6 Pantry Essentials for Quick Meals

Posted on July 1, 2015 at 6:00 am

By Kim Harshberger

6 Pantry Essentials for Quick Meals by Kim Harshberger | Spokane County Library District

We’ve all been there. It’s time to make a meal and you end up standing staring into the fridge, then the cupboard, then the pantry, then the freezer, and back around again. All you see are ingredients to make food. In my very early years of cooking, the throw-together meal used to baffle me. I couldn’t understand how a person could start with no plan, grab this and that, and end up with an edible—let alone tasty—meal.

Now that I have some culinary experience under my belt, I know that the key to the throw-together meal is a well stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer. By well-stocked, I don’t mean that it has to be overflowing with a variety of things. It’s simply a matter of keeping the go-to items you use often and know your family likes on hand. This is what will allow you to grab from here and there to assemble a meal (be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner) in record time.

Here are my top six pantry essentials:

  1. Sesame oil – This is the secret ingredient in my fried rice. Its bold, nutty flavor also lends great depth to stir-fries, marinades, and salad dressings. A little bit goes a long way, so drizzle sparingly.
  2. Canned tomatoes – I try to keep a selection of diced, stewed, sauce, and paste. That way I have an easy sauce base for Italian and Mexican inspired dishes. Add some fresh veggies, beans, herbs, and spices and you have a quick meal in the making.
  3. Coconut milk – I like adding this to our smoothies, but it can also be used to replace heavy cream in savory dishes; you could even try your hand at making a curry. I also love this banana and coconut breakfast concoction. It’s a warm treat and travels nicely to work with me.
  4. Nuts – I keep a selection of three to four different types of nuts in our pantry; typically walnuts, pecans, peanuts, and cashews. We snack on these, add them to salads, use them to top stir-fry, and stir them into oatmeal. I also use nuts to make a couple different homemade larabars, favorites include peanut butter chocolate chip and coconut cream. I don’t think there is a day that goes by that we don’t eat some nuts in our house.
  5. Oatmeal – I have never been a big oatmeal fan; it’s one of those foods that can actually make me gag. However, my kids love eating it for breakfast (and sometimes even dinner if mom is stretched real thin). I buy it in bulk and we add our own toppings, mix-ins, and sweeteners. Since eliminating wheat, I also use oatmeal to help hold together my meatballs and meatloaf. All I do is throw it in the food processor and pulse a couple times to break it up a little more finely; then, I add it just like I would breadcrumbs.
  6. Beans – Canned or dry, you will always find beans in my pantry. Beans are so versatile and inexpensive, I could write a whole blog dedicated to their virtue. We make our own hummus, so garbanzo beans are always on hand. Black beans and pinto beans find their way into enchiladas, chili, skillets and more. Refried beans, who too often make their appearance as a side dish, take center stage at our table. My kids will eat a plate-full topped with cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, and olives.

Kim Harshberger

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