STOCK YOUR KITCHEN: PANTRY STAPLES
This list of pantry staples are the items that I like to keep on hand to help me whip up meals on the fly. They’re basic, versatile ingredients that are used frequently, are usually fairly inexpensive, and have a long shelf life (pantry, refrigerator, or freezer). Your personal list will take shape as you begin to cook regularly and develop favorite recipes or flavors.
In the meantime, use this list as a guide for slowly building up your pantry over time. You don’t have to buy everything at once! Buy one or two items, as needed, but always check if you need to restock on these items before you do your weekly shop.
MY GUIDE TO A FULLY STOCKED KITCHEN
Some ingredients mentioned, aren’t every day things people have on hand. While I consider these necessities , in this blog I will note the ordinary staples that I keep stocked, with the hope that others can make a meal “on the fly”.
The goal is to have enough staples on hand so you don’t to have to make a trek to the grocery store and have a minor existential crisis of “what did I even come here for?” every time you want to cook a meal.
A fun game to play with my friends is one where they give me list of ingredients available in their house and I tell them what they can make with it. It’s like my own personal version of “Chopped” done via text.
Here we go:
The ingredients marked with an asterisk (*) are ones that I love but aren’t as necessary if you are looking to pair it down.
PANTRY STAPLE: OILS/ BUTTER
Extra-virgin olive oil – Always buy high quality olive oil, and always olive oil in a dark glass bottle.
Vegetable oil – It’s good for frying things so it’s good to keep a big bottle. Plus it’s a neutral-flavored oil so it can be used with any food that olive oil would overpower in flavor.
Unsalted butter – I always opt to buy unsalted so that I can control the salt levels in the food later on. European-style is my favorite; it has a higher fat content so a smaller amount goes further.
*Sesame oil – I make a lot of Asian food and therefore use a lot of sesame oil. It’s great in salad dressings, marinades, and stir-frys.
PANTRY STAPLE: SPICES
Salt – I always use coarse kosher salt! This would probably be my number one pantry recommendation because salt is an easy way to build flavor in food. I also keep table salt for baking and Jacobson flake salt for garnishing dishes.
Black pepper – Buy black peppercorns and grind it yourself directly into the food – it’s best fresh. Go for a coarse grind.
Vanilla extract – I recommend buying a high quality version, it will last for a while and the cheaper vanilla extracts are obviously less expensive but they are also weaker in flavor.
This list has been narrowed down to common spices used in my recipes:
Coriander – Fun fact: coriander is dried and ground seeds from cilantro plants.
Cinnamon – This versatile, warm spice with distinct earthy flavor and aromatics is great for baking.
Cumin – this earthy, warm spice with mellow flavor is used a lot in Mexican, Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.
Thyme – While I love fresh thyme, I kill a lot of my plants so dried thyme is nice to have on hand. It’s known for it’s light woodsy flavor.
Crushed red pepper – If you like spice this is a must have – it’s a good way to add heat to the top of pizza or in sauces without having to buy and chop peppers.
Cayenne – Included in many hot sauces, it’s made from the very spicy chili pepper adds fiery heat to dishes. A little goes a long way.
Rosemary – With scents of lemon and pine, dried rosemary is used in French and Mediterranean cooking. I love combining it with olive oil and creating a rub for meat.
Chili powder – This is actually a blend of many spices and is commonly used in Mexican cooking.
Not essential, but recommended:
*Turmeric – This spice is a major component in curry powder and other curry dishes. It can be overpowering (and has a tendency to dye things yellow) but it is also known for anti-inflammatory properties. The deeper the color of this spice, the higher the quality.
*Tarragon – This dried spice pairs well with fish and seafood dishes.
*Ground Ginger – This fragrant spice can be used in place of grated ginger in a pinch and is used in many Asian cuisines to build flavor.
*Chili powder – This is actually a blend of many spices and is commonly used in Mexican cooking.
*Bay Leaves – These whole dried leaves can be added to soups and marinades for deeper flavor. One leaf can add a whole lot of flavor.
*Curry powder – This is actually a spice blend of lots of different spices but it can be used to build flavor in dishes quickly. It’s used in lots of Indian dishes.
*Basil – Dried basil is a necessity for Italian cooking and comes in handy as an alternative if you don’t have fresh basil plants.
*Oregano – Another essential to Italian cooking, oregano is used on everything from pizza to Mediterranean dishes.
*Paprika – A deep red spice, it’s used to color dishes and add flavor. Look for Hungarian paprika for the best quality.
STAPLES: IN THE FRIDGE
Eggs – In America most eggs require refrigeration. I always keep a dozen pasture-raised eggs on hand for various uses – an easy morning scramble, a grain bowl topped with a poached or fried egg or baking.
Whole milk – I still love real dairy in my morning cappuccinos and can use it with a roux for a quick cream sauce for pastas.
Parmesan-Reggiano cheese – shocking no one, Parmesan cheese is my favorite cheese to shred over pasta, popcorn, or just about anything else. Buy the real kind- in whole blocks/ chunks from Italy (not pre-shredded or grated).
Tomato paste – I only buy the kind that comes in a tube, the type in cans are wasteful when you typically only need a tablespoon or so.
Bacon – I always keep a pack of bacon on hand for breakfast or to add to dishes (think pasta carbonara) for an easy protein that lasts a long time.
*Almond milk – I use it for my morning smoothies or overnight oats.
*Kimchi – This fermented cabbage Korean condiment can be made at home or store-bought. I keep a jar of Napa cabbage kimchi in the fridge to add a lot of flavor and spice to dishes.
*Anchovy paste – While oil-packed anchovies are great, if you don’t use the whole can at once then you waste a lot of good product. I like using the type in the tube that is already mashed up to add to Caesar salads or anything else that needs an umami add.
PANTRY STAPLE: CONDIMENTS/ SAUCES/ VINEGARS
Dijon mustard – The perfect condiment to keep around for adding to sandwiches (I throw lots of leftover proteins like ham or chicken in between bread for a totally different meal) or to add depth to salad dressings.
Mayonnaise – Instead of making my own, I often use mayonnaise as a base for sauces or aioli’s since it’s already stabilized.
Ketchup – A very American condiment, I mainly use ketchup for on burgers and dipping fries.
Honey – A natural sweetener, I like to choose a locally sourced honey, known to help with seasonal allergies as well. Make sure what you are buying is pure honey and has no corn syrup added.
Sriracha – Let’s be real, this garlic chili paste has become everyone’s staple condiment.
Soy sauce – It adds that extra oomph to lots of dishes.
Red wine vinegar – This is the most popular vinegar, made from fermented red wine and adds a balanced acid to dishes.
White vinegar – While this can be very useful for pickling, I use this most for cleaning purposes. White vinegar and kosher salt make a great polish for copper products.
Not essential, but recommended: *Whole grain mustard – A tangy mustard with deep flavor and crunchy texture from the seeds can accompany cheese or charcuterie or be used in sandwiches.
*Rice wine vinegar – Made from fermented rice wine, this vinegar is sweeter and less acidic and harsh than other wine vinegars.
*Balsamic vinegar – The only vinegar not made from fermented alcohol, balsamic traditionally comes from Italy and is a concentrated with a mellow tartness.
*Apple cider vinegar – Provides a subtle tartness and reportedly has a variety health benefits like easing symptoms of acid reflux.
*Gochujang paste – A funky, fermented sweet and savory Korean chili paste is a great substitute for Sriracha or sauce for chicken wings.
*Maple syrup – another natural sweetener, I am picky and go for high-quality Vermont maple syrup.
*Fish sauce – Fish sauce is very funky and a little can go a long way. It adds a lot of flavor to marinades and meals.
IN THE PANTRY
Flour – As long as you don’t have a gluten allergy, always keep all-purpose flour stocked.
Sugar – I keep both granulated sugar (white sugar) and brown sugar stocked in airtight containers.
Rice – I usually keep white rice, jasmine rice and basmati rice on hand.
Quinoa – It can be cooked in the beginning of the week and divided out for meal prep lunches.
Lentils – I keep a bag of green lentils in my pantry year-round. Lentils make a great side served alongside salmon or roast chicken or added to salad or soup for a more protein-packed meal.
Dried pasta – If all else fails, I clean out the fridge and add it to a bowl of pasta.
Beans – Canned beans are cheap and can be kept in the pantry for a long time.
- Canellini beans – white beans that are great in soups.
- Black beans – heat up and serve with chicken, pork or grain bowls.
- Chickpeas – so much protein! Add to a grain bowl or make a hummus.
Breadcrumbs – I keep both plain breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs in my cabinet.
Canned whole tomatoes – It doesn’t hurt to keep a can in the pantry since it has a long shelf life. Canned tomatoes can be used for a quick pasta sauce or simmered into a soup.
Cilantro and flat-leaf parsley – I keep them stored in glasses of water in the refrigerator so they last longer.
Green onions – I go through at least a bunch a week.
Onions – I always have both yellow and red onions on hand. The best thing is that they last a long time so you can keep a few around with no rush.
Garlic – While whole heads of garlic are best, if you are cooking in large quantities or are lazy then you can buy pre-peeled garlic cloves in bags at places like Trader Joe’s or Bristol Farms. I usually keep both around.
Shallots – Shallots have a mild onion flavor and I like to keep them on hand since they last a long time.
Lemons and limes – they add an automatic brightness to dishes and last over a week.
*Tomatoes – I usually buy Roma or cherry tomatoes, and of course Heirloom if they are in season. They can be chopped up and added to salads, made into a quick pan sauce for pastas by sautéing them with onions and garlic or used for pico de gallo to accompany guac.
*Avocados– The drawback to avocados is that they don’t have a long shelf life, but they have so many uses.