The key to cooking every day (or almost every day) is maintaining a well-stocked pantry with all the ingredients you might need to put a meal together. It makes cooking so much easier when you have a supply of staples that you can reach into and use. Many ingredients can stay in dry form in your cupboard for literally months, others must be kept in the freezer or fridge, but all of these items will help you prepare daily meals in a flash. Then all you have to do is buy fresh ingredients once a week or so. This is a huge time-saver.
It’s also important to store all these ingredients in proper containers to keep their freshness for as long as possible, as well as ease of use.
These are the basic spices that I like to have on hand at all times. I use them often and they add lots of flavor to all my dishes. Spices need to be kept in clean glass containers. I buy spices in small amounts because they become stale after about 6 months and lose all their flavor. It’s best to buy only what you think you will use in a few months.
Chipotle chili powder
Coriander (seeds or ground)
Garlic (powder and fresh)
Ginger (ground and fresh)
Paprika (sweet and smoked)
Salt (flaked and table salt)
Sumac (Hmmmm, you might say. This is a bit unusual. And in fact, you might have to go to a special grocery store or order it online, but this spice is well worth the effort and quite common throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. I love the sour citrus flavor paired with so many things, from sprinkled over an avocado toast to a poached egg, rice, veg, meat, plain yogurt or salad. It’s amazing over sliced summer tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt.)
Urfa pepper (Turkish pul biber)
Za’atar (the dried version is good, although I also try to make fresh za’atar and keep it in the fridge)
There are certain herbs that I like to have fresh on hand at all times. I either buy them weekly, or grow them in little pots in my kitchen window. They are so easy to grow and a really lovely addition to your windowsill.
My basic fresh herbs: Parsley, cilantro, basil, mint, rosemary, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves. (The latter two I will freeze in individual portions in airtight containers and take out as I need to use them.)
My basic dried herbs: Bay leaves, sage, thyme, oregano.
Nuts, Seeds, & Dried Fruits
With kids in the house, these are a must. They work great for snacks or as an addition to many dishes. Our morning breakfast oatmeal would be very sad with the addition of fruits, nuts, and seeds. For the nuts, I tend to buy the unsalted variety because these are best when added to other dishes. The salty ones are nice for snacking plain. Dried fruit is also great on its own or added to Persian or Mediterranean dishes. Dates are also a lovely addition for a bit of sweetness if you make your own nut milk.
Nuts: Almonds (flaked and whole), cashews, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts.
Seeds: Sunflower, pumpkin, chia, flaxseed, sesame.
Dried fruits: Dates, apricots, figs, cranberries, goji berries, coconut flakes.
I use these in recipes for both savory dishes and also to make desserts.
Brown and white sugar
Flours & Baking
Oats (rolled and steel cut)
Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
Extra virgin olive oil
Toasted sesame oil
Butter (unsalted – mostly used for baking or making lovely scrambled eggs and omelettes.)
Cans, Cartons, & Jars
I tend to buy these as I need them, but in some cases, it’s nice to have a fews cans or jars on hand when you want to grab something out of the cupboard and make a quick meal without going to the market.
Beans: chickpeas, red beans, black beans.
Anchovies (so great to add a salty umami flavor to Italian dishes.)
Coconut or Almond milk (I alternate between the two.)
Bone or Veg broth (I love bone broth, but tend to get lazy about cooking bones over the stove for 24 hours. The good news is that there are some really good organic natural brands available in stores now.)
Tahini (This has become an absolute staple in my kitchen. I use it mixed with honey and dip bread in it for breakfast, in salad dressings, or drizzled over roasted veg. It’s as versatile as it is amazingly nutty and flavorful.)
Dried Beans, Pasta, Quinoa, & such
Lentils (red, green, and black)
Pomegranate Molasses (I learned about this when I first moved to Turkey and a friend a of my mother-in-law put in a salad dressing. I remember just thinking – wow, what’s in this salad?! I know use it not only for dressing but also for marinades and all kinds of sauces. The tangy sweetness with a touch of sharpness make it a great sticky addition to many foods.)
Vinegar (apple cider – look for a cloudy one as those are the best, white wine, rice, balsamic)
And there you have it–a really comprehensive list of pantry items that will make your every day cooking so much easier and faster. If you’re not used to cooking, you don’t really have to go out and buy everything here. Start with a few items and build your pantry. Tailor it to your tastes and the types of cuisines you enjoy. And always have fun with it.