I’m always looking for ways to consolidate what I own. I do a good job with my wardrobe, kitchen utensils, my makeup, and my skincare. But where I go off the path is my pantry ingredients. It’s a delicate balance of wanting to have ingredients for a recipe I find and having a overflowing pantry and cabinets. My kitchen is small and I already use a shelf in our hall closet for a good amount of my pantry items, so I wanted to make a list of items I always have, then consider how often I use them and if I can substitute something out. And I won’t lie, this list barely scratches the surface of my seasonings and condiments. However, it is a list I thought hard about and really are the items I use the most often or items I don’t think my kitchen could function without. I thought this would also be a fun experiment to try out with my fellow Tulhoma writers. We have all different tastes and cooking styles, so I wanted to see what items they didn’t have and items I didn’t include but they love.
Here are the items you will (almost) always see in my kitchen. If I’m running low, they immediately go on my grocery list without hesitation. This list doesn’t include my staple perishable items.
- Black pepper, whole
- Kosher salt
- Garlic powder
- Red pepper flakes
- Dried dill
- Herbs de Provence
- Curry powder
- Everything but the bagel seasoning
- Ginger powder
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Sesame oil
- Rice vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Fish sauce
- Soy sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Sambal sauce
- Hot sauce
- Curry paste, usually something Thai or southeast Asian
- Coconut milk
- Sesame seeds
- Peanut butter
- Cannellini beans
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Diced tomatoes
- Tomato sauce
- Pasta, either bowtie or spaghetti
- Ramen packs
- All purpose flour
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Brown sugar
Herbs, Seasonings, and Condiments
Luckily, these don’t take up much space. The list above covers my most used in this category; the items if I’m almost out, I’m getting them on my very next grocery trip. But probably like you, I really have much more. Four-five different hot sauces, two-three different mustards, green olive, kalamata olives, and a lot of herbs I’ve gathered over the year. But they are the heartbeat of my kitchen and what I think is making me a better cook. Having the right spices or tiny additions to give my meals that extra flare not only makes my food tasty but it makes cooking more enjoyable.
Oil and vinegar
I don’t think I could give up olive oil, sesame oil, or vegetable oil. Sure I could substitute vegetable oil with a few other options, but I think each of these oils have very important roles in my cooking. And for that matter, I don’t think I really need any other oils. I used to keep coconut oil, but now I opt with coconut milk for the flavor. And I’ve never really been into avocado, grape seed, or other nicer oils. I use rice vinegar and red wine vinegar by far the most, probably a couple times a week for each, because their flavors are more versatile and go well in dressing and cooked sauces. But I also almost always keep balsamic, black, and apple cider vinegar. Although the flavors of these are harder to replicate, I don’t use them often enough to be in my Top 50. If you haven’t had black vinegar though, man, do I highly recommend it. Especially if you like to eat dumplings or vegetables that pair well with Chinese flavors.
Another big weakness of mine. I love buying Asian ingredients to perfect my recipes. What I have listed above our my staples, with gochujang, kimchi, and fish sauce being my favorites, if you wanted to know. Not only are there a lot of good ingredients to buy, there are a ton of different options for each ingredient. So it can be overwhelming getting started. Almost every country has its own soy sauce, and while some of them taste a lot alike, some are quite different. Then all of a sudden, bam, you think you need three different soy sauces. If you think about how different Asian cuisines can be: Indian curry versus Thai curry, ramen vs pho, and the million different ways they prepare seafood, my tiny list of ingredients is a little insulting. But what it does do is give me the option to take my every day proteins and vegetables and turn them into something with flavors I love.
How often to do I actually bake? Probably once a month, so although I have decent baking lists, it’s mostly because these items are hard to substitute. If I don’t have one of these, the recipe might actually fail; versus normal cooking where leaving out something might change the flavor but it won’t destroy the dish. So the baking ingredients I actually use more than once a month? Cornstarch to sicken sauces, brown sugar to add flavor and sweetness to sauces (and iced coffee), and raisins to sweeten my overnight oats. My favorite baking item I don’t use often? Cornmeal. Anything based with cornmeal, I’m usually a huge fan.
Canned Goods and Carbs
I keep my carb selection week to week pretty simple. I usually have oatmeal (for overnight oats) a couple times for breakfast, then I rotate through flatbreads, other bread, and pasta. I always have at least one kind of pasta and either some flatbread or a loaf of bread. For pasta, I lean toward spaghetti or bowtie, and for breads, I like naan, sourdough, tortillas, or a good, hearty bread from a local bakery. For canned goods, I get this end-of-the-world mentality and usually have a couple more cans than I need. Diced tomatoes and tomato sauce are a must. They are perfect for some many different cuisines and always come in handy when the base of my meal is a little boring. I love always having the option of making chili or a bean soup, so I stock up on several varieties of beans. Coconut milk is also a staple now. Combine with your canned tomatoes and add in some spices and you very quickly transformed your boring chicken into an Indian-inspired dish.
I asked my fellow Tulhoma writers what they thought of my list and what they have that’s different.
Taryn: What are a few things on my list that you don’t keep and why?
Alexys: Raisins, fish sauce, cornstarch, cornmeal, ramen, and yeast. I don’t cook with or eat any of these ingredients. Other than those, I keep pretty similar items in my kitchen. I like using things like curry powder and hot sauce, but I don’t tend to repurchase often.
Bethany: Dried dill, Herbs de Provence, Sambal sauce, Gochujang, and Yeast are all ingredients I have never cooked with before. I could probably find ways to incorporate dried dill into some of my food; it’s just not something I had really thought about before.
T: What are a few things that aren’t on my list that you constantly have in your kitchen?
A: Maple syrup, coconut oil, flaky sea salt, rosemary, thyme, basil, pickles, apples, and sourdough bread. I am really trying to cut down on food waste, so whatever I can get the most use out of is what I buy. For example, apples have a long shelf life (especially if kept in the fridge) and I can eat them as a quick snack, bake them for dessert, or even make chips out of peeled apple skins. I eat buttered sourdough in the morning for breakfast, but I could also make bread crumbs with stale bread I may have left too long. I also usually freeze half of the loaf when I buy it so it will last much longer and won’t mold, since I get fresh sourdough with no added yeast. I like to keep coconut oil, flaky salt and maple syrup because they are great for baking and cooking.
B: Pita chips, almonds and walnuts, lentils and quinoa, cayenne, fresh garlic, Worcestershire sauce. I always have pita chips and some type of dip like hummus or Cajun crab dip because they’re great for a snack or appetizer. I have also crushed up the pita chips to use as bread crumbs before. Nuts are another great snack and I like to add them to my salad or oatmeal too.
T: Do you think if you made a “50 items I always have” list it would be easy to come up with 50 or hard (either you have too little or too much)?
A: I think I could, but it would be hard. When I was first thinking of ingredients to add to this post I didn’t think I could come up with 50 items at all, but I’m realizing I use a lot more ingredients than I thought I did. I do think I could have a few more things though. Reading what you and Bethany use also makes me want to try out some new ingredients!
B: I think it would be somewhat easy for me to make a list of 50 items I always keep on hand. I tend to have quite a few spices already, and since I have started cooking a few Asian inspired dishes I have a lot of sauces for those now.
T: If you had to pick only 5 ingredients to use every day, which would you choose and why?
A: Olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and rosemary. I tend to use pretty simple spices to add flavor to my meals and these are the ingredients I reach for most often when I cook. I also used to be a little too conservative with the amount of spices I used and often felt my food tasted quite bland, but through reading and watching cooking videos (like Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat), I learned what a pinch of salt really is and that using the right combination of flavors, no matter how simple, can make for a delicious plate of food.
B: Hot sauce, olive oil, garlic, tomato paste and quinoa. If I only had these five items to work with I would be able to make a somewhat satisfying dish that wouldn’t leave me starving and it would still have flavor. I chose to forgo salt and pepper because the hot sauce helps add some of the flavor.