Buying on purpose helps reduce waste (this is also why I avoid grocery shopping while hungry, otherwise I buy 10 cans of spaghettios. Apparently I don’t have enough sodium in my life). That being said, we also need room for whimsy, not everything can be planned, especially in the kitchen. And having a strategically stocked kitchen can help you have intentional whimsy in the kitchen. Below I share ten of my pantry staples that let me be purposeful with those spur of the moment purchases at the grocery store.
Waste in North America
Did you know that in the United States we throw away 1/3 of our food! One hundred and thirty three billion pounds of food go into landfills every year!
I try and do my part to not be a part of this problem. Spending time in France helped. The fridge was small, I couldn’t fit in more than a few days ingredients. My purchases were purposeful.
Another thing that has helped was reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you haven’t read it, you’re the only one. Seriously, it’s a game changer. Joe got it for me for Christmas in 2014, and it revolutionized how I approach all stuff. It helped me not only pare down the clutter in my life but keep it pared down.
I’ve applied this mindset to the kitchen as well. I go with a plan to the grocery store. I purchase only what I know I will use. And, if I have extra, I don’t buy more of something else until I’ve used up what’s in the fridge. (This is also how the French do it, but I’ll not annoy you with my Francophile prattle).
My Top Ten Pantry Staples
- Shallots. I use these guys for everything. Shallots have a subtle sweet flavor and are perfect for salad dressings and sauces but will also add great flavor to curries or this Spicy Butternut Squash Soup. (They tend to be a bit pricier at the grocery store, but at my local international grocery store they are cheaper.)
- Plain yogurt. Plain yogurt is tasty when I cook Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s great when I cook Greek. But the best part is if I throw in some berries and homemade granola I can feed it to Mars and Remy for lunch. And they love it. I also mix it in a lot of Remy’s food to give him extra calories without the extra sugar.
- Dijon mustard. Mustard is a highly underrated ingredient. I use it as an emulsifier in almost all of my salad dressings, like this Roasted Beet Salad with a Smoky Orange Vinaigrette. It can add nuance to any dish. And it keeps. I love dijon mustard.
- Cheese. Friday nights are for pizza or homemade macaroni and cheese (and beer). Rainy Wednesday nights are for tomato soup and grilled cheese. (I didn’t link to cheese cause I’m guessing you can figure out where to buy cheddar cheese.)
- Rice vinegar. I use this in all of my asian salad dressings. It brightens up so many dishes and is a nice alternative acid to use when cooking.
- Bacon. Bacon may be a carcinogenic but it’s only bad if you eat it more than twice a week. Bacon adds depth of flavor to everything. It’s great in soups, salads, salad dressings, quiche and the quantities in those will not be impactful. Also these Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts will change your life. I buy thick cut bacon at Costco for about three dollars a pound. When I get home I divide it in to 8 ounce portions and throw it in the freezer. It takes all of two minutes to defrost.
- Sherry. Sherry can take a dish from pretty good to wow. I use it in soups, sauces, vegetable dishes. I love cooking with sherry. And sherry WITH bacon? Stop it.
- Pad Thai sauce. I use this for nothing other than making Pad Thai. I keep it on hand because pad thai is my favorite easy dish to make in a pinch. I buy the same brand that I linked to at our local international market.
- Cilantro. I put cilantro in almost everything I cook. It’s delicious in salads, soups, rice and beans and any number of ethnic foods. I keep it on hand to make almost any dish a bit more interesting.
- Kosher salt. No fundamental change will impact your cooking more than switching to kosher or sea salt from iodized salt. Unless you are boiling water for pasta or soup, kosher and sea salt will go on to your food more evenly and will taste better. Also, you need less kosher salt than you will iodized salt in to get the same saltiness (so less sodium in your diet). Here’s an article delineating some of the differences.
*I should note, I also always have olive oil and butter. But I figured as recommendations go, those were ubiquitous enough already.
What are your pantry staples?