I recently did a lot of Instagram stories (they are saved in my highlights) on what I think are staples in your dry goods pantry plus a few extra things that I like to always have around.
I had a lot of people request that I do this so there will be a series of different staples that I think help elevate your kitchen game.
Let’s start with beans
I love beans. I love them in all forms and fashions. Raising four children there was a point where they all four were teenagers! Let’s just say, they ate a lot. Stretching that food budget was a daunting task. One thing that helped were beans. They are filling, have protein so they can keep you feeling full….well at least for an extra hour or so.
White beans – Sometimes called Cannelli beans, Navy beans or Great Northern Beans. I use these a lot in White Chicken Chili. I prefer the texture of dried beans but canned beans work as well. They are used in a lot of Italian and Latin American dishes. Tip – I always rinse them to get off that canning juice.
Black beans – I love black beans made into a dip. The earthy flavor topped with some goat cheese and rosemary all warmed up sounds like heaven. They are used a lot in Cajun and Latin American dishes. They are also available dried or canned. Again, drain and rinse off the juices in the can before adding to your recipe.
Pinto beans – Is it even Southwestern cooking without pinto beans? Refried beans, Borracho beans, Charro beans…..all of the best bean dishes. I cook my Borracho beans in my Instant Pot. They are best done with dried beans but canned always works.
Garbanzo beans – Also known as chickpeas. I love these fried, in a salad or of course their most famous dish, hummus. If you have the time to use dried beans for your hummus, you will notice that it is a smoother texture because you can remove the skins. I like canned beans for frying them. They are great as a bar snack.
I associate tomatoes with summer. Maybe it’s because I grew up with my mom having a huge garden abundant in tomatoes. She would can them and my dad loved to put them in a little bowl with a bit of vinegar, salt and pepper. In the middle of a South Dakota winter, it was summer in a bowl. I also ate a lot of tomato sandwiches as a child. Nothing quite like some good mayo and a warm tomato with the juice dripping down your chin on a warm summer day.
I use canned tomatoes (or in a tube) on a weekly basis. Whip up a meal? No problem provided I have canned tomatoes in my pantry. There are plenty of recipes on my blog that use tomatoes. I will link some below with the appropriate type of tomato.
Tomato Paste in a tube. This is my favorite right now. I created the recipe for Tomato Butter Toast and fell in love. I also use it in my Double Beef Texas Style chili for that perfect amount of tomato flavor. My favorite brand is Mutti and it is available in most grocery stores and Amazon.
Rotel tomatoes – These tomatoes are the standard for diced tomatoes with chilies. They are now the “kleenex” brand in the land of diced tomatoes. You can substitute other brands in recipes but when they call for Rotel this is what they mean. If you make queso you have probably used them. They are great to throw into taco meat as a little added kick.
Crushed tomatoes – I like to have these in my pantry to make quick sauces. If i am going to cook sauce for more than an hour, I go with whole peeled tomatoes but quick sauces, crushed tomatoes are the winner.
Whole tomatoes – I love making a big pot of sauce and meatballs like Amanda Freitag recipe. The whole tomatoes break down and make an incredible sauce with a bit of a texture.
Grains and Dried Legumes
I love the added level of flavor, texture and health benefits of using them in my cooking. I love a lot of different types but a few of my favorites I will share with you.
Farro- The crunch that farro brings to the table is incredible. It is nutty and has a great texture. It pairs well in a salad or on it’s own. There are a lot of vendors that sell farro. One of my favorites is Bob’s Red Mill. One of my favorite recipes with farro is Farro with Roasted Onions and Brussels Sprouts. Check it out and tell me it isn’t your new favorite grains.
Lentils – I love lentils. There is something very French about them. They come in a few different varieties. Red, black, green and brown. They are in the legumes family and they are extremely good for you. I wrote a recipe that was share in a local hospital magazine for Red Lentil Soup and it is really good! Give it a try.
Couscous – Israeli couscous is actually made from pasta dough and couscous is a smaller version that is use primarily in North African cooking. I thought it would be confusing to put them in the category with pasta so they are here with grains because this is how most people thing of them. Both are now used in a variety of salads and absorb a lot of flavor.
People tend to think of rice as a boring side dish. Some of the older types of rice are becoming more popular and easier to get so it is opening a whole new world.
Brown Rice – There are a lot of varieties of brown rice. Quick overview is brown rice is the variety of rice i.e. jasmine, that contains the bran and the germ. This helps the rice to maintain its texture and also gives it a little bit of a nuttier flavor. I prefer brown rice in most circumstances.
Arborio Rice – This is the queen of rice in my book. It is needed to make the ever elegant dish of risotto. Arborio rice is Italian and is a staple in certain regions of the country. I love risotto! I really love to make risotto. There is something therapeutic about slowly cooking rice, stirring in broth and creating this masterpiece. I recently made Corn Risotto with Seared Scallops. You should give it a whirl, it made my heart sing.
Black Rice aka Forbidden Rice – This is most recent find in the rice world. Black rice is a very healthy rice and I found it while reading about natural ways to help with diabetes. It is an anthocyanin meaning what gives it the dark color. This is also in blueberries and purple sweet potatoes. Anthocyanin is known to have strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer properties. You can make a breakfast porridge with black rice. I recently fell in love with a dish at a local restaurant that is a bowl filled with Asian flavors and I top it with sesame seared tuna. I feel very “spa-like” after consuming it.
Capers, Caper Berries & Olives, oh my! I love natural salty things. I love pickled things. That makes this category probably my most used in my pantry.
Capers. I go through capers like it is my job. Well, it kind of is but stick with me here. They give that salty goodness to everything. When you bite them and they pop in your mouth they just make me smile. They usually come packed in brine but they also can be found packed in salt. You can rinse them prior to using them if they are too salty, that is your call. Capers are in so many sauces like Pasta Puttanesca and Chicken Piccata do I need to say anymore? They are used in Olive Tapenade and in my recipe for Cherry Tomato Bruschetta with Burrata. If you only want to add one salty thing, I vote capers.
Olives. The variety of olives out there are mind-blowing. I remember when it just used to be black olives and green olives and that was all you could find in your regular grocery store. My favorites to always have are kalamata, castelvetrano and big green olives stuffed with pimentos for Bloody Marys. Olives mean Olive Tapenade. It is a great basic recipe to master and use in many different ways. Gourmet olives that you use on a cheese board with herbs are spectacular. I love a good olive bar and those are usually found in the chilled section where the ones mentioned above come in a jar.
Caper Berries – These little gems have a great flavor. I love to add caper berries to pasta (with the stems removed) or chopped up and added to aioli. They are also beautiful added to a cheese board.
Green Peppercorns in brine – I love the combo of peppery and salty in these little nuggets. There is a hint of juniper in green peppercorns that pairs well with dijon mustard. I love a pork roast with a mustard gravy and green peppercorns. The perfect fall dish.
Trail of Bread Crumbs
I love fresh bread crumbs but I don’t always have the time to make them. I like to have both plain breadcrumbs and panko on hand.
Panko bread crumbs – I love the crunch and texture that panko bread crumbs add to a dish. They are originally from Japan and just started to become used across the board about 20 years ago. I use them interchangeable in recipes.
Spice it up!
I love spice! Adding a little bit to a recipe can add that zip to a dish that is missing. There all different types of peppery things out there but here are a few of my favorites.
Chipotle in adobo – I love the earthy, smoky flavor that chipotles have. I love buying them in a jar with a lid. A lot of recipes ask for a small amount of chipotles and some of the sauce, this way you keep more for another recipe.
Jalapenos – Jalapenos are a staple in Southwestern cooking. My friend Isabella turned me on to making my Jalapeno Poppers with pickled peppers. I will never make them with fresh peppers again.
Crushed Calabrian Chilies – aka Bobby Flays secret weapon. Crushed Calabrian Chilies are an Italian way to spice up a dish. Just a teaspoon or two in a sauce can elevate that recipe. Give it a try in mayo and use as a spread on your favorite sandwich combo.
Canned Diced Chilies – If you have heard of New Mexico’s Hatch Chili this is basically it in a can. They are great to add a mild heat to queso, taco meat, basically anything with a Southwestern flair.
Chili Garlic Crisp – There are a wide variety of this style of seasoning out there. They can be used to spice up anything from potato salad to a sandwich.
I won’t go over each pasta style or we will be here for years! I love pasta. I try and buy dried pasta from Italy. I find spending that extra 1-2 dollars makes a world of difference in the land of pasta.
I divide it into two groups. Smaller cut shapes and long strands like spaghetti, linguini and fettuccine. I love shapes for things like my Blackened Beef Asian Noodle Salad.
Then there is the long strand variety to hold those perfect sauces. One of my favorite pasta dishes is Cacio e Pepe. Enough said.
This list could be extremely long but I decided to just add a few things that I use on a regular basis. I have a lot more things in my pantry that I make sure are always there but I might only reach for them once in awhile.
Coconut milk – I am talking the unsweetened kind here. It is great in soups, marinades but my favorite recipe is Kyle’s Coconut Rice from Michael Symons “Fix it with Food” cookbook.
Artichoke Hearts – There is something about the texture of artichokes that makes me so happy. I really love them roasted with other things like this Pork recipe. I prefer these over marinated artichokes because they can taste a bit fake.
Tahini – This is a paste made from sesame seeds and is used in hummus. Even if you don’t think you have had it before, if you have eaten hummus you probably have. Tahini can add a luxurious texture texture to things like salad dressing.
That is it!
I hope you enjoyed this roundup. My goal is to empower you to feel more confident in the kitchen. Having a stocked pantry can help create an ease in the kitchen. You don’t have to try it all but I encourage you to try one or two new things and once you are comfortable add something new.
Please continue to follow my blog for recipes and I will try and come back and add links to those recipes.
Awesome article on staples! You made me get to the grocery store and stock up on a few things. I’m a big fan of changing up recipes with what I have available in the kitchen or pantry, but seem to forget several things unless I have a list. Today, I stocked up on some sale canned tomatoes and organic broth. And, as always, thanks for the recipes:-)
I am so glad you got those tomatoes on sale! I appreciate the comment. Happy cooking!