A Tasty Tufts Guide to Pantry Staples
Here’s what I keep stocked in my pantry and what I think every kitchen should have on hand.
Essential: Peanut Butter
Alternatives: Almond butter, Sunflower seed butter
With large amounts of protein and fiber, peanut butter is a great snack food that will fill you up for hours. It is an excellent dip for raw vegetables or pretzels and a delicious dessert when eaten on banana or apples drizzled with honey. Add a spoonful to smoothies for a nutty flavor and thick texture. For those with peanut allergies or aversion, almond butter is equally nutritious and sunflower seed butter is a uniquely addicting, creamy alternative.
Alternative: Quinoa, Farro,
Rice is a cheap and easy staple that can be integrated into any meal. Try cooking a batch on Sunday that will last you throughout the week. Go for brown rice if you want a healthier and nuttier option. Quinoa offers a higher protein content and a more seed-like texture that is delicious in salads, with sautéed greens, or for breakfast with cinnamon, honey, fruit, and milk. Farro is a heartier, chewier and more substantial grain. Toss in some onions, herbs, and chopped veggies on the stovetop for a complete meal.
Essential: Balsamic vinegar
Alternatives: rice vinegar, red wine vinegar
Balsamic vinegar adds an intricate flavor to any dish. It is great for flavoring meat, adding to sauces, drizzling on grilled fruit, and, of course, as salad dressing. If balsamic doesn’t suit your taste, rice vinegar offers a more delicate option that is particularly tasty in stir-fries and soups. Red wine vinegar is excellent for bringing a tang to marinades.
Essential: Chicken stock
Alternatives: vegetable stock, beef stock, water
Chicken stock presents a flavorful broth that is extremely useful as a base for soups or sauces. Stir it into rice cooking on high and add mushrooms and spinach for a delicious risotto. Alternatively, vegetarians and vegans can use vegetable stock, and beef stock is well suited for dishes that call for a richer, more intense flavor. If you are running low on supplies or are a cheap college student, always remember that water with salt and herbs is a completely viable (though less exciting) option.
Essential: Thai curry sauce or paste
Alternatives: Teriyaki sauce, Hoisin sauce, Satay sauce
If you’re sick and tired of the same old meals, Thai curry sauce is a remarkably easy way to spice up your dish. Trader Joe’s has premade bottled red and yellow Thai curry sauces that will change your life. Throw a spoonful onto your rice and sautéed vegetables or add a dollop of red, yellow, green, or masamam curry paste to make delicious curries. Alternatives: teriyaki, hoisin, or satay sauce can also provide a much-needed boost of flavor.
Alternative: Maple syrup, Agave nectar
Honey is a staple in my pantry, used daily in hot tea and oatmeal. Other great usages: honey-mustard salad or sandwich dressings, brushed onto pork or before putting it into the oven, or added to banana bread and other baked treats. Maple syrup is an excellent substitute, particularly for breakfast foods. Agave nectar is sweeter than honey, perfect for drizzling into tea, smoothies, or cocktails.
Essential: Canned black beans
Alternatives: refried beans, garbanzo beans, corn
Canned black beans are absolutely essential in a pinch. Ready to go, they are the perfect addition to soups, quesadillas, and salads. I particularly recommend Cuban black beans, which incorporate diced green peppers, onions, garlic, salt, and spices to bring a welcome kick. Alternatives include pinto beans, refried beans, garbanzo beans, or – if you’re not a big fan of beans – canned corn.
Essential: Dried Apples
Alternatives: Dried mango, banana chips, dried blueberries
Dried fruit is a fundamental component of a complete pantry. For those of us with an insatiable sweet tooth, dried fruit is a great snack or dessert. I recommend adding dried apples, blueberries, or cranberries to your oatmeal, cereal, and trail mix. Banana chips are the way to go if you’re craving a crunch.
Essential: Tortilla Chips
Alternatives: Pita chips, rice crackers, pretzel sticks
For a salty snack, tortilla chips are always a good choice. Dipped in salsa or guacamole or smothered in cheese for some late-night nachos, tortilla chips is one purchase you’ll never regret. Pita chips and rice crackers offer healthier munching alternatives. Reminiscent of childhood snacking, pretzel sticks are a tasty vehicle for a host of dipping sauces, from hummus to pesto to spinach-artichoke dip.
Cover photo source.