Whether your cooking reflects traditional regional cuisines or you go for dishes mirroring more eclectic, international flavors, you can be ready to indulge your favorite style of cooking by making sure your pantry includes some commonly used ingredients and staples. Once those basic requirements are met, you can start to expand the basics depending on the particular cuisine you find interesting. Here are the basics:
1. A high-heat, neutral-tasting cooking oil is a must for all manner of kitchen uses: Canola is a good, high smoke point, all around cooking oil, as is safflower, corn oil, sunflower, grapeseed and peanut oil.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: California Olive Ranch is an excellent American-sourced brand of all around olive oil for daily use found in most supermarkets.
3. Add ons: After meeting the basics, branch out and add avocado, walnut, coconut and toasted sesame seed oils.
Vinegars bring a bright splash of flavors to many foods and are essential in many salad dressings. Begin with standard distilled white vinegar and keep apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar on hand. Imported Italian balsamic is the best. Its production is tightly controlled and regulated. Look for the leaf symbol to indicate quality, with four leaves being at the top.
Nothing unusual here, just the basics. Good quality mayonnaise, ketchup, yellow mustard, Dijon mustard, soy sauce (lower sodium is fine), chili paste, hot sauce (Tabasco is the staple, but hot sauce varieties abound these days) and Worcestershire.
Kosher salt, table salt, black peppercorns (a good pepper grinder is a must for a good cook)
Dried herbs and spices
Bay leaves, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, cumin, ground coriander, oregano, paprika, rosemary, thyme leaves, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, nutmeg. Some spices and herbs will last for a long time — whole nutmegs for example — other have a shorter shelf life and their potency will fade with age, so pay attention to the expiration dates. It’s a good idea to survey your spice and herb stock every few months to replace as needed.
Chili powder (Mexene is an old Texas favorite), curry powder, Italian seasoning
Vanilla, almond, mint and orange are good flavors to have on hand.
Canned Goods and Bottled Items
Capers, olives, low-sodium stock, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, canned tuna, canned salmon, baked beans, pickles Canned salmon or tuna, baked beans, and fresh sliced tomatoes make a quick, light and satisfying summer supper.
Breadcrumbs, panko breadcrumbs, couscous, lentils, white rice, rolled oats, barley or quinoa, dried pasta (spaghetti, macaroni)
All-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, honey, corn meal, vegetable shortening, Dutch process cocoa, semi-sweet chocolate chips
Milk, eggs, cheddar cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano (the real thing, imported from Italy), fresh mozzarella, plain yogurt, unsalted butter
In the Freezer
Frozen fruit (blackberries, blueberries, peaches, strawberries), vegetables (broccoli, corn, peas, spinach)
Garlic, onion (red & yellow) potatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, celery, carrots, apples, lemons