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Bottles and jars filled with oils, sweeteners, nuts

Professional chefs know better than to reinvent the wheel every time they step up to the stove. Experience has given them a host of reliable methods, tried-and-true ingredients, and favorite flavor combinations to make throwing a meal together easy.

This can be the case for you, too. By keeping certain key foods on hand, you’ll have a larder to draw from to cook something simple, healthy, and tasty the next time you’re not sure what to make for dinner.

This pantry list is a starting point for you to build confidence in the kitchen, followed with recipes created from the cache of essential ingredients.

After you’ve experimented enough, you’ll learn what works best for your tastes: Perhaps you prefer sesame oil to avocado oil, or rosemary over thyme. With the necessary basics on hand, you’ll be that much closer to creating something effortless, nutritious, and original that’s also pleasing to your palate.

The Basic Pantry

Fats and Oils

jars of fats and oils

Essential: grassfed butter, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil
Optional: ghee, coconut oil

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Vinegars

Jars of vinegars

Essential: apple-cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar
Optional: red-wine vinegar and white-wine vinegar

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Add-ins and Condiments

condiments

Essential: Dijon mustard, tamari or soy sauce, mayonnaise, tomato paste
Optional: sriracha, red and green curry paste, white miso paste, fish sauce, coconut aminos

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Sweeteners

Containers of sweeteners

Essential: honey, maple syrup, sucanat
Optional: coconut sugar, brown-rice syrup

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Seasonings

Filled spice jars

Essential: kosher or sea salt, black pepper, oregano, thyme, turmeric, chili powder, cayenne, cinnamon, cumin, fresh parsley, fresh basil
Optional: fresh cilantro, red-pepper flakes, rosemary, sage, paprika, dill

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Proteins

Packages of proteins

Essential: eggs, grassfed ground beef, tempeh or extra-firm tofu, chicken, nitrate-free bacon, shrimp
Optional: fresh or canned wild salmon or tuna; fresh, dried, or canned beans or lentils; hummus

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Dairy and Dairy Alternatives

dairy and alternatives

Essential: whole-fat Greek or nondairy yogurt, coconut milk, chèvre
Optional: almond milk, whipping cream, cheddar, Parmesan

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Aromatics

aromatic foods

Essential: scallions, fresh ginger, garlic, red or yellow onions, carrots
Optional: celery, white onions, leeks

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Vegetables

Vegetables

Essential: broccoli, cherry tomatoes, cabbage, snow peas, cauliflower, tomatoes, kale, mushrooms, asparagus, jalapeño peppers, bell peppers
Optional: lettuce, fresh or frozen spinach, arugula, squashes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers

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Fruits

Lemons, limes, avocados

Essential: lemons, limes, avocados
Optional: bananas, fresh or frozen berries

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Grains

jars of grains

Essential: white and brown rice, rolled oats, quinoa
Optional: pasta, gluten-free pasta, or brown-rice noodles

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Nuts and Seeds

Jars of nuts and seeds

Essential: nut butter or tahini, almonds, walnuts, pecans
Optional: pumpkinseeds, cashews, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds

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Others

Jars filled with broths

Essential: chicken broth, beef broth, vegetable broth
Optional: wine for cooking

For a handy shopping list, download “The Basic Pantry” PDF here.

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Savory Overnight Oats With Veggies and Chèvre

Savory_Overnight Oats With Veggies and Chevre

Makes two servings
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus six hours to refrigerate
Cook time: five minutes

  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. tamari
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 small jalapeño, minced (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 oz. chèvre
  1. Combine oats, broth, and tamari in a bowl or glass jar. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least six hours.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 30 seconds, then add oil and heat until shimmering. Sauté mushrooms, carrot, and jalapeño until tender, about three minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and sea salt and stir until fragrant, about one minute.
  3. Warm oats in a pan over medium heat.
  4. Serve 1 cup oats topped with 1 cup veggies and 1 ounce crumbled chèvre.

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Warm Bacon and Kale Salad With Soft-Boiled Eggs

Warm Bacon and Kale Salad With Soft Boiled Eggs

Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: five minutes

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 slices nitrate-free bacon
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed, massaged, and chopped
  • 2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and prepare a large bowl of ice water. Use a slotted spoon to carefully lower eggs into the boiling water, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil. Cook for six and a half minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and put in ice water to chill. After two minutes, peel the eggs. Note they’ll still be warm.
  2. Put bacon in a large skillet, then place over medium heat and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Add the kale to the bacon grease in the pan and sauté, turning with tongs, until wilted. While the kale cooks, whisk balsamic vinegar, honey, and mustard in a small bowl with salt and pepper. When the kale is dark green and softened, pour the vinegar mixture over the kale, then toss to coat.
  4. Transfer kale to four plates and sprinkle with red onion and cherry tomatoes. Top each salad with a halved egg and crumbled bacon.

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Flexible Fried Grains With Shrimp

Flexible Fried Grains With Shrimp

Makes four servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 tbs. avocado oil
  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cups chopped vegetables (cherry tomatoes, cabbage, snow peas, cauliflower, bell peppers, asparagus, or broccoli)
  • 1 tbs. fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tbs. tamari
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 large scallions, sliced
  1. In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Put quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse well with cold water. Add quinoa to the pot. Return to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for at least five minutes.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 30 seconds, then add avocado oil and heat until shimmering. Add shrimp and stir frequently until it turns pink, about two to three minutes. Remove shrimp from skillet.
  3. Add vegetables to skillet and stir frequently until crisp but tender, about five to seven minutes.
  4. Add minced ginger and stir for 30 seconds, then transfer mixture to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low and keep the pan warm.
  5. Whisk tamari, sesame oil, honey, and rice vinegar in a small bowl.
  6. Whisk eggs in a separate small bowl, then pour into the pan and scramble.
  7. Add cooked quinoa and drizzle with tamari mixture. Stir until the grains look dry, about four minutes. Stir in shrimp and vegetables.
  8. Divide among four bowls and top each serving with a small handful of scallions.

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Creamy Vegetable Soup

Creamy Vegetable Soup

Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 8 cups chopped broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, squash, or kale
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, basil, or arugula
  • 1 14.5–oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 tbs. white miso paste
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat for 30 seconds, then add oil and heat until shimmering. Add onions and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir occasionally until golden and soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add vegetables and stir, then add stock. Cover the pot tightly and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook for about five minutes. Uncover and test the vegetables by piercing with a paring knife. Continue cooking until tender.
  3. Transfer vegetables to a blender with the parsley, basil, or arugula. Add coconut milk, miso, and salt. Secure the lid tightly and cover with a folded towel to hold the lid down. Purée until smooth. Add more stock as necessary to achieve desired consistency.
  4. Serve garnished with your favorite toasted nuts and chopped fresh herbs.

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Thai Stir-Fry

Thai Stirfry

Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 2 tbs. fish sauce
  • 3 tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbs. sucanat
  • 3 tbs. peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. red-pepper flakes
  • 1 tbs. plus 2 tsp. avocado oil
  • 5 cups diced vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, snow peas, bell peppers, cabbage, or asparagus)
  • 1 14-oz. package extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 2 large scallions, sliced
  1. Wrap tofu in a kitchen towel; press gently and allow tofu block to stand 15 minutes while the towel wicks away excess moisture. Unwrap and place the block on a cutting board; cut it into ½ inch cubes.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk fish sauce, lime juice, sucanat, peanut butter, and red-pepper flakes.
  3. Place a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat for one minute, then add 1 tablespoon avocado oil. Let heat for a few seconds, then add any harder vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots. Cook, stirring frequently, until the veggies are beginning to soften, about five minutes. Add any softer vegetables like snow peas, bell peppers, cabbage, or asparagus. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until all veggies are crisp but tender, about another three to five minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Add 2 teaspoons avocado oil to the skillet. Add tofu and stir-fry until golden brown, about three to four minutes.
  5. Stir the reserved sauce mixture again and drizzle over the tofu. Stir immediately, as the sauce will thicken quickly. Add the vegetables and stir to rewarm, then serve — or serve over your choice of noodles, zucchini noodles, or rice. Top with sliced scallions.

This originally appeared as “Confident Cook’s Kitchen” in the May 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Andrea D'Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

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