On a podcast recently, this question was put to chefs: Which seven ingredients must you always have in your pantry at home? One surprising answer was tomato paste. Since the chef said it was necessary, I started using it more and wow! It does add a pack of flavor.
Today, here is my list of seven items I “need” in my pantry. (Salt and pepper and basic herbs are a given.)
Onions and/or Garlic
We use a lot of veggies at our house. And a lot of our dishes seem to start with sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil.
We usually have garlic that is pre-minced in jars as well as peeled fresh garlic in bags and some fresh garlic in cloves. The convenience of minced is nice, but that is not as flavorful as one of the fresh versions.
Once or twice a week, we roast up whatever veggies we have around – sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic are a favorite mix of mine. Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrots – anything is roast-able in our home, and onion and garlic are always included.
To roast, I mix the veggies in a bowl with oil and seasonings, then put in a 13×9 pan and into the oven at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, usually stirring once, until the veggies are tender.
Some time ago, maybe when my husband was reading about the Okinawa diet, we started using miso. I’m not enough of a connoisseur to have an opinion on white vs. red vs. yellow, etc., but I do love having miso around to add flavor to just about anything.
The other day, I was tired of moving a few bags of half-used frozen veggies around the freezer, so I sautéed up some onions and garlic, added in broccoli, peas, and green beans from the freezer, loosened it all up with some stock, added a generous amount of miso paste (1/4 cup?), a can of organic tomatoes, and a few spices, like oregano and turmeric.
After cooking on low heat for a few hours, it was all wonderfully soft and it smelled awesome. I used my immersion blender to puree it all up and made a wonderful, hearty tomato soup.
Gluten Free Flours
Not my preference, but by necessity, I have to avoid gluten. But I love baking! My kids grew up thinking that store-bought white bread was a delicacy only to be tasted at church potlucks. They were used to my regular baking of all types of breads and rolls.
This morning, I enjoyed a piece of toast, which sometimes is the only thing that will do. I made a successful loaf of gluten free bread yesterday that held together and was tasty. The secret to holding together and rising is xanthium gum.
The tastiness comes from using a variety of flours. This loaf has a gluten free all-purpose that includes sorghum and brown rice and garbanzo bean flours. I added some teff flour and oat bran.
I have an array of flours, including coconut and almond and sorghum as well as the ones mentioned above. My family usually says that gluten free pancakes with a variety of flours are better than wheat pancakes.
Besides the fact that I love the taste and flavor of mushrooms, they are a natural immune booster. After listening to an episode of the People’s Pharmacy, I have been even more intentional about using mushrooms.
I tried the mushroom barley soup recipe on their site, substituting wild rice for the gluten laden barley, and made a few other accommodations to fit with my on-hand ingredients, and it was yummy. Of course, mushrooms are also an item added into our roasted veggie concoctions.
Ginger, in Any Form
I have loved ginger since I was a kid and a favorite neighbor would make dense, cakey cookies she referred to as “gingees.” I loved those cookies! Also as a child, when there was a storm in the winter and our little gas log was on, we’d get regular ginger snaps and put a little dab of butter on them to melt.
Now I always have ginger juice to add to the taste of tea or smoothies or my own matcha/turmeric/ginger drink.
I also have ground ginger to add to cookies or sprinkle on roasted veggies or add in Indian food recipes.
Finally, I bought a mandolin primarily to slice fresh ginger super thin to add to roasted veggies. A favorite, super easy recipe is Ginger Carrot Soup.
Of course, growing up in the boomer generation, I had a lot of oleomargarine as a kid. Somewhere along the way, though, maybe at a rare restaurant experience, I tasted butter. Real butter. And I was sold!
Butter makes everything better. Cookies, mashed potatoes, toast, baked sweet potato, pancakes, banana bread. Butter, not margarine.
Besides, now we know that butter, in moderation, is probably better for us than hydrogenated oils and fats. Butter is one of my “purist” splurges.
Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
On another day, another time, coconut would not be on my list of seven necessary items. But I’ve had some success with baking lately that satisfied my gluten eating family – even a grandkid who identifies my food as “grandma food” when it tastes too healthy.
I made banana bread for an open house (pre-corona) and at the last minute, wondered how some coconut would work in it. All I had baked disappeared, and I even received requests for the recipe – no one guessed it was gluten free. Now I know to always put coconut in my banana bread.
My mother’s tried and true recipe for oatmeal cookies got a handful of coconut the last time I used it to make chocolate chip cookies and that was a hit, too. With a dash of cinnamon as well. The texture as well as the taste of coconut is a favorite addition at present.
I am definitely not a chef, but I do enjoy being creative in the kitchen. Trying new ingredients has made our quarantine time more pleasant, for sure.
What are the special ingredients you have in your pantry? How have you ventured in the kitchen while sheltering at home? Please share with the community!