I am a recent college graduate with an entry-level job, and I love to cook healthy, delicious food all the time. And no, I don’t have an expensive grocery bill. In fact, I spend about $50 every two weeks on groceries regularly with the occasional splurge for parties or big dinners. The secret to this is a well-stocked pantry with a diversity of base ingredients that can be used in a wide array of dishes.
These are some things I always keep on hand. I know that I can go to the store, come back with mostly produce and the occasional meat item, and create dishes I will be excited about with these ingredients already at hand in my pantry.
Spices can’t be emphasized enough! With a good arsenal of spices, you can liven up anything. Here is what is usually on my spice shelf:
Herbes de Provence
Ras El Hanout spice blend: I like to keep this on hand to liven up meat, vegetables, any substantial savory dish that could use a little kick. It’s a slightly sweet, slightly spicy rich spice blend that is traditionally used in Moroccan food. Yellow curry is also great for livening up a variety of dishes. My friends joke that I try to sneak curry into everything, and a lot of the time I do- but I rarely regret that decision!
Vegetable Bullion: I use this sparingly as I am not a huge fan of the high sodium content, but its good in a pinch if you don’t have any vegetable or chicken/beef stock and need to mimic that rich flavor without all of the work.
Shredded Coconut: Just because I am a coconut-nut. Shredded coconut can be used in chicken dishes, rice dishes, cookies, and my favorite, my daily bowl of steel cut oats.
Soy Sauce: Can be used in a variety of meat dishes including pork and chicken, and in soups.
Sesame Oil: Using sesame oil in Asian dishes adds nice flavor as opposed to using vegetable oil or olive oil.
Fish Sauce: A little goes a long way when you’re using fish sauce. I use it most often to add an extra layer of flavor to stir fry or similar Asian dishes.
Worcestershire sauce: A favorite to use with beef. I love using it in my burger patties.
Stir-fry sauce: A good standby for a quick dinner, just sautee with vegetables and serve with rice.
Coconut Milk: Can be used in savory and sweet dishes: Asian food combined with curry, in rice, in oatmeal, in baking, in smoothies. Nearly anywhere you would use regular diary milk you can substitute with this tasty dairy-free option.
Black Beans: A good staple in a pinch that can be tossed in a salad or used in a burrito.
Canned Chicken Stock (or homemade frozen): I like to keep some chicken stock around to add depth of flavor to soups and sauces.
Onions: Onions are as basic a staple as they come. Whether it’s in soup, sauteed vegetables, in a sauce, and in most savory dishes.
Garlic: Garlic is essential to most savory food I cook! It’s also known to have great health benefits as it contains vitamins including Vitamin C and Vitamin B6, and is a natural immune system boost.
Ginger: An easy to keep root that makes a nice addition to meat dishes, vegetable sautee, in baking, etc. You can keep ginger even longer in the freezer. Just take it out and grate off what you need without even having to thaw!
Potatoes: It’s good to have potatoes around for a side, in soup, roasted, etc.
Quinoa: Healthy, a complete protein, tasty, and goes with most vegetables. I love quinoa. If you haven’t seen the video that David Lynch posted on making quinoa, watch it. While he cooks his quinoa he amuses you with an “anecdote of no small amusement.”
Japanese or Thai Rice: A nice side dish to most dinners. I like to soak my rice overnight for sticky rice the next day. You can also substitute coconut milk for water and make coconut rice. Feeling sweet? Add a little sugar, toasted coconut, and butter for a coconut rice pudding.
Penne Pasta: A great standby that can be combined easily with stray vegetables and spices if you don’t have a lot of food options at any given time.
Rolled Oats: A favorite breakfast staple by themselves and a good baking ingredient for cookies, granola bars.