March 3, 2016

Kristen Eppich’s Top 10 Pantry Essentials For Easy Dinners

On top of an endless supply of garlic and onions, there are a few things you’ll always find when you reach into my pantry. Here is a list of my 10 go-to’s – the ingredients I rely on to perk up a dish, whip up a weeknight meal or add a touch of polish to the ho-hum.

Seasoned Rice Vinegar: If there is one vinegar I rely on, it’s seasoned rice vinegar. It’s a soft, smooth vinegar that’s already seasoned with salt and sugar. It can make a great vinaigrette with oil, and can also round out a sauce with its subtle acidity and brightness. Balsamic, white wine and cider vinegars are also good to have on hand. 

Hot Sauce: Even if you don’t think you like spicy food, always keep a bottle of hot sauce on hand. Sometimes the slightest dash of it can take a dish from good to great, adding some zest and zing. For those of us who do like heat, you know why you need it. Scrambled eggs, avocado toasts…need I say more?

Quinoa: Keeping a quick cooking, healthy grain on hand will save you when you’re looking to bulk up a soup or stretch out a meal. I like quinoa for its high protein quality which saves me on meatless meals.

Curry Paste: In a perfect world I would always have homemade curry paste on hand, but that rarely happens. Instead, I keep my pantry stocked with a store-bought version. A quick curry can be thrown together with whatever vegetables are lingering in your freezer, some curry paste and some liquid. I like to alternate between Indian and Thai curry pastes.

Canned Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes are a necessity in any pantry, especially in the winter months when a fresh tomato can be less than inspiring. Good quality canned tomatoes have a fresh summer flavor and are great for stews, sauces, curries and chilies. I prefer to buy the best ones I can find (ideally San Marzano) in their whole form as I think they retain the best flavor. I’ll chop them or puree them depending on what I’m making.

Honey: It may sound obvious, but a good honey is a good thing. A touch in your tea, salad dressing, baking or braising dishes adds a hint of sweetness in a healthy form. They also add chew to baked goods.

Rice Vermicelli Noodles: A solid bowl of soup is only a few ingredients away if you have some rice vermicelli noodles on hand. Quick to cook, and easy to pair with pretty much any flavor, they’re a life-saver. If you don’t have stock on hand, you can build a flavorful broth with water and other pantry items (see rice vinegar, hot sauce and soy!). They’re also great in a salad or fresh salad roll.

Dijon: A classic. Aside from the intense mustard flavor, Dijon brings a touch of heat and acid to sauces and salad dressings. And of course, it’s perfect spread on a ham and cheese sandwich.

Soy Sauce: A pantry ingredient I’m tempted to say I use every day. Whenever I’m cooking and something doesn’t taste quite right, it’s likely the first thing I try adding to see if it solves the problem – and it usually does. Liquid umami…it’s like gold.

Finishing oil: We all keep our basic olive oil and vegetable oil on hand, but keeping a nicer finishing oil around is a great idea. It acts as a garnish over just about anything – a little drizzle goes along way. I like to keep a good quality, fruity olive oil as well as a chili oil around for when I want a touch of heat.