The perfect cooking event happens when you have everything you need right there in front of you. You don’t have to go dashing off at the last minute because you’re missing a crucial ingredient.
I like to avoid those types of situations.
It took me a few weeks of observing the ingredients I use most, as well as examining what I was always running to the store for, or short of, to put together this list.
Your mileage may vary depending on the type of cuisine(s) you’re fond of preparing. But this list covers most of the basic necessities that allow you to put together a variety of meals.
While totally unscientific, you can go a long way with this list. You won’t be caught off guard at the last minute or forced to cook something else-or worse yet, compromise.
If you plan your meals around some of these flavors, you’ll find there are an infinite number of uses and combinations you can make. So let’s get started:
Red Wine vinegar-One of the first go-to vinegars for making a vinaigrette, and my preferred vinegar other than apple cider vinegar. Also useful in marinades, on vegetables, and for pickling.
Chipotle Peppers-Chipotle peppers are jalapeño peppers that have been dried and smoked. They’re my go-to ingredient for adding some heat and smokiness to many dishes. You can make spicy chipotle hummus, add it to your chili, make it into a chile powder (try sprinkling on fries!), create awesome chicken Tinga for taco filling, among other things. You can buy them canned whole “in adobo” which is a vinegary sauce, in the Mexican section of your supermarket. They will keep for weeks in your refrigerator-I like to blend this form up with a hand blender and store, and just scoop out as needed. Or you can buy the dried ones pictured here, grind them up in a spice blender, or prepare your own adobo and keep them moist and ready to use.
Soy Sauce-For a hint of Umami flavor in just about everything. You can add a dash to your salad dressing to give it that extra something, or make an actual soy based vinaigrette-and it pairs well with things like tahini and ginger. Also absolutely necessary for many rice dishes and marinades for meat or Asian dishes.
Whole Grain Mustard-Another crucial item to always have on hand, I’m partial to the whole grain type, often labeled “a la ancienne” aka old style on the jar. Necessary for many vinaigrettes, meat and poultry dishes, marinades and of course for sandwiches.
Ginger-A staple in Asian cooking that’s made its way into the mainstream, ginger is also a healthy addition and good for digestion and inflammation. Put some chopped ginger in your tea for its most basic use, or use grated ginger in marinades, salad dressings, and soups.
Tahini-Another previously “foreign” item, tahini has gone mainstream and is crucial to hummus and baba ganoush. You can use it standalone but thinned out a bit for a dip for falafel or vegetables, or combined with ginger and other ingredients for an amazing vinaigrette.
Garlic-So many uses-just chopped up and lightly sautéed, or softened and browned in its skin in a hot pan, or made into garlic confit, garlic is probably the most omnipresent staple.
Ketchup-Ok, it might not jump right out at you all the ways to use ketchup, but trust me, there are many. Horseradish sauce for shrimp cocktail, Thousand Island dressing, barbecue sauce base, made spicy with chipotle peppers…ketchup is sort of like mayonnaise-leave it to your imagination to what you can add to ketchup to change it up.
EVOO-Extra virgin olive oil. Many people think you can’t sauté or deep fry in EVOO, but you certainly can. It’s also useful for vinaigrettes, coating for meats, poultry and fish before grilling to prevent them from sticking, and marinades.
Tabasco Sauce-I know, we already have one type of spice on here. But tabasco sauce is such a wonderful flavor enhancer. Use a dash in your salad dressing to give them some extra zing, same for your soups. As a standalone ingredients its awesome on pizza, pasta, in soups, sauces and tomato based sauces.
Heavy Cream-While it doesn’t keep as long as many of the other ingredients here, it’s easy to find ways to use heavy cream. Add to soups for an extra touch of richness, or to many tomato based sauces. Crucial for many basic pasta sauces. And finally, easily whipped up with some vanilla sugar or other flavoring for desserts.
Olives-preferably fresh kalamata. Nothing that comes in a can-go to the olive bar please! Olives can be used in so many dishes, and are bursting with flavor. Chop them up or pulse them in your blender with some garlic, citrus zest, and dry or fresh herbs for tapenade. Then use the tapenade for toasts, or as a topping for fish or chicken. Use them on pizzas, in tomato sauces for pasta, in salads or tossed with vegetables. Or just snack on them whole.
You’ll find this list useful even if you don’t use all these items. Let me know in the comments what are your “must have” pantry items!