So you want to become more comfortable cooking at home and less reliant on takeout and dining out. That’s a great goal to have! The key is stocking your kitchen with some essential ingredients that you can use in a variety of recipes. When your pantry is loaded with staples, you’ll be ready to whip up a homemade meal on a whim without having to run to the store.
Here are a few basics you should always keep on hand in your kitchen. With these ingredients you can make simple meals like pasta, stir fries, omelets, chili, and more. Your cooking repertoire is about to expand in a big way. Get ready for homemade meals that are healthier, tastier, and easier on your wallet!
Whole Grains: Rice, Pasta, Oats and More
Whole grains are pantry staples you’ll want to keep on hand. Things like rice, pasta, oats, and quinoa will give you options for quick, delicious, and nutritious meals.
- Rice: Stock up on a few varieties like white rice, brown rice, and wild rice. Rice pairs well with so many cuisines and dishes. It’s filling, gluten-free, and non-perishable.
- Pasta: Whole wheat or vegetable-based pasta are healthy alternatives. Keep a few shapes like spaghetti, penne, and rotini on hand for pasta salads, stir fries, and casseroles. Cooked pasta also freezes well for up to 3 months.
- Oats: Old-fashioned rolled oats or quick oats are versatile and budget-friendly. Oats make a satisfying hot cereal but also work in granola, cookies, bread, and more. Oats contain fiber to keep you full and lower cholesterol.
- Quinoa: This whole grain is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids our bodies need. Quinoa cooks in under 20 minutes and has a mild nutty flavor. Use it as a side dish, or add to salads, chili, and breakfast bowls.
Having a variety of whole grains readily available means you’ll have the makings of a healthy, home-cooked meal even when your pantry seems bare. Experiment with different grains and find what you and your family enjoy. Your kitchen will be stocked, your belly will be full, and mealtime just got a whole lot easier.
Beans and Legumes: Versatile Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Dried beans and legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and black beans should always have a place in your pantry. They provide plant-based protein and fiber, and most have a long shelf life. Plus, they’re extremely versatile and budget-friendly.
Beans and legumes are staples in cuisines around the world. Chickpeas are essential for hummus and chana masala. Black beans are perfect for burritos, enchiladas, and veggie burgers. Lentils work well in soups, stews, and salads. The possibilities are endless. Stock up on a few varieties so you always have options on hand.
To prepare beans and legumes, simply rinse and then simmer in water or broth until tender. One cup of dried beans typically yields 2-3 cups cooked. Cooked beans freeze well for up to 6 months. Or, look for low-sodium canned versions for convenience—just rinse and drain before using.
Beans and legumes are also packed with nutrients. Most contain 8-10 grams of protein and fiber per half cup cooked. They’re high in iron, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. The fiber helps keep you feeling full and aids digestion. The protein provides the building blocks for healthy muscles.
Whether you prefer the earthy flavor of lentils or the robust taste of black beans, beans and legumes deserve a permanent spot in your pantry. Keep a variety on hand, prepare a big batch, then add them to soups, stews, salads, and veggie burgers all week long. Your body and budget will thank you.
Herbs and Spices: Add Flavor to Any Dish
Herbs and spices are essential for adding flavor to your cooking. Stocking your pantry with the basics allows you to quickly spice up any dish and make it your own.
A blend of ground chilis and spices, chili powder adds heat and flavor to Tex-Mex dishes, chili, stews, and braised meats. Look for ancho chili powder for a milder heat or chipotle for some smokiness. Add 1/2 teaspoon at a time to avoid overspicing your dish.
Earthy, nutty cumin enhances Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern and Moroccan cooking. Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin to chili, tacos, fajitas, curry dishes, hummus, and stews. Whole cumin seeds can also be toasted and sprinkled over salads or rice dishes.
Made from ground sweet red peppers, paprika adds vibrant color and a touch of heat. Use in chili, stews, braises, rubs for meats like chicken, fish or potatoes. Smoked paprika has an intense savory flavor, while sweet paprika is more subtle. Start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more to taste.
Dehydrated, ground garlic adds convenience and flavor to meats, pasta, pizza, salad dressings and compound butter. Use in place of fresh garlic when cooking for one or looking to save time. 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder equals about 1 clove of fresh garlic. Add to taste and adjust as needed.
Dried or Fresh Herbs
Basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, parsley – having an assortment of dried or fresh herbs on hand allows you to quickly add flavor to pasta, rice, salads, meats, and stews. Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor so use about 1/3 of the amount of fresh. Always add dried herbs early in cooking and fresh at the end of cooking.
Keeping a well-stocked selection of chili’s, spices, and herbs allows you to add flavor and personality to your home cooking. Experiment with different blends and combinations to find what you like best. And remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out! So start with a light hand, and build up the flavors gradually.
Vinegars and Oils: Dressings and Marinades Made Easy
Vinegars and oils are essential ingredients to have on hand for easy dressings, marinades and sauces. Stock up on a variety of vinegars like balsamic, rice wine, red wine and white wine vinegar. For oils, invest in neutral-flavored options like canola or vegetable oil as well as flavorful olive oil, toasted sesame oil and coconut oil.
With just a few basic vinegars and oils in your pantry, you’ll be able to whip up simple vinaigrettes and dressings in a flash. For a classic balsamic vinaigrette, whisk together 3 parts olive oil, 2 parts balsamic vinegar and 1 part honey. Season with salt and pepper. This also makes a great marinade for chicken, beef or vegetables.
For an Asian-inspired salad, whisk rice wine or lime juice, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, fresh ginger and garlic. Toss with romaine lettuce and top with edamame, shredded carrots and sliced almonds.
Coconut oil adds a subtle coconut essence to curries and stir fries. Saute aromatics like shallots, garlic and chili peppers in coconut oil, then add coconut milk, fresh cilantro and spices like curry powder, cumin and coriander for a quick coconut curry sauce. Simmer until thickened and toss with shrimp, chicken or vegetables over rice or noodles.
The options are endless with a variety of vinegars and oils on hand. Once you get the basics down, you can create your own signature dressings and marinades by experimenting with different flavor combinations. Bottled dressings and sauces will be a thing of the past! Your homemade creations will be fresher, healthier and tailored to your tastes.
Keeping your pantry stocked with vinegars, oils and other staples means you’ll always be ready to whip up a quick, homemade meal. With the right balance of ingredients, you’ll be dressing up salads and marinating meats in no time. Your kitchen will become a place where culinary creativity flows as freely as the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
So there you have it, a list of 10 essential ingredients to always have on hand in your pantry. With staples like these, you’ll be ready to whip up a quick, homemade meal any night of the week without having to run to the store. Cooking at home is so rewarding, not just for your wallet but also for your health and happiness.
Having a well-stocked pantry takes out the guesswork and lets your creative cooking juices flow. You’ll be making delicious, memorable meals in no time. The next time you’re at the grocery store, add these ingredients to your cart – your kitchen and taste buds will thank you!