How many times have you decided on a recipe last minute, only to discover you haven’t got 60% of the ingredients? Or worse, bought ingredients you’ve never used before – and might never use again – to realise you don’t have a ‘does it all’ food processor to grind your whole spices? Yep. Been there, done it, have the jar of whole star anise to prove it.
While at university (and on a suitably limited budget) I developed a list of key ingredients that I fall back on time after time. These are the familiar faces that will make a meal at the last minute, falling beautifully together without a fuss. These are my kitchen cupboard (and fridge) must-haves.
These little beauties will keep on keeping: with their long shelf lives, it’s definitely worth stocking up on tins and staple carbs. Look out for supermarket deals and stock up when they’re cheap – you know you’ll use these long before they expire!
A note on the rice – I’ve listed microwavable rice below, simply because it’s so convenient when I’m making a quick dinner after work. I also often use easy cook, and love using the mixed wild and white rice varieties with good helping of chilli con carne.
- Tinned tomatoes
- Dried pasta
- Microwaveable rice (a mix of long grain and basmati)
- Plain flour
Though fridge stuff generally doesn’t have quite the shelf life of cupboard staples, I make sure to stock up on a few essentials. In the case of the dairy and eggs, I buy these on a weekly basis, and try to only get what I think I can use in the week. The soy, lemon and tomato paste will keep slightly longer than this.
- 0% fat yogurt (I use this in my breakfast every morning, so always have some!)
- Dark soy sauce
- Lemon juice
- Tomato paste
Don’t be tempted to buy a ready-filled spice rack unless you know you can use every spice (you probably can’t). Instead focus on the key ones you’ll use again and again. If you can, stick to own brand versions too – at the end of the day, turmeric is turmeric, regardless of the brand on the front of the jar.
- Salt & Pepper
- Stock cubes
- Chilli (if you like it hot!)
I’m lucky to have some fresh herbs growing in the garden (though am moving house soon, so might have a bit of a gap in my supply of these!) but there are only a few essential ones you’ll need, and most can be used dried. The only 2 herbs I really insist on having fresh are basil and coriander. I tend to get the growing basil plants as these last for ages – and being a lover of Italian food (who isn’t?!) always like to have some on hand. I only use fresh coriander in certain recipes, so haven’t listed it here.
- Growing basil
I haven’t listed any veg or meats here – as I think these are much more personal. However, with a good mix of veg, and your chosen source of protein, you can combine the ingredients above to make a huge range of tasty meals, from pasta sauces, to chilli, to soups and stews (and many others in between).
Do you have a favourite ingredient or recipe you always go back to? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!