Every household has a certain stock of non perishable food to use as required because a well stocked pantry makes cooking easier. The decision to tour the world without leaving the kitchen may require adding some extra items to this pantry. Most of the basic items are the same in all cultures; the spices and flavorings used making the difference.
With these basic pantry items, and a few things from the market, the cooking horizon will expand. These are the basics to create numerous dishes covering Asian cooking, European, the Americas, much of Africa and recipes from down under, as people from Oceania like to say.
Anchovies -The best come packed in olive oil and in resealable glass jars, rather than cans. Anchovies have a place in many cuisines. Anchovies should be kept in the fridge.
Baking soda, baking powder, yeast –instant yeast works well- for breads, dough and baking.
Breadcrumbs – They are used to thicken some dishes and to cover many foods.
Canned beans – Dried beans are preferable, but they need soaking ant take long to cook, so it is very convenient to have cooked beans in some form to create dishes on a whim. Canned beans are a solution. There are two roundabouts for those who plan ahead, both involve freezing.
- Soak the beans, drain and freeze. They will be ready to cook when you need them. Cook from frozen, you will barely notice the extra time.
- Cook the beans and freeze them in their cooking liquid. Now they are ready to use.
Canned stock, stock cubes – Though home prepared stock is the ideal and dead easy to freeze, there is not always time to make it. A good quality ready made stock comes handy.
Canned vegetables – specially canned tomatoes for sauces; good quality fresh tomatoes are difficult to come by in the winter. Even in the summer, you might not find the best varieties for cooking at your store. It is canned tomatoes, then.
Capers – best packed in vinegar and glass jars. They solve more than one sauce problem.
Chiles, dried - used all over the world, with the exception of northern Europe; the hot ones are usually long, thin, and bright red. Canned chiles are used in some cuisines.
Dried mushrooms - Porcini and shiitakes mushrooms soon find a place in the international recipes. It is another case of fresh is better, but there is not always available. Dried mushrooms solve the problem.
Flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, and so on – Those are pantry essentials. Those are best stored in the fridge, when there is room to prevent them from turning rancid. Flour is best unbleached. Optional, to thicken sauces, arrowroot and kuzu are very good.
Olive oil – extra virgin recommended. You can use extra virgin olive oil for everything and it is not as expensive as it once was. The flavor is unbeatable. Many people have a less expensive olive oil for every day cooking and a favorite bottle to finish off dishes and for salads.
Onions, potatoes, garlic - essential again. Other long keeping vegetables can have a place in an international pantry, depending on individual tastes.
Pasta – not only Italian pasta. Rice noodles from Asia, udon noodles from Japan or Chinese what noodles complement many dishes, and couscous.
Pickled cucumbers, gherkins and the like - preferably in small jars: small to allow for a quick rotation and jars because glass is inert. They are great for garnish and in sauces.
Rice – Keep one long grain and one short grain variety. See rice varieties.
Salt – Is there any need to explain why? The finest: Atlantic sea salt harvested by the traditional methods and free from anti-caking agents. It comes in coarse crystals and has lots of flavor, less salt is needed.
Soy sauce – look for a natural soy sauce, one that only has soy, wheat, salt, water, and bacteria.
Spices, herbs and flavorings - as a general rule, the final dish always benefits if berries and seeds are freshly ground before being added to the pot, sometimes after toasting. If you are not going to do this, buy small quantities and discard them if they have been sitting in the pantry for longer than six to eight months. The kind of spices to keep depend very much of the cuisine you are concentrating.
Sugar, honey – for desserts or salad dressings; sugar can also cut the acidity of tomatoes to achieve a perfect home made tomato sauce.
Vinegar – a world to discover. Quite addictive once one appreciates the difference in flavor each kind of vinegar brings. An international pantry needs more than one type of vinegar. Think red vinegar, white vinegar, cider vinegar, rice vinegar, balsamic and sherry vinegar.