If you’ve got a well-stocked pantry, a quick dash to a neighborhood grocery store and a speedy trip through the express line will be all you need to make a delicious meal any time, at the drop of a hat.
Choose a few items from each of the following categories to stock in your pantry (chances are, you’ve got some of these covered already) and you’ll always be just moments away from a tasty meal.
Flavorful olive oil is ideal for use salad dressings and lightly sautéed or roasted vegetables. A neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point, such as Grapeseed, safflower, or sunflower seed oil is perfect for high-heat cooking or deep frying.
Sesame oil, walnut oil, hazelnut oil, truffle oil, and other strongly flavored oils can be the finishing touch that turns your meal from ordinary to extraordinary.
As with oils, the right vinegar will take your dishes up a notch or three. For vinaigrettes, try balsamic, red wine, champagne, or sherry vinegar. Flavored vinegars—like fig or tomato-basil—or a good aged balsamic can be drizzled over salad greens or roasted vegetables for a delectable one-ingredient sauce. Rice wine vinegar is mild and perfect for Asian dishes. Apple cider vinegar has just the right tang and hint of fruit to serve well in all sorts of salad dressings, marinades, and other dishes.
Mustard, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, chile paste, mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, chutney. Condiments make the world go ‘round.
- Pickled and brined things
Capers, olives, pickles. These can perk up salads, sandwiches, stews, pizzas, pasta dishes, or serve as a satisfying snack.
Salt (kosher or pure sea salt), pepper, fresh garlic, and onions should be standards in your pantry. Also nice to have are dried herbs (oregano, basil, dill), dried spices (cumin, cayenne, sweet and/or smoked paprika, curry powder, chili powder, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground clove), and vanilla extract.
Granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave. These are essential for making desserts, but they’re also useful for balancing savory sauces and marinades.
Unsweetened, semi-sweet, cocoa powder. Of course! You’ve got to have chocolate.
- Canned foods
While fresh food is always best, sometimes you just have to fake it. In the dead of winter, you can always rely on certain canned foods to round out your meals and keep you from going hungry. Canned beans are an easy way to add protein to any meal and canned diced tomatoes, coconut milk, or broth can form the basis of countless sauces or soups.
Canned tomatoes (diced, whole, pureed, paste, tomato sauce)
Canned proteins (beans—cannellini, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lentils—as well as canned fish like tuna, salmon, and anchovies).
Canned broth (chicken, beef, vegetable), coconut milk, and pumpkin puree.
- Dried grains, beans, noodles, and bread
Flour (all-purpose, whole-wheat, or a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend)
Dried pasta, couscous, and polenta.
Noodles (rice, soba, udon)
Rice (white, brown, basmati, Arborio)
Oats, barley, bulgur, and other dried grains.
Plain dry breadcrumbs and/or panko breadcrumbs.
- Nuts, Seeds, and Butters
Peanuts, cashews, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, tahini, peanut butter, almond butter.