A well-stocked pantry is your best friend. Last week, I covered mise en place and this week, I’ll give tips on how to stock your pantry. When you get this stuff in order, you can make a tasty, quick meal at any time. Even if you think you don’t like to cook, I can guarantee streamlining your kitchen will make you hate it a little bit less.
Clean Out Your Pantry
First, you have to Marie Kondo your kitchen and get rid of things that don’t spark joy. Every spring, I clean out each cupboard, one at a time. First up, I go through my spice cupboard. If I haven’t used it in a year, it goes. When I use it but I bought it over a year or two ago, it’s gone. Make a list and buy small amounts in bulk. Dry spices tend to lose their strength and get stale. Do you know that little orange tin of pumpkin pie spice that your mom kept in the cupboard for your entire childhood? Yeah, that’s a no for me dog.
Buy jars for your bulk spices. Nobody wants to paw through a basket of spice bags with elastic bands around them looking for ground cardamom. Put labels on the jars too. There’s no need to get fancy. I use green painters tape and a sharpie OR a grease pencil. The spices I use regularly live at the front and the ones that don’t get daily use at the back. There is one basket for things like mustard seed, dried whole chilis, dehydrated onion and garlic that I do keep in bags.
It’s up to you whether you want to buy an organizer like this or this one that fits in a drawer or not. I have cobbled together a system with a few little risers in my cupboard and that works for me. There is a ridiculous array of spices on in my cupboard so I have an entire unit devoted to them, but most people don’t.
Cans and Bottles
Go through your canned goods. I guarantee you will find at least one can of beans that was best before 2019. Canned foods don’t generally spoil but the quality can degrade beyond the best before date. Again, if you can, try to keep items in groupings. Canned beans and legumes in one spot, soup in another etc. Same goes with sauces. I keep all of my Asian bottles – soy sauces, fish sauce, etc in a basket. Oils all go together in another spot. Same with honey, brown rice syrup and other sweeteners.
Things that I never let myself run out of are boxed low sodium chicken broth, Better Than Bouillon in chicken and mushroom and whatever other cool flavours I find. I always have a couple of cans of chickpeas, cannellini beans, San Marzano tomatoes, coconut milk, oatmilk and a can or two of soup. The backup jar of Chili Crisp is always waiting for me. Keep a list so that you can restock before you need something.
I have a cupboard for rice, pasta, rice noodles, grains etc. You will always find basmati, arborio, brown basmati, sushi, wild rice and various rice blends. I also buy vacuum packed cooked rice for emergencies. Red and white quinoa, farro, and barley all go in this cupboard as well. Stock what you actually eat.
Dried Beans and Legumes
On to dried beans and legumes. These are all keep in glass jars. If you don’t cook beans or lentils from dried, don’t buy them. They get stale and when they are old enough, it’s impossible to get them to cook properly. Those chickpeas that are still hard after 2 hrs of cooking are a chickpea problem, not a you problem.
I also keep flours, cornstarch, potato starch etc in glass jars with my beans. The jars don’t have to match or be fancy but I do prefer glass with a nice, airtight seal. Plastic can transfer some weird odours, so, I prefer glass. You use what works for you.
Aromatics and Things That Stay on the Counter
I have a basket of aromatics that stays on the counter. Cooking onions, a red onion, shallots, ginger and garlic. A box of cherry tomatoes is always on hand, as well as a couple of sweet potatoes. I only buy a week’s worth at a time even when there is some crazy sale. You will get a feel for how many onions you go through in a week.
Without even going near the fridge or freezer, you can make dinner from your dry goods. Red lentils, onions, spices, coconut milk, microwave a bag of cooked basmati rice and you have got yourself a nice dal with rice in 30 minutes. On the other hand, grab a can of San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, chili flakes, garlic and pasta. The meal cooks in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Another weeknight fave, is quick but hearty soup from a box of chicken broth, canned chickpeas, tiny pasta with garlic, San Marzanos with a hunk of bread.
Once you have an organized pantry, cooking a midweek meal on the fly becomes second nature. Tune in next week when I tackle your fridge and freezer.