How to Stock Your Pantry
How to Stock Your Pantry
Cooking at home does not have to be a chore. Stock your pantry with a few key ingredients, learn a few simple methods and recipes, and a nourishing and satisfying meal is never more than a few minutes away.
My daily cooking style focuses on mainly “real foods” ingredients, meaning foods that are less processed and refined, and closer to their natural state. This includes fresh farmer’s market produce and responsibly raised meats, good fats (including nuts and seeds), whole grains and legumes, and minimal use of refined sweeteners.
My pantry is what I consider to be “healthy-ish”. I do include some processed grains, such as white rice, for convenience, flavor, and preference. I believe in the 80/20 rule, where around 80% of the time I am cooking and eating nutrient-dense whole foods, and the other 20%, I eat things that may be considered unhealthy. Purchasing organic whenever possible is a priority for our family. That is the brilliant thing about cooking and eating at home; you get to decide what works best for your family. We tend to feel better when we eat more low-grain and low-carbohydrates, and also have sensitivities to wheat and dairy that we have discovered over time. Nutrition is individual to each person, as is taste, and this can be reflected when you stock your pantry. Use my list of pantry essentials as a guideline, tweaking it as you see fit for your family’s needs. Now, on to the goods!
Fats: The Good Kind
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Refined Coconut Oil
Pastured Lard, Duck Fat, or Beef Tallow
Good fats are essential for flavor and health. My go-to for daily cooking is extra virgin olive oil. However, for higher heat cooking, and a neutral flavor, I use refined coconut oil, which is mechanically processed to remove any coconut aroma or flavor. As a saturated fat, coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so if I need an oil with a neutral flavor for a salad or homemade mayonnaise, for example, I turn to avocado oil. I believe animal fats to be a part of a healthy diet as well. They made my “extras” list, only because I find that high-quality animal fats tend to be a bit pricier. Walnut and sesame oil are “extras”, as they are nice to have on hand for the particular flavor they lend to a dish, but are high in polyunsaturated fats, and therefore less stable oils, so are best used only cold, and in small quantities. I included tahini in this fats list as it makes terrific sauces and dressings.
Acids: Add a Kick
Apple Cider Vinegar
Brown Rice Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
White Wine Vinegar
Acid is an essential flavor component in cooking, and vinegar is one of many ways to get it into your food. My favorites include apple cider vinegar, brown rice vinegar, and sherry vinegar. Apple cider and sherry vinegar have a strong flavor, while brown rice vinegar is a bit milder. Be sure to purchase organic raw apple cider vinegar that still has the “mother” intact, which is delicious in this kale salad recipe. Recipes like this one do great with a splash of sherry vinegar, while this brown rice salad does great with a milder flavor from brown rice vinegar. I also keep lemons on hand, which are essential for this garlic and lemon zest shrimp recipe. Balsamic (stronger flavor), red wine (medium flavor) and white wine (mild flavor) vinegar are nice to have on hand, but can often be substituted for another vinegar I have listed on the essentials list.
Salt: Not Just For Saltiness
Redmond sea salt OR
Himalayan salt OR
Flake sea salt
Salt enhances the flavor of foods, and is not just for making foods taste salty. I use prefer to use Redmond fine sea salt, which is harvested in the United States (Utah) from an ancient sea bed, is less refined, and contains trace minerals. Other fine choices for salt include Himalayan or Diamond brand kosher salt. Regardless of which salt you choose, knowing their properties is the most essential part. The fine sea salt I use in everyday cooking, is saltier than a coarser kosher salt; I keep this in mind when following recipes that call for kosher salt. I also like keeping a flake sea salt on hand for recipes like this delicious grain-free chocolate tart.
Nuts, Seeds, and Dried Fruit
Shelled Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)
Peanut and Almond butter
Dried Fruit (Pick 2: Tart Cherries, Cranberries, Apricots, Figs)
Nuts and seeds are a terrific snack, as well as an ingredient, in many recipes. I store mine in the fridge, as they contain oils that are prone to rancidity. If you have any nuts or seeds stored in your pantry that you can not remember buying, I suggest tossing them and starting new. I buy big bags of almonds and walnuts from Costco, which last us a month or so, and use them for homemade almond milk, and snacks like these maple baked walnuts. Dates are great to use as a sweetener or snack, and small amounts of dried fruit can be a great snack or dessert, and in salads and baked goods. An extra I have included is candied ginger, which is good for baking, as well as tummy upsets.
Assorted Canned Beans
Specialty beans, such as those from Rancho Gordo
I keep a couple of kinds of dried beans on hand, the two main ones being lentils and chickpeas. Lentils are relatively quick cooking (red lentils especially), and home-cooked chickpeas differ drastically from canned ones. I use this foolproof method for cooking chickpeas, and freeze them in 8-ounce containers, to be pulled out when needed. However, if I do not have any on hand, canned beans can be a savior for a quick weeknight meal. I try to keep one or two different types on hand, my favorites are a white bean, such as cannellini or navy beans, and pinto beans. A word on cooking beans: add salt early on in the process, but DON’T add any acid (vinegar, lemon juice, tomatoes) until the beans are finished cooking, as the acid will inhibit their ability to cook full. French lentils, in the extras category, hold their shape when cooked, and are great for salads. Specialty heirloom beans, while they might seems like an unnecessary expense, can be absolutely mind blowing, in terms of texture and flavor.
Cans, Jars, and Umami
Anchovies (jarred or canned)
Mustard (Dijon and whole grain)
Stock or Broth (homemade)
Sriracha or other Hot Sauce
Roasted Red Peppers
Thai Curry Paste
The key to many delicious recipes is using ingredients that add instant umami, or “savory-ness” to a dish. Anchovies, capers, olives, and miso are all full of umami, and can be used in simple recipes like this to really pack some flavor. If you are not keen on anchovies, try substituting capers or olives in a recipe. I also keep a couple of types of mustard on hand, soy sauce (choose tamari if gluten-free is necessary), and tomato paste (I prefer to stuff in the tube), to bring depth of flavor to dishes. When I have a chance, I also like to make batches of chicken or beef stock, which I then freeze to have on hand. It is as simple as throwing a chicken carcass, (or wings or legs or thighs can be used as well), into the slow cooker, covering with water, and letting it go on the low setting for anywhere from 12-24 hours. Towards the end of cooking, add some onions, carrots, celery and cook for 30 minutes more. Strain and voila! Flavor bomb for anything from soups to grains to veggies.
Honey (Local and Raw)
Organic Cane Sugar
We do not eat a lot of sweets in my house, but when that urge to bake does hit, the two sweeteners I use the most are real maple syrup (Grade A dark amber, formerly known as Grade B, is my favorite), and raw local honey. I sometimes have coconut sugar on hand, which does contain some nutrients, and possibly has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, but big picture, is still a refined sugar, and to be used in moderation. I also keep organic cane sugar on hand for when the alternatives just won’t do, as well as molasses. Did you know you can (easily) make your own brown sugar?
Rice (Brown and White)
Pasta (Gluten-full and/or Gluten-free)
I almost always have a couple of different types of rice on hand, as we eat both brown rice and white rice. Stove top homemade popcorn is a favorite movie-night snack, and rolled oats come in handy for some dessert recipes and for hot cereal when we are tired of other options. We also keep pasta on hand, mostly gluten free, since we have some sensitivities in our household. Since we do not eat a lot of grains, ingredients like quinoa and farro are “extras” in my household. However, if grains are more of a staple for you, heirloom grains are a fun way to explore.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
All Purpose Flour
Brown Rice Flour
Gluten-Free Flour Blend
Everyone falls somewhere in the gluten-free to gluten-full spectrum these days for what they eat. While gluten is not necessarily inherently “bad”, from a cooking or health perspective, it IS a common allergen for many people. We are gluten sensitive in my house, so minimize our intake. However, I keep all-purpose flour on hand to sometimes bake a fresh loaf of bread or other treat. I also stock whole wheat pastry flour, which is a whole grain flour that is milled from a “softer” wheat that naturally has less protein, and less gluten, so it is good for baking tender baked goods. Also, for gluten free use, I use brown rice flour in place of all-purpose flour like in this salmon cake recipe, and almond flour comes in very handy for these delicious chicken fingers. I store my flours in the freezer, again, to protect against rancidity, and to keep them protected from moths. Other gluten free flours include chickpea flour, cassava flour, and gluten-free flour blend.
Red or White Onions
A classic mirepoix consists of onion, carrots, celery, and is the base for many dishes. Garlic and ginger can be added to these base aromatics, as well as bell pepper, depending on the dish and cuisine that is being made. Leeks are a milder substitute, but can also play a star role in dishes. Red onions tends to be a bit sweeter, and white onions, a bit stronger. Shallots tend to be milder.
Other Vegetables and Fruits
Fresh Seasonal Farmer’s Market Vegetables and Fruit
Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes
I have learned from many years of shopping at farmer’s markets that my eyes are often bigger than the amount of time I have in a week. In a “normal” busy week, with a family of 3 (2 adults and a nine-year old), and if I have no specific recipes that I am shopping for, I will buy three different varieties of veggies, being sure to include at least one green leafy one. I always buy potatoes and sweet potatoes at the farmer’s market, as farm fresh potatoes have so much more flavor than store bought ones. Depending on the time of year, in-season fruit availability can range. Depending on the farmer’s market, and my weekly schedule I will sometimes purchase already prepared items. However, I am always careful to check the ingredient label for the type of fats that are being used. Fresh juices are also a treat, but do contain a lot of sugar, so I buy it as a treat or for a special occasion.
Grass-fed beef and lamb
Pastured chicken and pork
Wild Planet Tuna
Frozen chicken wings
I prefer to buy eggs and meat directly from the farmer. When I am unable to get to the farmer’s market, I buy Vital Farms pastured eggs at the grocery store. I purchase beef from here, and other meats from here. The important thing is to seek out meat to purchase directly from a farmer who is raising it responsibly. Voting with your dollar ensures that farming stays a viable occupation, so that we have healthy food to eat for future generations. Most meat directly from the farmer comes frozen, so it is easy to stock up and pull out what you need. I also love Wild Planet canned tuna as a protein source for a quick recipe. For extras, I seek out seasonal fish whenever possible from a local fisherman. I find boneless chicken breasts to be absolutely devoid of flavor, and totally boring. However, as someone who likes to eat with her hands, chicken wings are a totally simple, quick, and satisfying weeknight meal. Bake them off and coat in some BBQ sauce or hot sauce, and you have comfort food!
Leftover soups and stews
Besides fresh from the farm meat, I keep peas, corn, and tomatoes in my freezer. I often purchase the peas and corn in the frozen section at the grocery store, or if I really have it together, process and freeze fresh produce from the farmer’s market while they are in season. I definitely put up tomatoes every summer when there are so many farmer grown or garden grown ones to be had. It is so easy to freeze tomatoes this way, I have practically stopped purchasing canned tomatoes. As for extras, I will sometimes purchase frozen broccoli when in a pinch to add to a quick fried rice dish. I also freeze leftovers of soups and stews when I have made a huge batch. It can be such a lifesaver to have these on hand!
Chili Powder (I prefer a straight chili powder to a blend)
Cinnamon (ground and sticks)
Coriander(seeds and ground)
Cumin (seeds and ground)
While I would love to pretend that I have a perfectly organized spice cupboard, mine is a happy mess of colors and flavors just like the next persons. I have tried multiple storage solutions over the years, and all of them have worked somewhat. I try to buy spices in bulk from sources like Penzey’s spices, or an Indian or Middle Eastern grocery store, as they tend to be fresher. The spices on shelves of supermarkets are often akin to dust, with very little flavor, compared to their fresher counterparts. Everyone has their favorite spices and flavorings, but if you are looking for a reference for combining spices, I suggest the spice chart in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, or The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs.
Congratulations, you have made it to the end! I hope you have picked up some ideas for how to stock your pantry. What are your favorite pantry items? Please comment below, or in the A Good Carrot private Facebook group.