Here are some things I always have in my pantry – I use them constantly and make sure to restock whenever I run out of something. When a recipe calls for an ingredient I don’t have, I usually just substitute with something in my pantry. I’ll only run out to get it if I’m already at the store or if it’s vital to the recipe. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. If you haven’t ever used something listed here in your cooking, don’t go out and get it (unless of course you want to expand your culinary horizons). Many people will find they constantly use ingredients I haven’t included on this list. Overall, however, this is a good guide to stocking a new kitchen or getting together basic ingredients if you’re cooking for the first time.
Stocking Your Pantry
I’ve broken everything up into categories, depending on where things are stored in my house. But you should obviously organize according to your own space and cooking needs!
Spices and Dry Ingredients
- Salt – I keep regular and kosher salt. I prefer the coarse kosher salt for seasoning, but regular for baking.
- Pepper – Whole peppercorns in a spice grinder keep longer and taste better than the powdered stuff.
- Red pepper flakes and/or cayenne pepper – Here when I need to add a little heat to something.
- Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric – I love Indian food so these spices are vital to me, but may not be for everyone.
- Grill seasoning – Great for steak, chicken, lamb, even tofu. A quick and easy way to give your food some flavor without mixing a bunch of ingredients.
- Dried herbs – What you stock depends on your tastes. I have dried thyme, rosemary, oregano and herbes de provence.
- Ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger – These are useful if you bake often.
- All-purpose flour – For baking and for thickening sauces.
- Granulated and brown sugar
- Cornstarch – I suggest buying a small container since I only use it every once in awhile to thicken a sauce.
- Bread crumbs – I like panko because they stay crunchy, but seasoned or plain are excellent also.
- Nuts – Some of my favorites are walnuts, sliced almonds, pine nuts, or pecans – add a great flavor and texture to meals and also great as a snack.
- Dried fruit – Raisins, cranberries, figs, or apricots are great to have on hand to snack on or throw into salads and cookies.
- Rice – My favorite is a basmati variety that cooks up in 15 minutes, but brown rice is a great alternative.
- Pasta – Keep one type of small (corkscrew, bow tie, elbow, orecchiette) and one type of long (spaghetti, linguine, lasagne) to keep your options open but not crowd the pantry.
- Beans – A quick and easy way to add substance to a soup, side dish, or salad. I like cannellini and black beans. Other varieties I like: red kidney beans, black-eyed peas and pinto beans.
- Pineapple chunks or rings – Love these because they’re great in a stir-fry or on a skewer with salmon or chicken.
- Crushed or diced tomatoes – Great base for a marinara sauce or a curry.
- Fish – Tuna, salmon, or anchovies packed in oil are good atop pasta or salads.
- Chicken and/or beef and/or vegetable broth – The best way to add a lot of flavor to soup or a sauce with minimal effort.
- Roasted red peppers – I love them for salads and sandwiches.
- Soy sauce – For Asian cooking, or as a salt substitute.
- Worcestershire sauce – A really quick way to add a lot of flavor to a mild fish or chicken dish.
- Hot sauce – My current favorite is Cholula.
- Lemon juice – It’s nice to have fresh lemons, but bottled juice is practical and less messy.
- Mild vinegar – Cider, white wine, or rice vinegar – great for salad dressings.
- Balsamic vinegar – Good for glazes and dark, interesting flavors in baked dishes.
- Other vinegars – I make my own salad dressings and I have more varieties of vinegar than I care to admit. Some of my favorites are ume plum, champagne, raspberry and fig.
- Extra virgin olive oil – Fruity and a little sweet – good for flavoring food or using in dressing.
- Light-flavored oil – Vegetable, canola, or peanut oil – better for high-temperature cooking and allows the flavors of the foods to shine through without overpowering them.
- Honey – Add sweetness to sauces and dressings, or just use it in your tea.
- Mustard – I keep dijon and spicy brown – one for cooking and one for topping burgers and hot dogs. That’s a lie; I must have 10 different kinds of mustard in my fridge. But I maintain that dijon and spicy brown are the most vital.
A word on produce: My rule of thumb is to go into the grocery story or farmer’s market with an open mind. I usually pick up whatever looks good and I try to switch it up often. Below, I am listing the things I ALWAYS have on hand. The rest of the veggies rotate depending on season, availability, and how I’m feeling!
Dark, Dry Storage:
- Potatoes – So versatile and great for any meal of the day. I like Yukon Golds because they tend to hold their shape better when cooked (especially in a stew or curry).
- Onions – The base of SO many dishes. I keep red onions, sweet onions, and plain white or yellow onions at all times. I will admit to being a little onion-obsessed.
- Garlic – Another essential ingredient for so many recipes out there.
- Fresh herbs – My go-to herbs are parsley and basil, other good choices are cilantro, dill, and rosemary, depending on your taste.
- Bell pepper – Again, I always have them because they are so versatile. I especially like them in salads and stir-frys.
- Greens – I’m a salad junkie so I always have some kind of greens laying around. Lately, I like to have baby spinach since I can also add it to hot dishes.
- Anything that looks good at the store
I think the following staples are pretty self-explanatory. If you’re lactose intolerant or keep kosher, there are non-dairy alternatives, like margarine and soy milk, that can sometimes be substituted in recipes.
- Peas – These are perfecting for adding to a pan in the last minutes of cooking. Residual heat thaws the peas and they add a great touch to hot dishes.
- Corn – I like to put some on salads.
- Berries – Great for topping ice cream or a pre-made dessert, or pureeing into a sauce
- Ginger root – Keeps forever in the freezer and you can take out and grate it into your food without thawing.
- Bacon – Great alone or as a base flavor for another dish. It lasts longer and is much easier to cut if frozen.
- Spinach – The frozen packs can get kinda mushy when thawed and served as a side dish, but it’s great to put into soup instead of buying huge packs of fresh spinach and stuffing them into a pot waiting for them to wilt down.
Again, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, more of a guide and jump-off point. Take the time to go through the pantry every once in awhile, both to find what the heck you have stored in there, and to throw out old or expired food.
Is there anything you keep in your pantry that isn’t on this list? Any tips on pantry organization? Let us know in the comments below!