I find it funny that—in a fit of trying to use only leftovers in my house, as opposed to actually going out and spending money on groceries—that I happened to have everything I needed to make Chinese hot-and-sour soup, including dried shitakes. This may tell you something about our eclectic pantry.
This got me thinking: what are the things in our kitchen that I try to always keep on hand?
Of course, there are the “essentials”—flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking soda/powder, egg powder (keeps lots longer than fresh eggs, though I usually have those too). If you’ve got these ingredients, you always have something to eat. Mmmmm. Griddle cakes!
On the less usual side, I’ve found that buttermilk is a God-send. I have a powdered version always on hand, but prefer the fresh stuff (as with most things). This stuff can be used in place of any other dairy products in your recipes and adds a zesty kick. Once I added buttermilk to my scrambled eggs (because I was out of other milk) and I never went back (well, almost never). They are SO much better with buttermilk.
Next is balsamic vinegar—not the sickly liquid stuff they try to pass off as balsamic in the grocery store, but the real, syrupy thing. You can use it as glazing for meats, a delicious counterpoint to both fruit and vegetables (try it on strawberries!), salad dressing…. I’ve been known, on occasion, to drink it straight up. It’s that good.
Canned legumes have to be on the list. Beans and the like (my preferences tend to green beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and kidney beans) make a healthy and satisfying snack (or meal) right out of the can and are so versatile they can be used as main courses, side dishes, in salads, on nachos, in quesadillas. The list goes on.
And there are a slew of other helpful things I tend to keep on hand: cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, rice, bulghur, cous cous. And, oh yeah, apparently dried shitake mushrooms.
Remember, a conscientious pantry-keeper never goes hungry!
What are your must haves?