There’s certain ingredients scattered around my kitchen that I find myself continuously reaching for when conjuring up different recipes. I like to have a well stocked store cupboard so that I always have something to use as a basis for a nice meal and have found myself recently relying on the same few things. I’m calling these my hero ingredients and thought I would share them with you for something a bit different.
Salt is an essential ingredient in 90% of recipes. I know that excessive salt isn’t good for you but I can’t understand people that don’t cook with salt. I can’t imagine how bland life would be without it. I have a tub of bog-standard cheap table salt which I use to salt water when I’m cooking pasta or potatoes, then I have a salt pig with Maldon sea salt in it next to my stove to use in day to day cooking. These little tubs from the Cornish Sea Salt Co are a little more special and are used as a finishing touch to lift a dish. I have smoked sea salt (amazing in desserts and chilli), lemon and thyme sea salt (great with buttered new potatoes) and sea salt with seaweed (delicious sprinkled on top of salads).
I have so many jars and packets of spices in my cupboard which range from adventurous sumac and Thai 7 spice mix to the more classic cinnamon and mixed spice. I use spices a lot, pretty much daily in fact, and I couldn’t cook without them. I use cinnamon in smoothies, desserts and in coffee, cumin goes into curries and Mexican style dishes and paprika goes into pretty much everything. Garlic granules and Herbes de Provence are fairly new discoveries but are both used liberally on roasted vegetables and potato dishes. These 5 little jars are a gateway to a world of amazing flavour. I use all the spices I have in my cupboard but I would literally be lost without these superheroes.
Lemons and Limes
I pretty much always have lemons and limes in the bottom drawer of my fridge, ready to jazz up pretty much anything. Limes are great with avocados or as a finishing touch to a chilli or other Tex-Mex concoction, and lemons are great in risottos, pasta dishes and puddings. Rightly or wrongly, I always have lemon and lime juice in bottles in case of emergency and these get used a lot.
My fridge always contains some fresh garlic to use whole for roasting, and occasionally some fresh red chillies when they are needed to finish off a dish, but I absolutely always have jars of garlic, chilli and ginger on hand to use whenever I want. Which, in fact, is all the time. I reach for these jars more than anything else in my fridge and we get through a jar of garlic each month. All three are needed in stir fries and curries and are so much easier and quicker than having to use fresh stuff all the time, and I can’t say I ever notice a difference in flavour. Absolute life savers.
One of the shelves in my cupboard is buckling under the weight due to the amount of tinned tomatoes I keep in there. A tin of tomatoes can be the basis for so many different dishes, from shakshouka to spaghetti pomodoro, and I like to have a plentiful stash on hand ready to create some magic in the kitchen. I also like to keep tins of beans in my cupboard to bulk out meals and provide some additional goodness. Chickpeas are the main ingredient in humous so I always keep those close by too. Coconut milk is a great ingredient to have handy as it’s delicious in curries and desserts. I think there’s some stigma attached to tinned food but there really needn’t be, they’re great for convenience and last for ages.
Oils and Vinegars
On a day to day basis I use an inexpensive mild olive oil for cooking which doesn’t really affect the taste of the food and is suitable for most cooking techniques. I like to use coconut oil when making curry and it’s lovely to use in baking too. I save my expensive extra virgin olive oil to use for salad dressings, humous and for dipping bread into. There’s also some toasted sesame oil within my collection which I use for Asian dishes and love it’s nutty taste. It really provides some authenticity to Chinese cooking, as does the soy sauce which I’m never without. I use white wine vinegar or cider vinegar in dressings and marinades and balsamic vinegar is used frequently with tomatoes, bread or added to stews and sauces to provide depth of flavour. I love vinegar, I could drink it by the glass, but I don’t as it also gives me crippling tummy ache!
I like to have the wherewithal to make something sweet so always have a well stocked supply of sugar and syrups. Maple syrup is one of my all time favourite things, I love it in all it’s smoky glory, and incorporate it into a lot of dishes from granola to pancakes. I use honey and golden syrup less but they each have their place in the kitchen. I then always have caster sugar ready for basic cake making, soft light brown sugar for a caramel flavour, icing sugar for, well, icing, and demerara sugar for crumbles and in coffee. My teeth hurt from just looking at all this sugar but what is life if you can’t treat yourself from time to time.
Other Store Cupboard Essentials:
- Flour (plain, self-raising and wholemeal)
- Baking Powder
- Cocoa/Cacao Powder
- Peanut Butter
- Mustard (English, Dijon and Wholegrain)
- Tomato Ketchup
- Brown Sauce
- BBQ Sauce
- Pasta (I always have penne and spaghetti as a minimum)
- Rice (brown, white and basmati as a minimum, arborio too, ideally)
- Stock Cubes
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Tomato Puree
- Black Pepper
Let me know if you have any ingredients that you just can’t live without and I will be happy to try adding them to my list!