Hey! It’s been a while.
Life, work, and a broken computer kind of got the best of me these last few weeks, but I’m bubbling at the seams with new recipe ideas and can’t wait to share them with you! <3
But before I do that, I thought it best to share a post I’ve been meaning to write for months now – a Pantry Party post! Sparked by a question from my sister about what key spices she should keep on hand, I wanted to make a database of all the pantry items I can’t live without (this is also in part inspired by Amy Chaplin’s beautiful book). While I can easily become that person who stocks up on Costco-sized, on-sale, bulk items that looks like I’m feeding a family of eight or preparing for armageddon, I truly think pantry items should be kept simple and minimized.
Paring down what’s on hand means we’re more likely to use up the ingredients we buy (less food waste), restock the shelves more often (fresher food), and don’t feel over consumed by having too much clutter. So here are my essentials. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments.
HERBS + SPICES
(…just the essential)
If you’re anything like me, you can easily go a little wild in the spice aisle, but regardless of what your heart says, I’ve found that I only use 10 spices on a regular basis. I love to buy spices in bulk (zero packaging waste that way) and store them in glass jars away from the light. If you’re looking to restock your pantry, I recommend buying Simply Organic herbs + spices and refilling the containers with bulk spices once they’re empty. Whole spices will go stale and should be replaced every four years, while ground spices and herbs go stale every 2 years (a great reason to buy whole and grind them yourself.)
- CUMIN – This is probably the MOST used spice in our house. It’s the base of our daals, most things Tex-Mex, and a roast veggies best buddy.
- CORIANDER – Almost as common on our dinner table as cumin, coriander also makes it’s way into daals, Mediterranean food (’cause cilantro – where the seed comes from – is actually Greek, not Mexican or Indian as one would think), and always on our hash browns.
- SMOKED PAPRIKA -Another friend of roasted potatoes, smoked paprika is amazing in veggie chili or on Tex-Mex veggies, refried beans, and it adds a great smoky flavour to items like coconut bacon.
- CHILI POWDER OR CAYENNE – You gotta have at least one of these babies in the cupboard for those day when you need a little extra spice. Either of these spices work great in anything from an Ethiopian wat, to a burrito bowl, or a buffalo spiced cauliflower.
- TURMERIC – My most beloved spice, turmeric is perfect for tofu scrambles, adding colour to “cheese” sauces, it is essential to daals, and is the base of the golden latte.
- BLACK PEPPER – I mean, c’mon? What would avocado toast be without pepper?
- OREGANO – One a the few dried herbs I love, oregano is amazing to add to roasted veggies, Greek salads, and creamy dips. Plus it works wonders in veggie-based soups like minestrone and anything with lots of chunky root veg.
- DILL – Fresh is always best for herbs, but some herbs don’t last the long in the fridge. Dill is great to keep on hand to use in soups (like cabbage, lentil, and beet based ones), dips and tzatziki, or for scones and bread.
- GINGER – While fresh ginger is better for cooking, dried ginger is a great spice to have on hand for baking (cookies, cakes, muffins), medicinal baths (link here), and healing drink mixes.
- CHILI FLAKES – Chili flakes are my #1 favourite condiment for sprinkling on avocado toast, pizza, spaghetti, and adding that extra jazz to roasted veggies. I pretty much put them on eeeeverything
BEANS + PULSES
While many of us use canned beans, dried beans are a head above canned variety for so many reasons:
- they cost less
- you can buy them bulk (less waste)
- no BPA in sight
- and finally, they aren’t all mushy and overcooked.
While it does take a little more time and planning to cook dried beans, it’s truly a simple task that will save you in the long run. Whole beans like chickpeas, black peas, and lentils should be soaked for at least 8 hours with a couple Tbsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. This breaks down the phytic acid and make beans more digestible.
To save time, beans can be cooked and frozen into serving sized portions then defrosted as needed.
- CHICKPEAS – A vegetarian’s best friend, chickpeas are essential for hummus, stews, burger bases, and they are a favourite salad topping.
- BLACK BEANS – These beans are necessary if you like tacos as much as we do. Black beans are wonderful in chili, soups, burgers, and stews. I prefer them more than the similar kidney beans as far as texture, flavour, and taste.
- FRENCH LENTIL – French green lentils work wonderfully in lentil salads and hearty soups. I prefer the taste and texture of these to plain green lentils.
- RED LENTILS – Because these lentils are split they don’t need to be soaked. When cooked, they become creamy and thick. Use them as the base for daal (which means “split lentil”), and soups. They can also be cooked and chilled then turned into fritters.
- MUNG BEANS – Mung beans themselves aren’t that exciting, but they can be soaked and sprouted to make highly nutritious bean sprouts. Try adding these sprouts to gazpacho, stir fries, salads, and wraps.
Grains are always a fun item for me to buy in bulk, but I must admit that some of them never get used that often (I’m looking at you freekeh). So instead of going wild with grains, keep it simple with just 4 or 5.
- ROLLED OATS – Totally affordable and nutritious, oats make the perfect breakfast, can be ground in a Vitamix to make flour, or of course, they can be turned into crispy granola.
- SHORT GRAIN BROWN RICE – While there are many rice varieties to choose from, short grain brown rice is my favourite and the most used in our house. Try using it in Buddha bowls, congee, and casseroles.
- QUINOA – Everyone knows quinoa, and sometimes it’s easy to become “quinoa-ed out”. Nevertheless, it cooks quickly and is so nutritious -it’s really a lifesaver for quick dinners. Use anywhere you’d use rice.
- MILLET – A totally affordable grain, millet is delicious ground and used as polenta, or as a flour for baking. It can be used anywhere quinoa is typically used.
- BUCKWHEAT – Either toasted, plain, or in the form of kasha, buckwheat is a comforting grain that pairs well with earthy flavours like mushrooms and yams. Great to use in a casseroles or nut loaves.
CANNED GOODS + “EMERGENCY FOOD”
Having foods on hand that make dinner prep easier is essential, and while we do have items like canned soups, baked beans, and jars of sundried tomatoes, I’ve kept this section simple with just the essentials.
- POPCORN – My go-to “no food in the house” snack. I love it with vegan butter, nutritional yeast, and brags. Best snack food ever!
- COCONUT MILK – Canned coconut milk is great to have on hand for soups and sauces. Keep one chilled in the fridge to whip up into vegan whipped cream.
- ROASTED TOMATOES – In winter months, having access to fresh tomatoes isn’t viable. Stocking a few cans of crushed or diced fire roasted tomatoes is wonderful to make a quick tomato sauce, toss into some veggie soup, or add into a curry.
- BEANS – While we already talked about how dried beans are better, sometimes you need a little extra help. Having a few cans of chickpeas and black beans in the cupboard can be a blessing for days when time is limited.
- PASTA SAUCE – Of course homemade is best, but sometimes we don’t have that luxury. When choosing a pasta sauce make sure it doesn’t contain sugar as some brands are packed with sweeteners.
- VEGGIE STOCK – Like many of the foods on this list, having some pre-made stock or stock cubes make whipping up a batch of soup a heck of a lot easier.
- PASTA – Pasta gets a bad rap, but it’s a quick supper and can be made a heck of a lot healthier with loads of veggies. Look for whole grain pasta, or wheat free alternatives.
NUTS + SEEDS
Nuts are very high in oil which is one of the reasons they go rancid quickly. One way to prevent this is to keep them away from light and heat. To ensure that the stay fresh and keep all their nutritional value, they are best stored in airtight containers in the fridge or freezer.
- ALMONDS – A classic for any whole food pantry, almonds are great for making milk, snacking, and roasting to make your own nut butter.
- CASHEWS – A little on the pricey side, cashews are a great base for cheese cakes, vegan sour creams, and they can add a creamy base to herbal lattes.
- WALNUTS OR PECANS – I go back and forth on which one I keep in the house, but in the end I find them interchangeable. They make great creamy milks, and are wonderful to add to cookies and muffins.
- SESAME SEEDS – These are perfect to have on hand to make your own tahini, or sesame salt. I love to sprinkle them on toast and sautéed veggies, plus they’re great in everything from banana bread to cookies.
- PUMPKIN SEEDS – High in magnesium and zinc, pumpkin seeds are great to snack on, top oatmeals with, or mix into baking.
- CHIA SEEDS – Either used in puddings, or as a egg replacer, chia seeds (white or black) are great to help thicken liquids and bind baking.
- SUNFLOWER SEEDS – A favourite and economical seed to keep on hand, sunflower seeds can be soaked and pureed into vegan creams, cheese, and sauces.
- FLAX SEEDS – Perfect to use as an egg replacer, or for adding fibre to baking. Be sure to grind the flax seeds before using to get their full benefit.
- HEMP HEARTS – I love adding these to salads, oatmeal, and adding extra protein to granola bars and energy bites.
OILS + VINEGARS
Having a good selection of oils and vinegars at the ready means you can roast, bake, pickle, or dress just ’bout anything. While for some it’s tempting to only use apple cider vinegar and coconut oil for every task, these are my favourites to keep around for most tasks.
- FLAX OIL – An oil not meant for cooking, flax oil is high in Omega 3 and perfect to use in salad dressing or mixed with lemon and drizzled on steamed vegetables. Be sure to store this oil in the fridge.
- COCONUT OIL – The controversial coconut oil is wonderful to use for body products (toothpaste and hair masks), raw chocolates, baking, and cooking over high heat. If you don’t like the flavour or coconut, look for refined coconut oil.
- OLIVE OIL – My favourite everyday oil, I use olive oil in baking (from cakes to cookies), to salad dressings, and low temperature cooking.
- AVOCADO OIL- Unlike olive oil, avocado oil can be used to cook at high heat. Because of that I love to use it for roasted veggies. It has little to no flavour and is also great in baking.
- APPLE CIDER VINEGAR- My favourite vinegar to use in salad dressings, to sour milk, and to rinse my hair with. It’s also great mixed with some water and sipped on as a digestive aid.
- BALSAMIC VINEGAR – A classic vinegar that adds a lot of umami to dishes like tomato sauce, roasted potatoes, and as bases for salad dressing.
- BROWN RICE VINEGAR- Not the most essential vinegar to keep around, but brown rice vinegar is great for making sushi rolls, soy based dipping sauces, or for making some quick pickled veg.
Most of the time when people talk about fermented foods and probiotic lactic acid bacteria, they often talk about yogurts, kefir, and skyr, but plant based foods are even better sources. Unlike the good bacteria that comes from dairy, the plant based derived sources actually live longer in your body and have more affect on your wellbeing.
- MISO – Miso should be stored in the fridge and will pretty much last indefinitely, although we never have it long enough to know for sure. Try adding it to lentil ragu to add a depth of flavour, or vegan mac and cheese, plus the obvious peanut or tahini sauce. It also works wonderfully as a salt replacement in sweet desserts like chocolate chip cookies. If you don’t eat soy, look for chickpea or other soy free ones.
- LIVE KIMCHI OR SAUERKRAUT – It doesn’t matter which one you choose, as both of these are loaded with lots of great gut bacteria. Use to top your favourite salads, bowls, or to sauté with your favourite veggies. You’ll find living kimchi or sauerkraut in the cooler section of the grocery store.
- TAMARI – A Japanese sauce similar to soya sauce, tamari is often wheat free (double check specific brands) and fermented which makes it a little better than liquid aminos like Braggs or coconut aminos.
There are a few seasoning essentials outside of the spice cupboard that I love to add to simple dishes to give them more of a wow factor. These simple ingredients add such a punch to basic meals.
- NUTRITIONAL YEAST- A vegetarian staple, nutritional yeast is great to bring ‘cheese’ flavour to sauces and nut-based vegan cheeses. It’s great added to popcorn, salad dressings, vegan pâté, and even cookies.
- MUSTARD – Although not a condiment for everyone, having mustard on hand is great for dips, dressings, sauces, and marinades. And it pretty much lasts forever so that’s an a added benefit.
- KOMBU – Seaweeds are flavour bombs, and kombu is basically the queen of the seaweeds. Use it in veg based dashi stock, miso soup, and cook along with your beans to help make them more digestible.
- DULSE – Another favourite seaweed, dulse is great added to wraps, and sandwiches or pan fried and crumbled to add a hit of salt to any dish.
Even if you’re not a baker, having a few ingredients on hand to be able to mix up a batch of healthier cookies, or energy balls, can be a beautiful thing for when sweet tooth cravings hit, or friends stop by unexpectedly.
- BAKING POWDER + SODA – Neither one of these are very exciting, but you can’t get very far in baking without at least one.
- COCONUT SUGAR – This is totally my favourite sugar to have in the house for general day to day baking, for tea, or to top oatmeal with. It is a little lower glycemic than cane sugar and adds a nice malt / caramel flavour to whatever it’s added to.
- COCOA POWDER – Either cocoa or it’s more expensive sister, cacao, are key pantry fixtures used in everything from brownies, to energy balls, to hot cocoa, to chilli.
- MAPLE SYRUP – Depending on where you live in the world maple syrup can be expensive. Here in Canada (while still expensive) it’s one of the more cost effective liquid sweeteners. Coconut syrup or date syrup are a good replacement, or depending on the recipe, you can use honey. Just stay clear of agave which is super high in fructose
- COCONUT – Dried + unsweetened coconut is a great ingredient to have on hand for quick nut milks, to add to granola, or to sprinkle in muffins or oatmeals.
- DATES – A great natural sweetener for raw baking, or to blend into a paste for naturally sweetened baking.
- FLOUR – Whether it be gluten free or wheat based, look for locally grown and stone milled flour with no additives.
COFFEE + TEA
It’s easy to get caught up in the world of special tonics and superfood lates, but sometimes our bank accounts can’t handle all the adaptogens we want. Instead of worrying about getting all the trendy potions, keep your tea and coffee cupboard simple with just a few ingredients.
- GOOD QUALITY COFFEE BEANS (OR HERBAL COFFEE) – As an avid coffee drinker, I always find it amazing when people give it up. Weather or not you’re a coffee drinker, having a stash of good quality coffee, or a similar caffeine free substitute like this or this, is great for mixing up fancy superfood lattes or entertaining guests. Coffee should be bought as whole beans and store in dark airtight containers at room temperature to maintain freshness.
- TURMERIC MILK MIX – Having a “superfood” mix at the ready is great for those rushed mornings or late nights when you just want something convenient. I love to make a big batch of turmeric milk mix and have it at the ready for any drink emergency. I’ll share a recipe for this soon.
- MATCHA or GREEN TEA – I like to think of Matcha as a ‘bonus’ in the pantry. It’s an acquired taste and doesn’t come cheap, so if you don’t like it don’t waste your money pretending. I like to have it on hand to make extra fancy drinks to help cut any desire I have to go out and spend too much on a fancy coffee shop latte.
- BLACK TEA + HERBAL TEA – Growing up in a very British household, black tea is as important to me as water, but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, rooibos is a great substitute. As for herbal teas, I love to always have a digestive aid type tea like ginger or peppermint on hand at all times to ease an upset tummy or for sipping..