Useful Pantry Staples for Kickass home cooks

Farmer's market Istanbul

Pantry staples are essential for home cooks like myself, who between long days at work and peak hour traffic, are not inclined to spend hours at the stove on time consuming or complicated week day meals.

To reduce the incidence of ordering take out or delivery I’m sharing my tips and tricks on essential pantry staples that will help you shorten your preparation and cooking times, but still ensure that your meals are delicious and attractive to the senses.

Top Tips for home cooks

  • For most cooking and baking, regular ingredients are fine. There are a few items worth splurging on however as the difference in taste is remarkable, like pecorino cheese or 70-80% cocoa dark chocolate.
  • For an instant upgrade to your meals without adding any calories, add herbs and spices that contain vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. These include rosemary, garlic, turmeric, ginger and cloves. Also potent are cinnamon, sage, oregano, marjoram and thyme.
  • For quick and easy meals, buy the freshest in-season fruits and vegetables you can find. The artisanal and organic produce available at many farmers markets produce exceptionally flavorful salads, soups, frittatas and desserts.

To ensure that I can rustle up a quick meal even when I am tired and grumpy, I keep these pantry staples around.

Baking pantry staples

  • Eggs
  • Cake flour or fine sponge flour (alternatively for every cup required use 1 cup All purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons, then add back the same amount of cornflour to the cup); Bread flour;
  • Corn flour and Rice flour are essential for gluten free baking
  • Almond flour and Coconut flour are essential for low carb, gluten free baking
  • Sugar – Fine granulated white sugar, castor sugar, confectioner’s sugar, light and dark brown sugar
  • Raising agents – Baking powder, Bicarbonate of Soda, Instant yeast, Cream of Tartar
  • Good quality chocolate for baking (I use minimum 70% cocoa)
  • Pure vanilla extract, vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste
  • Stevia, Honey and Maple syrup
  • Strawberry jam or apricot jam
  • Nuts – Pecans, walnuts, macadamias, pistachios
  • Seeds – Pumpkin, sesame, nigella, flax, sunflower seeds
  • Other – Cocoa powder, condensed milk, caramelized condensed milk
  • Paper muffin liners

Read More: Baking tips to become a great baker

Refrigerated pantry staples

  • Butter
  • Cheese – Mature cheddar, parmesan, mascarpone, ricotta and whipped cream cheese are my favorites. Also any goat’s cheese adds a wonderful dimension to savory tarts.
  • Milk kefir
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Sour cream
  • Buttermilk
  • Fresh herbs like mint, parsley, thyme, rosemary or sage (freeze any that will not be used within a few days)
  • Seasonal berries
  • Mixed salad leaves or baby spinach
  • Mushrooms

Frozen pantry staples

  • Lamb chops, minced meat, chicken portions, veal bacon, sausage or sausage meat
  • Frozen cut fruit and berries- Useful for smoothies
  • All butter ready made frozen puff pastry sheets.
  • Brioche bread – I buy these and use when needed for French toast or bread pudding
  • Herbs and spices – parsley, coriander, mint, basil and dill can be frozen if the bunch is too big to use up in a few days
  • Chilies – a packet is always too much for me to use up so I freeze any not used after the third day after purchase
  • Vegetables – mixed vegetables, peas, sweet corn for use in rice dishes, pies or stews
Pantry staples - herbs

Mixed fresh organic herbs

Dry goods Pantry staples

  • Rice – I prefer basmati
  • Canned fish – salmon, tuna, smoked oyster and smoked mussels
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Dried beans and lentils – You can buy canned but the result is inferior to cooking it from scratch
  • Low carb Noodles
  • Garlic and root ginger
  • Onions – I use red; brown or shallots for cooking and spring / green onions for salads and omelettes or fritata
  • Lemons
  • Tomatoes – I don’t refrigerate these as it turns mushy and tasteless
  • Stock concentrate
  • Coconut milk
  • Evaporated milk – good for a quick dessert
  • Long life milk – you never know when you run out of fresh milk

Oils, Condiments and Flavoring Pantry staples

  • Extra Virgin olive oil, Coconut oil for baking and cooking and Canola oil for frying
  • Souring agents – Aged Balsamic vinegar, Balsamic vinegar emulsions, date vinegar, rice vinegar for added flavor or apple cider vinegar for tartness; Pomegranate molasses; Tamarind paste
  • Mustard powder and prepared mustard
  • Sea Salt, black peppercorns, paprika, turmeric, oregano, chili flakes and a few pre-made spice mixes for Thai or Chinese cooking
  • Whole spices include coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise, mustard seeds, fennel seeds
  • Shrimp paste for Asian dishes
  • Fish sauce, oyster sauce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Harissa paste – adds a punch of flavor to any creamy dressing
  • Sumac – adds fragrant lemony flavor to salads or meat
  • Za’atar – mixture of wild thyme or oregano, salt and sesame seeds used for seasoning meats or vegetables and spreading onto mezze dishes like hummus or labneh (strained yogurt)

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