As you scroll through the list, you will notice this is a very broad category that covers things from jars, cans and boxes. These items have two shelves in my pantry and play an important roll in shaping meals. These items can form the base of a pantry meal or add the needed flavor. These are the items I always have stocked. Some of these items I try to can myself but there are plenty of store-bought options to get you through. Want to can yourself? Here’s a guide to get you started.
These tiny pickled flower buds make an appearance in many restaurant dishes but I think they are underutilized in kitchens at home. Capers add a salty/sour taste to recipes. This flavor, I find, works well in places you might think to add vinegar but be prepared for a strong flavor. Capers are found often in Mediterranean cooking which is usually how I remember what works as a pairing: tomatoes, olives, feta, lemon, herbs, and garlic are all good places to start.
Capers aren’t something you would can yourself so I recommend picking up a jar to keep around. Capers, after opening, can easily last a year in the refrigerator- giving you plenty of opportunity to make a few recipes.
Chipotles in Adobo
Over the years, I’ve held on to some ingredients and labeled them as my secret weapon. These chipotles are one of those ingredients. Chipotles in adobo are jalapeño peppers that have been smoked and dried, then rehydrated to marinate in a tomato sauce. Sure, you can use dried peppers but the chipotles in adobo sauce can be used quickly and in many different ways. I use these chipotles in a vegetable marinades, soups, dressings, and sauces. There’s really no wrong way to use these chipotles.
Chipotles are spicy, but you can scrape out the seeds to reduce the heat. I’ve found just using a little less does the trick. I rarely use a can all at once, but they store at least a month in the refrigerator. They also freeze well- try freezing in ice cube shapes to use as you need. Most brands of chipotles in adobo sauce have extra ingredients added in, so try your hand at making your own.
When it comes to non-dairy milks, coconut milk is one I use most in my kitchen. Any time I’m making a recipe that has a heavy spice flavor (like any curried), coconut milk is usually in the ingredient list. It adds the creaminess and just a hint of coconut flavor. It forms the perfect base for rich sauces but can also be used to make homemade ice cream.
Store bought coconut milk often contains added ingredients. If you’re looking to avoid those ingredients, I recommend trying your hand at homemade coconut milk. I’ll usually make a big batch and freeze in 2 cup portions for use in recipes.
This category is a bit broader given the wide range of tomato products in cans. It also happens to be one of my favorite products to can during the summer month. All types of tomato, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, or salsa are great candidates to can during the summer (and are wonderful to have during the winter months). I primarily use canned tomatoes for soups and sauces. They are perfect in a pinch.
Typically, I keep canned crushed tomatoes, canned whole tomatoes and a jar of sun-dried tomatoes on hand. I’ve found that for the most part, these can cover most recipes.
Olives are another not-so-secret kitchen ingredient that I love. My favorite pizza combination includes olives, we snack on olives throughout the week, and on occasion I make an olive tapenade for sandwiches. There are a few different varieties of olives, some sold in jars, some sold in cans. Some grocery stores also have an olive bar, making it easy to purchase the right amount of olives.
I prefer kalamata olives for most uses but generic green and black olives can be used as well in most recipes. Don’t be confused, olives used in olive oil are not the same variety as the ones that are cured to eat.
For the longest time, I was against pickles. But over the years, I’ve fallen in love with the tangy taste. Pickles are another fun item to can during the summer. I usually can sweet bread and butter pickles and a savory, slightly spicy dill pickle. I don’t use pickles a lot in cooking but the juice can be a nice addition to egg salad. However, they are part of my pantry (and a the perfect addition to my favorite vegetable burger.)
Beyond pickling cucumbers, any vegetable can be pickled. A few of my other favorite pickled vegetables include cauliflower, radish, asparagus, beets, and carrots.
Of all the things in my pantry, vegetable broth is one of the most important items I keep on hand. I use vegetable broth for all kinds of sauces, soups, pastas, and so much more. Sometimes, a good vegetable broth will make or break a recipe. If a broth is too salty or too strong with a certain flavor, it can skew the overall dish.
I try to make my own broth but it’s not always realistic. I look for vegetable broths that are low-sodium and have a list of ingredients I feel confident will have a nice flavor blend. It might take trying a few store brands to find your favorite but I have a few suggestions below.