The food stocked in your pantry represents the difference between assembling a healthy, wholesome meal and dinner time depression or unplanned take out disaster.
Select pantry essentials carefully
As excellent meals begin with quality ingredients, take care to search for the best.
My chosen nine pantry essentials
Grains, in many different forms, beans and pulses will be your basic non perishable items. Add nuts, herbs, spices and don't forget oil.
Have a selection of flours on hand to add some variety. Typically it's a good idea to mix two types of flours together to add to the flavor and texture of your baked goods; such as using half whole wheat and half white for a lighter brown pastry crust or bread. Mix buckwheat and white for pancakes. Flour is a good source of protein and complex starchy carbohydrate. If you don't use flour very often, buy a small amount and keep it in an airtight container. Non-refined flour; the brown whole wheat flours; have a shorter shelf life than the white. Self-rising flour will loose their lightening ability within six months.
There are many different types of potatoes. Each one brings a different experience to the table, discovering which one is best for a certain recipe is half the fun. Many potatoes are now grown for flavor and are best served by simply boiling them in their skins and dressing them lightly with olive oil or butter. Small firm, waxy potatoes are great for salads, while the large ones are best for roasting.
There is an increasingly attractive range of rice to choose from. Basmati -fragrant long grain rice traditionally eaten with curries- is great in almost all dishes, from sweet to savory. Brown basmati is lighter than the whole grain rice and has higher levels of dietary fiber. The Thai rice types are delicate and only slightly sticky, making them wonderful in stir-fries and milk puddings. Wild rice has good levels of protein -wild rice is not rice, a cereal, but an aquatic grass. Pre-soaking will help shorten cooking times. Try to avoid the easy cook rice. The texture will be chewy and most of the flavor has been processed out.
Nuts and seeds
Like cheese, nuts and seeds can be high in fats and proteins, but are still good as a nutritional snack. In small amounts they can be added to salads and tossed into desserts. Keeping them in tightly sealed glass jars lined up in your kitchen, adds an elegant charm and tempts you to throw them into some of your favorite healthy recipes. If you are not a regular user, buy small amounts, because they can go rancid after being stored over six months. For the best flavor, lightly roast them first before crushing or chopping.
These are a good source of complex starchy carbohydrates. Stock your pantry with a wide variety of shapes, colors, and flavors. Good pasta is cooked al dente, tender yet firm to the bite. The best pasta for this is that made from durum wheat or durum semolina. Cook with plenty of boiling salted water. Whole wheat pastas provide a nutty flavor and chewy texture.
Pulses, a.ka. beans and lentils, are high in protein but they lack some of the essential amino-acids. Methionine is missing in pulses, which grains do have. The nutritional value of pulses mixed with grains complement one another. Pulses have lysine and tryptophan, not found in grains. Together they make a complete, high quality protein. Try to always eat starches with your pulses, as well as including leafy greens for vitamin C, so that your body can use the iron in pulses. When cooking your pulses, never add salt or lemon juice, as this will harden the skins. Do not over drain, leave them slightly wet like you would pasta.
Oils and fats
Sunflower, rape seed and groundnut have the lightest flavors, while Corn oil and blended vegetable oil are stronger. Olive oil is the most beneficial when pertaining to your health, as it is high in mono-saturated that can help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Aromatic seed and nuts oils can be too heavy and expensive for general use, and must be stored in a refrigerator. All fats, unless labeled reduced fat, have the same amount of calories. Those that do boast the label "lower" or "reduced fat" have been watered down, making them difficult to use in frying and baking. Sunflower oil and olive oil are lower in harmful fats and higher in the healthier poly-unsaturated and mono-saturated than other oils. Fats and oils are important to diet, they contain vitamins like A, D, and E. Cutting them completely from your diet is not a good thing, try and moderate your intake.
It is mistakenly believed that all spices are hot; only those in the chili family are. Some are wonderful for both savory and sweet dishes. Spices are easy to use and can make the most ordinary dish into something sensational. They are made for experimenting. After a time you learn which spice best fits your taste, add only the most cautious of pinches to your food until you decide which you enjoy the most. Toasting your spices first helps bring out the aromatic oils. You can do this in the oven or stove top. Use whole seeds or grains when doing this; then grind them down. Don't restrict your spices only to exotic dishes; add them to your everyday recipes, like macaroni and cheese.
Whenever possible, try to use fresh over dried. Try to mix and match your herbs, never limiting one herb per dish. When experimenting use generous amount, except when it comes to the more pungent of herbs, use them cautiously. No need to chop when adding them to salads. If you must buy dried herbs, keep them tightly sealed and inside of a cool dark cupboard to retain flavor.