Pantry Basics

On this page, I have listed the items that I always find in my pantry. I try to buy the healthiest version of each item. This means organic and all natural if possible. I have also categorized some of the more unusual ethnic ingredients by type of cuisine. That way if you are hooked on Chinese food or Mexican food, you will know what to keep stocked, and if you don’t like Indian cuisine, you won’t need to buy all of those extra spices. Just remember, I always say you can’t make good food from bad ingredients. So try to buy the best that your budget allows. I usually research the best ingredients before I buy because best does not always mean the most expensive. However, I do know it is worth paying a bit more for some things like imported Parmesan cheese over domestic. There is no comparison in flavor. I am not telling you to go out and buy all of these things at once. Just start to stock your pantry over time, knowing that if you buy these staples, they will be used in many recipes.

General ingredients

Artichoke hearts – come marinated in jars or cans. Toss on salads, pizzas, pasta etc.

Baking powder

Baking soda

Breadcrumbs – Grind up stale bread and toast it then keep in a jar.

Butter – unsalted. (I use only butter, a noble product. Mother Nature did not make margarine.) Use only unsalted because you can always adjust the salt yourself

Canned Vegetables: Tomatoes, beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas)

Capers – Come pickled in jars. Useful in salads and good with seafood.

Carrots– These are important to have for stock, salads and you can always juice any extra.

Celery – I always use celery in stock and salads and it keeps well.

Carob powder

Coconut– dried and unsweetened, either flaked or shredded


Cornstarch– Thickener for sauces and soups and stir-fries.

Currants – Use like raisins in any recipe or add to grains and rice for a pilaf

Dijon mustard

Dried fruit – apricots, figs, dates

Eggs – large, preferably free range


  • Whole wheat
  • Pastry flour – whole wheat

Frozen fruit – berries, peaches, mangoes, etc. are useful for making smoothies, pancakes, quick breads and muffins.

Frozen vegetables – Corn and peas  are great to throw into soups, stews and casseroles.

Garlic –  Store heads of fresh garlic in an onion or garlic keeper, not in the refrigerator.

Grains: Have a good variety of short grain  and long grain brown or white rice, couscous, bulghur, quinoa, kamut, oats, etc..  Always needed to make a side dish, add to soup or top with a curry. (See pge   )

Legumes (dried) – Keep an assortment of lentils, dried beans like black and pinto, yellow split peas, etc. in jars. These are great for soups, stews and curries or mix with grains for a pilaf.

Lemons You will find that you need fresh lemon juice and lemon zest all the time for dressings, stews, soups, seafood dishes and ethnic dishes.

Limes – See lemons above.

Maple Syrup – Buy Grade B for its  full maple flavor and higher mineral content.

Mayonnaise – I like the ones made with canola oil.

Parmesan cheese – I prefer to buy a block of imported Italian parmesan over the domestic and then grate it fresh.

Nut and seed butters – The most widely used butters are peanut, sesame (tahini), and almond.

Nuts – Almonds, pecans, cashews, pine nuts, and walnuts are used in recipes from salads to breads.

Oat bran –Useful if you like to bake.

Oats – Many recipes call for traditional rolled oats, not the quick cooking type as well as steel cut oats.


  • High grade extra virgin olive oil  for salads and dipping
  • Virgin olive oil for cooking
  • Canola or safflower oil for cooking
  • Peanut oil (the French use it as their main cooking oil and for salad dressings)
  • Flavored oils are also fun like basil, rosemary, and porcini mushroom.

Olives – Olives are great for Mediterranean cooking, salads, breads, and just to nibble on for an appetizer. Kalamata olives have a great taste and are easy to pit. I do not likethe flavorless  canned black olives.

Onions – White or yellow onions can be stored in an onion keeper or in baskets in your pantry.

Pasta – A variety of pasta shapes is always good to have on hand for leftover sauces or quick dinners. Stick with whole wheat or rice pastas.

  • Long shapes like spaghetti, linguine or fettucine are best with light sauces
  • Short shapes like penne, shells or fusilli are good for chunkier sauces.

Potatoes – Have a variety of potatoes, for boiling and baking plus some sweet potatoes on hand.


Shallots – These small onions are milder than regular onions. They are favored by the French for sauces and dressings.

Sherry –  Buy a relatively inexpensive dry sherry to use in soups, sauces, and stir fries.

Spray oil – comes in cans for both olive oil and canola or other vegetable oil. Very handy.

Stevia – an all natural sweetener

Stock – I use both vegetable and chicken,; either homemade, bouillon cubes or store bought in cardboard boxes or frozen.

Sundried tomatoes – marinated in jars or dried in bags. These are good in salads, pizzas, pasta, and a quick pesto sauce.

Tabasco sauce– or other hot sauce for adding to zip to any recipe.

Tomato paste – I prefer the double concentrate in a tube over the canned.

Tomato sauce – canned

Vanilla extract – Buy real vanilla extract not the imitation ones.

Vinegars – Red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple cider, distilled white all have a variety of uses in the kitchen.

Wheat Bran

Wine – white and red. These do not have to be the most expensive wines but stay away from really cheap cooking wine

Worcestershire sauce

Yeast – active dried

Herbs, spices and seasonings

You can buy spices whole or ground. I have both, but if space is an issue, maybe you just want to buy whole and grind them yourself in a small spice grinder. That way you will have the freshest spices possible and versatility.

Salt –sea salt (The most important seasoning. It brings out the flavor of every dish. So I placed it at the top of the list, despite alphabetical order. Just keeping you on your toes.) Please use a natural salt like Celtic sea salt. It is much better for you than the basic white salt. I also have a fun collection of gourmet salts like Mediterranean olive salt, and smoked salt, and Murray River flaked salt. We love to play with them on different dishes.

Allspice –Baking, Caribbean cuisine

Anise seed – licorice flavored seed

Basil – Mediterranean cuisine

Bay leaves – soups, stocks and sauces for flavor. (remove before serving)

Black pepper – whole in a peppercorn grinder



Cayenne pepper

Chili powder




Cream of tartar


Curry powder

Dill weed

Fennel seed

Garlic powder



Mustard powder

Nutmeg  – Buy whole nutmeg and invest in a small nutmeg grater. (see Kitchen Equipment) The flavor is far superior.




Saffron -Expensive but a little goes a long way.





White peppercorn – good for white sauces and light colored soups or milder dishes.

Specialty Items

Southeast Asian Cuisine (Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian)

Asian chile sauce (sambal oelek) – This useful condiment adds spice to any dish.

Coconut – Unsweetened, shredded coconut can be added to curries or used as a condiment or baked into sweets. You can also make coconut milk from it.

Coconut milk – Pour into sauces, soups and curries.

Ginger root – Grate or mince it to add fresh ginger flavor to many dishes.

Hoisin sauce – Dark brown sauce made with soybeans, chiles, garlic, ginger and sugar. Sold in jars and cans. Use it as an Asian barbecue sauce or in stir fries and stews.

Lemongrass – This long stalk can be minced and added to rice, stews and curries for a unique lemon-like flavor.

Oyster sauce – This oyster ketchup is found in bottles. Use it to flavor Chinese stir fries, stews, curries, or add to meat loaf.

Sake or dry sherry ­– Always use a sake or sherry of good quality.

Shiitake mushrooms – Dried mushrooms keep indefinitely. Just soak in boiling water, rinse and they are ready to add to any recipe.

Soy sauce or tamari – Probably the most used Asian condiment.

Tamarind paste – This paste has a citrus flavor and is used often in Indian and Indonesian cooking to add a sweetish/sour taste to food. It is available as a soft block of pulp or as concentrate in a jar.

Thai curry pastes – This is available in red, yellow and green varieties and sold in jars.

Thai fish sauce – This bottled condiment looks like soy sauce but has a unique strong fish flavor. A little bit makes a huge difference in Thai dishes.

Toasted sesame oil – Dark sesame oil that has a very fragrant toasty flavor. Use sparingly.

Japanese cuisine

Bonito flakes – The dried fish flakes are used to make dashi stock or sprinkled on dish as a garnish or seasoning.

Dashi –  This staple fish stock can be made from scratch use bonito flakes or it comes in a granulated instant powder. Look for powder without MSG.

Ginger root – Fresh ginger is used by the Japanese as a condiment, usually grated or pickled. They say it aids digestion.

Kelp– This seaweed is dried and is primarily  used to make stock.

Mirin – sweet cooking wine

Miso – This paste comes in many varieties from white to dark brown and is widely used in Japan to make soups, sauces and marinades.

Rice – The Japanese primarily use a short grain rice.

Rice vinegar – This mild vinegar is perfect for the subtle tastes of Japanese cuisine. Do not buy seasoned vinegar as it may have sugar or monosodium glutamate added.

Sake (pronounced sakay not sakee) Japanese rice wine.

Seaweed– The most common varieties used are nori, wakame, and hijiki.

Sesame Oil – Buy the dark toasted variety.

Sesame seeds – Look for white sesame seeds.

Shiitake mushrooms – see Shiitake above.

Soy sauce – Have both light and dark soy sauce on hand

Wasabi paste – This is the Japanese version of horseradish. It is a green root that is usually sold in powdered form or in tubes as a paste.

Indian cuisine

Asafetida – This unique spice is used in Southern Indian cuisine and has a strong smell so use sparingly. Available in powdered or lump form that you grind yourself. When heated, it gives off an onionlike aroma.

Basmati rice – This long grain variety is known for its milky, nutty aroma.

Chickpea flour – This flour is used in batters for fritters, dumplings and spicy breads.

Coconut – Unsweetened shredded coconut is widely used in India.

Curry leaves – Buy fresh curry leaves in an Indian grocery store. There is no substitute for its unique flavor particularly in Southern Indian cuisine.

Curry powder – Curry powder is simply a blend of spices. There are so many varieties of premixed curry powder. Find your favorite or better yet, create your own.

Dal – many varieties of split raw legumes like lentils, beans and peas

Fenugreek seeds – This legume is used as a spice. It has an intense aroma and bitter taste and usually fried or toasted before used in dishes sparingly.

Garam masala – This literally means a blend of hot or warm spices. This mixture is the basic spice blend of Northern India

Mustard seeds – The Indians use a brown variety of mustard seed.

Saffron – This spice comes from the dried stamens of the crocus flower and is prized for its color and fragrance.

Tamarind paste – see Southeast Asian ingredients above.

Turmeric – This spice gives Indian curry powder that distinct golden yellow color.

Yogurt – Buy plain yogurt.

Mexican and Southwestern cuisine

Cayenne chile powder

Chile caribe – dried red chile flakes

Chile peppers – Keep a variety of dried New Mexico red, ancho, habanero and other chiles on hand.

Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce – These chiles come in cans and are fabulous for add a smoky spicy flavor to Mexican dishes.

Cilantro – This is fresh coriander and looks a bit like flat leaf parsley.

Pine Nuts (pinons)

Tortillas – corn and flour tortillas can be kept in the freezer

Mediterranean Cuisine (Spain, Greece, Middle East, North Africa, Italy, Southern France)

Aniseed – Licorice flavored seed

Arborio rice – This short grain rice is essential for risotto and paella. It creates a perfect risotto that is creamy and yet the kernels remain a little chewy in the center.

Canned Italian tomatoes – Buy canned plum tomatoes for making sauces and stews.

Chile peppers – Have some basic small dried red chile peppers that can also be ground into powder.

Cilantro – see Mexican cuisine above.

Harissa – A fiery hot paste that is primarily used with traditional Moroccan couscous.

Parmesan cheese – see General Ingredients above

Parsley – I prefer the flat leaf variety.

Pasta – Keep a supply of different shapes and sizes on hand.

Pine nuts – This nut is traditionally used in pesto sauce. Also delicious toasted and used as a topping on salads.

Polenta – This is coarsely ground cornmeal that is used to make a mush that can be eaten soft or baked or grilled.

Porcini mushrooms – Used in risotto, pasta sauces, soups, and stews and sautéed on meat or seafood. Buy dried porcini then soak, drain, rinse and use. Fantastic earthy mushroom flavor.

Saffron – see Indian cuisine above

Tahini – This sesame seed butter comes roasted or raw. Try both and use according to preference.

Tomato paste – see above

Yogurt – Buy plain yogurt.


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