Healthy Pantry Essentials
Give Your Pantry Staples a Healthy Makeover
Pantries can end up being one of the most cluttered and poorly stocked parts of the kitchen. The problem is that they become a clearinghouse for random non-perishables you don’t have a use for but suspect you someday might. Here are a few tips for culling your inventory and making the most of your essentials.
Build a broad collection—red and white wine, sherry, balsamic, cider, rice, malt, etc. They keep indefinitely and exponentially expand your cooking possibilities. Don’t be afraid to splurge on a few good ones: you’ll appreciate the noticeable difference high-end wine, sherry, and balsamic vinegars make.
Keep: Cooking Stocks
Keep shelf-stable chicken, beef, and vegetable stocks on hand at all times. They’re essential for soup, stew, braises, and sauce. We like the full flavor of Swanson unsalted cooking stocks, and we can reduce them in sauces without worrying they’ll become too salty.
Keep: Canned Beans, Tomatoes, and Tomato Paste
For soups, stews, chilis, braises, and slow-cooker dishes. You can work the beans into salads or mash them into a dip. Get no-salt-added beans.
Keep: Flours and Sugar
Go for healthier whole-grain flours or white-wheat blends, and store them in your freezer to keep them fresh longer. Your sugar roster should include white, brown, honey, agave, and maple syrup.
Keep: Whole Grains
Allow plenty of space for these, and go for variety: quinoa, millet, spelt, teff, brown rice, wheatberries, steel-cut oats are but a fraction of your options.
Storage Tip: After opening bags of rice, dried beans, or whole grains, keep them fresh longer by storing them in airtight containers or sealed zip-top plastic bags. Label the containers so you can identify them. Another freshness tip for rice: Place 2 bay leaves, three cloves, five peppercorns and one small cinnamon stick in your container with the grains. The dried spices ward off bugs and lend faint but fantastic aroma.
Keep: Dried Pasta
Include some whole-grain pastas with your stable of semolina pastas. Couscous is a quick-cooking pasta that makes a great base for simple side dishes.
Keep: Cooking Oils
Canola and olive are the basics. Use canola for sautes and high-heat cooking. Splurge on a good bottle of genuine extra-virgin olive oil for lower-heat cooking, salads, and drizzling over dishes for a finishing flourish. Keep a few more esoteric oils on hand for specialty and ethnic dishes (refrigerate after opening to prolong shelf life): sesame, walnut, pistachio, and chili oil are some good choices.
Storage Tip: Keep cooking oils away from light and heat. The olive oil in the decorative decanter next to the stove looks nice, but the oil will go rancid twice as fast.
We like Dell’Amore because it’s lower in sodium than many brands and yet full flavored.
Keep: Canned Tuna and Salmon
Essential for quick and easy meals. Go for sustainably fished brands like Sustainable Seas and Wild Planet.
Limit: Processed Snacks
Crackers, chips, cookies, candy—it’s easier to limit them in your diet when you don’t have lots on hand to begin with.
Limit: White Starches
White rice and semolina pasta are delicious and traditional in many dishes, but train your palate to appreciate whole-grain alternatives.