Real Simple Cooking School Pantry Essentials
Your pantry staples are the foundation for dozens of delicious recipes. Keep the following items on hand at all times and you’ll be able to whip up a shakshuka, as well as dozens of other easy meals.
Can’t cook without it. It’s my go-to choice for daily cooking, plus dressings and drizzling. Choose a middle of the road oil for everyday cooking—California Olive Ranch and Colavita are both good grocery store options. If you like, supplement with a high quality extra virgin olive oil for finishing dishes in place of sauce. Here’s everything you need to know about olive oil.
I like kosher salt because of its even consistent grains. Because the grains are larger than sea salt or table salt you can really feel them in your fingers—my preferred way to season because it allows you to season to taste. Practice seasoning with your fingers (instead of measuring spoons) and tasting as you go. It’s one of the keys to becoming a more confident home cook.
Choose whole Tellicherry peppercorns and a sturdy grinder like this one from Peugeot. Always use freshly ground.
The building block of so many dishes, onions are found in every cuisine and every well-stocked kitchen the world over. Yellow onions are versatile when cooked, but try using white or red onions raw or cooked. And don’t forget about the rest of the allium family: shallots, leeks, and scallions are easy and inexpensive ways to expand the flavors in your repertoire. More on the onion family here.
A little goes a long way. Used raw or cooked, garlic adds depth of flavor that can’t be matched. Use it alongside onions as the base for soups and sauces, add a minced or grated clove to dressings or yogurt to make a quick dip, or rub a raw clove over toast for quick and easy garlic bread.
Choose a handful of dried spices that you like (think smoked paprika, whole cumin, or coriander) and play around adding them to tomato sauce, or sprinkling them over chicken or vegetables before roasting. (Some suggestions to get you started here.) You’ll start to recognize flavor profiles—Latin, Italian, Indian—and anticipate which spices go together to create them. Another big step in growing your skills as a cook.
Whole Peeled Tomatoes
A few cans of whole peeled tomatoes equal a literal world of flavor: blend them for easy salsas, simmer them for classic marinara, add them to curries, braises, and more. Check out this guide on how to get the most out of all your canned tomatoes.
Chickpeas and Other Beans
Turn salads into meals, add healthy vegetarian protein and fiber to grain bowls, and bulk up simple vegetable soups. Choose a few types that you like and keep them on hand. Look for ones with the convenient pop top: no can-opener required. Find some of our favorite picks here.
Red wine and white wine vinegar are good places to start for your vinaigrettes. Balsamic, although overused in my opinion, is a sweeter option that’s great for deglazing pans after searing meat. Sherry vinegar offers sophisticated acidity and is great for quick-pickling shallots or onions. Rice vinegar is mild and apple cider vinegar packs a big punch for classic pickles. Experiment with different types to see what you like in different types of dishes.
Keep large eggs on hand at all times. Scrambled, fried, poached, or frittata’d, eggs are an easy and inexpensive protein. Look for free-range and organic if possible: that means the chickens have had room to roam and they’ve been fed organic feed.
Note: Most baking recipes call for (and work best with) large eggs. And size does matter—too much egg and you’ll have a bouncy, over-risen cake or cookie. Too small and you won’t get enough moisture or lift.