Pantry Staples

Five Pantry Staples You Must Always Have on Hand

A well-stocked and smart pantry is key to getting creative and organised in the kitchen. There are so many dishes you can cook with a few basic ingredients.

Spice Rack

Move over salt and pepper — a carefully provisioned spice rack is an absolute must-have pantry staple. Spices are a great way to add flavour, warmth and depth to really elevate a dish. They are also a great way to limit your daily sodium intake since there are plenty of more exciting and flavourful ways to season dishes rather than table salt. Spices can be used in pretty much anything, from curry pastes and sauces to meat rubs and marinades, or simply sprinkled on vegetables or your morning cereal.

So where do you start when browsing the spice aisle? The first step is to work out which type of dishes you normally cook at home. If you like things spicy and frequently cook curries, chilli powder, paprika, coriander, cumin, turmeric and garam masala are good spices to start with. However, if you love baking, experiment with spices like cinnamon, cloves, all spice, ginger and nutmeg.

Spices are also extremely handy if you don’t have any fresh ingredients to hand. For example, onion and garlic powder can be used as a substitute for onion and garlic. Whole spices stay fresher for longer than ground spices so, if possible, buy your spices whole and grind them yourself when you need them.

Brown Rice

What pantry is complete without rice, right? Rice is a convenient side dish to “bulk up” a meal, but also shines as a main ingredient for many recipes like pilafs, burritos, risottos, puddings, casseroles and stir-fries. When choosing a rice to stock in your pantry, it’s best to look for an unrefined rice like brown rice. It is wholegrain and has much more nutritional value in comparison to white rice. Since brown rice retains the fibrous bran and the germ, it has a much higher fibre, vitamin and mineral content. It’s a complex carbohydrate that is low in fat, so it will provide plenty of slow-release energy to sustain body function to keep you fuller for longer throughout the day.

With its beautiful nutty flavour and slightly “tougher” texture, brown rice may take a little longer to cook, but it’s worth it for the taste and the nutritional benefits. Brown rice also has a great shelf life so is a great item to stock in the pantry without risking it expiring anytime soon.

Dried Lentils

Like rice, lentils are a wonderful staple to have in the pantry since they are cheap and incredibly versatile. Lentils not only have a long shelf life, but they are one of the healthiest and most sustainable foods on the planet. Lentils are nutrient powerhouses and are packed full of protein, fibre and carbohydrates, making them the perfect base for a meal. You can buy lentils either dried or in tins. Dried lentils can last 10 or more years in the pantry, even more than canned lentils, so dried is the way to go if you have time to cook them.

There are dozens of varieties of lentils available with different flavour profiles, so mix it up and find the one that is right for you and your cooking. Try adding them to curries, soups and casseroles and experiment with different types of lentils to see what flavour and textures you like best. Lentils are a great choice for vegetarians and vegans as they are a very affordable and sustainable source of plant-based protein. Try experimenting with lentils as a meat substitute in recipes like spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne, enchiladas, burger patties and even meatballs. If you’re a sweet tooth, cooked lentils are also a delicious addition to bliss balls and brownies.

Canned Tomatoes

When it comes to versatility, it’s pretty hard to beat canned tomatoes as a pantry food staple. Whether they are peeled, diced, puréed or whole, canned tomatoes are a great base for a wide range of recipes. They can be used in soups, stews, curries and many popular Italian dishes like lasagne, beef ragu, bolognaise, and let’s not forget pizza bases. With a good-quality tomato sauce, you can whip up a delicious pasta sauce in no time.

Unfortunately, fresh tomatoes are not in season all year round, so canned tomatoes are the best substitute. The tomatoes are picked when they are ripe and preserved in cans immediately, so the flavour is usually bolder and much better quality than using unripe tomatoes in the off-season. Make sure you look for tomatoes that are packed in non-BPA-lined cans or glass jars and opt for the most natural varieties that are low in sodium, additives and sugars.

Olive Oil

A good-quality oil is essential in cooking and using the right one provides plenty of depth and flavour. Olive oil is very versatile and can be used in pretty much everything, from salad dressings to searing steaks and pan-frying stir-fries. There’s a reason why olive oil is known as the “gold standard” for cooking as it’s full of antioxidants and heart-healthy fats. A neutral-tasting olive oil is a great all-rounder oil for cooking, especially lighter versions that have a higher smoke point, while extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is best used for low-heat cooking and finishing dishes like salads as it has a robust flavour and depth that can be used to add more body to a dish.

If stored correctly, olive oil can last between 12 and 18 months, sometimes less for EVOO. Unlike wine, a good-quality EVOO does not get better with age, so make sure you use the olive pressing dates on the bottle for a general guide.

Article Featured in EatWell #46

Lisa Holmen

Lisa Holmen

Lisa Holmen is a food and travel writer, recipe developer and photographer. Her blog, Lisa Eats World, is one of the leading food and travel blogs in Australia, featuring healthy recipes, restaurant reviews and food-inspired travel guides. Lisa divides her time between the bustle of Melbourne and her new home on the Mornington Peninsula where she loves meeting local producers, visiting wineries, soaking up the coastal lifestyle and adopting a “slower” approach to living.
An advocate of sustainable and ethical foods, Lisa is particularly passionate about healthy, organic and wholesome foods and cooking from scratch. She believes in simplicity in the kitchen and loves trying new recipes, drawing inspiration from her travel adventures and her heritage. Although she’s not a vegetarian, Lisa has an appreciation for plant-based cooking and wholefoods and tries to cook vegetarian at home wherever possible.

You May Also Like

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 04 17t142941.179

Adapting to droughts

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 04 02t143034.452

A taste of Australian excellence

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 02 08t135827.761

WellBeing Pets Entry!

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 04 03t110114.626

Unleash your sense of adventure in Shoalhaven