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Pantry items for your kitchen

We’ve all been there. It’s the end of a long day and the last thing you want to do is whip up another dinner. So, you do the easy thing and nuke a bowl of canned soup or, worse, settle for a bowl of chips and salsa. After all, you deserve a break sometimes, and this is what convenience food is for, right?

Although there is no shame in eating like a college freshman once in a while, the truth is that if you’re willing to open up just a few more cans, jars or boxes — and get creative — you can have a delectable meal on the table with little more effort than heating up that can of soup. And it will be good for you, too.

To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of go-to pantry items (see “Pantry Essentials,” below), as well as eight recipes that use no more than two or three additional perishable ingredients.

In a pinch, most of the recipes can be made without the fresh ingredients listed, which are highlighted in green, but they do brighten the flavor of the dishes and add some extra phytonutrients to the mix. So in the event you’re missing one type of produce, feel free to toss in any other workable veggies, fruits or herbs you have in your crisper drawer.

Have fun experimenting, and for more helpful pantry tips, as well as other quick recipe ideas, see “The Clean-Eats Pantry” at ELmag.com/cleaneatspantry.

Recipe: Curried Tofu Scramble With Ginger-Stewed Tomatoes and Garam-Masala Roasted Potatoes

The perfect brunch dish hits an Indian-inspired note. Not a tofu fan? Scramble up a few eggs instead.

Scrambled tofu with potatoes and stewed tomatoes

Makes four servings

  • 1 can stewed tomatoes (14.5 oz.)
  • 1 tbs. minced gingerroot
  • 1 tbs. plus 1 tsp. coconut oil
  • 4 Yukon gold potatoes, diced
  • and rinsed
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. garam masala
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 package extra-firm silken-style tofu (12.3 oz.), drained and gently crumbled
  • ½ to 1 tsp. curry powder
  • Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Meanwhile, heat the stewed tomatoes and ginger in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the oven is preheated, melt 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil in a roasting pan; add the diced potatoes, onions and garam masala, and toss together. Bake until potatoes are lightly browned and cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. When the potatoes are nearly done, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a skillet, and sauté the spinach, crumbled tofu and curry powder just until tofu is heated through and spinach is wilted. Season with salt to taste, and serve with the roasted potatoes and stewed tomatoes.

Recipe: Spanish White Bean and Sardine Salad With Roasted Red-Pepper Vinaigrette

This fresh, Mediterranean-inspired salad is endlessly adaptable. Try adding canned artichoke hearts, olives, capers, feta cheese or cucumbers.

Sardine and white bean salad on an orange plate

Makes four servings

  • 1 can cannellini beans (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
  • 1 can sardines (3.75 oz.) packed in olive oil, gently broken apart with a fork
  • ¼ cup minced red onion
  • 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup jarred roasted red bell peppers
  • 2 tbs. red-wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 cups mixed greens

In a medium salad bowl, mix the beans, sardines, red onion and parsley together. In a blender, add the garlic, roasted peppers, vinegar and olive oil, and blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the bean mixture onto a bed of salad greens and serve with the roasted-pepper vinaigrette.

Recipe: Thai Fish Cakes With Cucumber-Mint Salad

These fish cakes are traditionally made with raw fish that has been ground up, flavored with spices and fried. This recipe calls for canned salmon, but sardines, mackerel or kippers are perfectly tasty substitutions.

Thai fish cakes with cucumber salad on a red plate

Makes 14 small fish cakes

  • 1 can salmon (6 oz.)
  • ½ cup quinoa flakes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ tsp. lime zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup brown-rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 tbs. lime juice
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tsp. red curry paste
  • 2 cups thinly sliced cucumber
  • 2 tbs. chopped peanuts
  • 2 tbs. coconut oil
  • Lime wedges, optional

Mix the salmon, quinoa flakes, eggs, lime zest and salt together in a small bowl with a fork. Form the mixture into 14 small patties and chill until ready to cook. Meanwhile, mix the vinegar, honey, lime juice, mint and curry paste together in a bowl to make the salad dressing. Stir in the cucumber and peanuts. Heat the coconut oil in a heavy skillet and fry the fish patties over medium heat, until golden brown on both sides. Serve with the cucumber salad and a couple of lime wedges.

Recipe: Millet and Black-Bean Salad With Sun-Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Hearty salads made with grains and beans are a great way to use your pantry. Get creative, and let your palate be your guide. Try experimenting with other grains, such as quinoa or brown rice, and a variety of veggies.

Millet salad on a red plate

Makes four to six servings

  • 2 cups cooked millet
  • 1 can black beans (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 2 cups thinly sliced raw kale, ribs discarded
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated in warm water, drained and minced
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ to ½ tsp. salt, or to taste
  • ½ tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
  • ¼ tsp. chipotle-pepper powder

Mix the millet, beans, carrots, kale, pumpkin seeds and green onions in a medium bowl. Whisk the sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, salt and spices together in a small bowl. Toss the millet-and-bean mixture with the vinaigrette, and serve.

Recipe: Cream of Tomato Soup

Almost as easy as opening a can — and far more enjoyable. This version amps up the flavor by using coconut milk instead of cream.

Cream of tomato soup

Makes two servings

  • 1 tbs. ghee, butter or extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with basil and garlic (15 oz.)
  • ½ cup diced roasted red bell peppers
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Heat ghee in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and sauté onion until just softened. Add the tomatoes and roasted peppers, sauté for five minutes, and then add the stock. Simmer the soup for an additional five minutes. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Stir in the coconut milk, simmer gently until heated through, and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Ladle into two serving bowls and top each with a generous handful of fresh basil.

Recipe: Curry in a Hurry With Coconut Brown Rice

Pairing a high-quality jarred curry sauce with your favorite protein and veggies makes dinner a snap!

Veggie-packed stew with brown rice on an orange plate

Makes four servings

  • 2 tbs. coconut oil or ghee, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
  • 1 jar Indian simmer sauce (11 oz.)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • ½ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 cups uncooked brown basmati rice, rinsed
  • 2 cups baby kale or baby spinach
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a large heavy saucepan, and sauté the onion until just golden. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for five minutes, and then stir in the garbanzo beans, sauce and stock. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

For the rice, heat the remaining coconut oil in a saucepan, and sauté the coconut and the rice together until coconut is slightly browned. Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, turn the heat as low as possible, and cook for about 30 minutes.

When the curry is cooked, wilt in the baby kale and stir in raisins. Top with fresh cilantro, and serve with the coconut rice.

Recipe: Black Bean Soup

Adding refried beans helps make this soup thicker and richer in flavor. To make an even heartier dish, add chicken, chorizo or andouille sausage.

A bowl of black-bean soup with chips and avocado

Makes four servings

  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • ½ cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 can black beans (15 oz.)
  • 1 can refried black beans (15 oz.)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 to 2 tsp. adobo sauce
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 avocado, diced

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan, and sauté the garlic, onion and carrot until almost tender. Add the salsa, black beans, refried beans and stock, and season with adobo sauce and salt to taste. Simmer soup until vegetables are tender, and serve with a dollop of sour cream and some diced avocado.

Recipe: Garbanzo Bean Croquettes With Roasted-Pepper and Tahini Sauce and Parsley Salad

Croquettes are very simple to make, and they’re a great vehicle for leftover tidbits, such as chopped olives, cheese, sausage, ham or minced cooked veggies.

Garbanzo-bean croquettes with a salad

Makes four servings (eight croquettes)

  • 1 can garbanzo beans (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
  • Zest of one lemon
  • ¼ cup minced red onion
  • ¼ cup chopped green olives
  • ½ cup quinoa flakes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:

  • 4 cups coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 5 radishes, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup roasted red bell peppers
  • Juice of one lemon
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pour the rinsed beans into a medium bowl and mash about half of them with a potato masher. Stir in the lemon zest, onion, olives, quinoa flakes and egg, and season with salt and pepper. Shape into eight patties, and chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the salad and sauce.

For the salad, simply toss all the salad ingredients together in a bowl.

For the sauce, simmer the broth and roasted red peppers in a small saucepan for about five minutes, and then blend in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the lemon juice and tahini, and blend again. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Keep the sauce warm while you cook the croquettes.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet until it sizzles slightly when a drop of water hits it; then carefully slide the croquettes into the pan. Fry for about two to three minutes on each side over medium heat until the croquettes are golden brown. Serve with the roasted-pepper sauce and the fresh parsley salad.|

Pantry Essentials

Strive to keep at least a few items from these 15 categories on hand at all times. 

  1. Canned and dried beans (e.g., cannellini,  kidney, garbanzo, black, refried, lentils)
  2. Canned oily fish (e.g., sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, kippers)
  3. Canned tomatoes and tomato paste
  4. Gluten-free grains (whole-kernel grains like quinoa, brown rice and millet), plus quinoa flakes, corn meal and steel-cut oats
  5. Tofu
  6. Jarred roasted red peppers
  7. Meat, poultry and vegetable broth
  8. Unsweetened coconut milk
  9. Nuts and seeds (e.g., almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds), plus nut butters and seed pastes (e.g., almond butter, tahini)
  10. Jarred Indian simmer sauces, Thai curry pastes, salsas and adobo sauce
  11. Honey
  12. Toppings (e.g., capers, olives, raisins, sun-dried tomatoes, unsweetened, shredded coconut)
  13. Dried herbs and spices, dried mushrooms
  14. Fats and oils (butter, ghee, extra-virgin olive oil) and vinegars (e.g., red-wine, balsamic, brown-rice, apple-cider)
  15. Pantry produce (e.g., onions, potatoes, garlic, lemons, limes) and long-lasting refrigerated  veggies (e.g., celery, ginger, carrots)

Download the Pantry Essentials Shopping List PDF here.

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