A well-stocked pantry is a good cook’s best friend.
On any given night, I could open my kitchen cabinets and cook up a healthy meal, without having to go to the grocery store.
Why? My well-stocked pantry is full of the basics needed for dozens of meals.
I have shelves of condiments and tons of spices, but these are my top five things I believe every kitchen should have to ensure easy healthy cooking.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is THE essential oil for sautéing, roasting, making salad dressings, marinades and even baking. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and proven time and again to be one of the healthiest out there. My favorite? California Ranch Olive Oil takes the prize. Pro tip: buy olive oil from California, which has strict guidelines for processing their olives. Some olive oils from other countries have been shown to be cut with other undesirable oils. And always go Extra Virgin for the most health benefits.
People in my classes ask me all the time what kind of salt I use to cook with. It’s really quite simple. I use a very basic Kosher salt for almost all of my cooking needs. Kosher salt is a coarse salt that, I think (and most chefs agree) has a less salty, briny taste, which is perfect for all-purpose cooking. I keep a dish of salt on my counter and know my “pinch” when I am using it in dishes. Coarse salt is easy to grab with your fingers too. I am For everyday cooking I like Morton Kosher Salt.
I keep a variety of vinegar in my pantry – red wine vinegar, apple cider, white wine, rice, sherry, The number of vinegars, along with the brands, on the store shelves can be dizzying. Balsamic, however, is my most used vinegar. I use it to make salad dressings, drizzles for grilled or roasted vegetables, or to add a splash to “brighten” a soup or chili. My go to for everyday balsamic vinegar is Bertolli Balsamic of Modena.
I always tell my cooking classes – if you are buying one, buy two. If a recipe calls for a can of diced tomatoes, throw an extra can in your cart. You’ll thank yourself on a Tuesday when you are needing to throw something quick together for dinner, like a tomato sauce, Mexican dish or soup. As a matter of fact, I use canned tomatoes in so many dishes that I typically have a couple of cans on hand for this very dilemma. Did you know that canned tomatoes have more lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) that fresh tomatoes? In the summer, it is fresh all the way, but for most of the year, I lean towards the convenience of canned, diced tomatoes. The one wins all taste tests for me is Muir Glen Organic Diced Tomatoes.
Chickpeas (or Beans in General)
Remember that Mexican dish I talked about above? Beans are equally important. Don’t get me wrong: using dried beans, soaking them and then cooking them are the best. They taste fresh and they are superior canned beans. But we’re talking about quick and convenient, which means canned beans are the best. I keep a couple of varities on hand: chickpeas for hummus and Indian dishes, black and red beans for Mexican dishes and white beans for Italian dishes. Be sure to give your canned beans a good rinse before using, this washes off a significant amount of the sodium they are packed in. My favorite brand for all variety of beans in the grocery store are Goya.
What are your essential pantry items for quick midweek meals? Post in the comments below!