The Pantry

Friday, January 16, 2009

Posted by Peter M

I find one of the best assets to creative and healthy cooking is having a well-stocked pantry. When I say pantry, I mean the ingredients you use when cooking. The condiments you have, the preserves, the prepared sauces, dried herbs and spices and some basic ethnic ingredients that can make a your dishes go from nice to WOW!

It's January and if you're in the norther hemisphere, it's winter and you're more indoors. Take a look at the spices and dry herbs you have and start your shopping list here.

I like buying small amounts of spices and herbs from the bulk food store. I buy in small amounts so that my spices and herbs are at their full potential. For even more flavour, buy a small coffee grinder and dedicate it to grinding spices. You'll be amazed at the difference.

I have a small indoor herb collection that comes in handy for garnishes & such but one must buy fresh herbs from the market or rely on dry herbs. Again, like in small amounts to maximize flavour.

Some condiments that I find invaluable in cooking are available at most supermarkets and worldwide. Musts in my kitchen are mustards, wine and balsamic vinegars, Soy sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, Sriracha Sauce (and other chilli sauces), honey , barbecue sauces, ketchup, relish and a new favourite, pomegranate molasses.

These are just some of the condiments off the top of my head but you get the picture. Buy some basic condiments that touch upon many ethnicities and can be used in an array of cuisines.

Sometimes you've had a long, rough day and you're the type that prefers eating at home yet you're pooped or you've hit a wall thinking what to cook.

A well-stock pantry is your best asset and when you go out to buy your ingredients, have at the top of your mind the four basic pillars of any great tasting dish:

  1. Savory, that is to say salt or seasoning. Everydish has to be seasoned properly. Salt, Soy sauce, Fish Sauce or flavoured salts can bump up your dish.
  2. Sweet. Every dish needs a degree of sweetness. In the summer, fresh herbs or vine-ripened tomatoes provide a natural sweetness to a dish. Sometimes a honey, molasses or a sugar is needed to help round'out a dish.
  3. Acid. Each and every dish needs balance and often it's an acid of one type or another that will give the Yin and Yang to your dish. There are an array of vinegars, fruit juices that offer varying degrees of tartness. Acids will also arm you with quick marinades and tenderizers if you're looking to cook some quick and tender. Try using the juices and zests of all the citrus fruits or even try combining them!
  4. Heat. Spices provide the downstroke to salt. The mildest on the heat scale would be peppercorns and the hottest on the other end of the spectrum are the Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers. Fresh and dried peppers are invaluable to your cooking and although you may shy away from spicy foods, I don't know of anyone who avoids pepper and peppercorns. Try a peppercorn mix, try different ones to discover their unique flavours. Experiment with hot much can you take? Does the dish get heightened with heat? Perhaps one of your guests likes it spicy? Have something on the table for them!
Remember these four pillars of cooking. Every dish should have some level of these four senses of taste. Go into your pantry, see what's running low and what's missing in action. Your first pantry run might cause a spike in your grocery bill but future grocery runs will be cheaper and you'll cook better and your food will, no doubt taste better!

This post was written BY Peter Minaki

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In the inter my thoughts always turn to filling up and restocking the pantry.It gets me through the rough winter weekends lke we are having now. Great post and tips.

glamah16 said...
January 16, 2009 at 7:22:00 PM GMT+1  

I hear ya, I always make shopping lists...hate going back to the market for 1 or 2 itemns.

Peter M said...
January 16, 2009 at 7:26:00 PM GMT+1  

brilliant read Peter! I am a spice and herb hog. i too buy in small quantities but have a large variety!! Crushed tomatoes, beans, chickpeas are also a must in my pantry. And I feel very uneasy when it starts to look empty but very satisfied when I went out to the store and restocked again!

Meeta K. Wolff said...
January 16, 2009 at 8:43:00 PM GMT+1  

Nice one.....
Same with me MeetaK, I become restless when I see empty container.

Anonymous said...
January 17, 2009 at 11:01:00 AM GMT+1  

All great tips Peter. I can't pass a bulk barn without getting at least 2 or 3 spices and maybe some cake decorating things and oh - look at that - an aisle just full of candies and then on to the peanut butter and the apple butter. I'm incorrigible.

giz said...
January 18, 2009 at 3:36:00 AM GMT+1  

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