now.
Here are few things that aren’t technically essential, but are nice to have.
- Cranberry sauce. A nice surprise when you serve poultry and also makes a good base for meatball glaze.
- Toasted sesame seeds. They add flavour to salads, are good sprinkled on edamame and other cooked vegetables, and have a pretty long shelf life.
Image of pantry jars by Gmm2000 | Dreamstime.com.