A Dozen Pantry Staples I Can't Do Without

It's been snowing for nearly seven hours as I write this, and some prognosticators say it's not going to stop for another 20 or so. Oh, goody.

Fortunately, I've baked beans in the slow cooker. When you keep navy beans and condiments on hand, it's an easy meal to make. All you need are beans, bacon, ketchup, mustard, onions, bacon, molasses and brown sugar - pantry staples for most of us.

There are a few other pantry items I am never without, in addition to flour, sugar and other baking-related supplies. Here's my list:

Minced onions:  I add these to scrambled and deviled eggs, dips, sandwich spreads and pasta salads. They were never used at our house when I was growing up and I did not know they existed until I got to college. I love the intensity of their flavor. Three tablespoons are equal to 1/2 cup of chopped fresh onions.

Roasted red peppers: These can be used in everything from sandwiches to dips, casseroles, salads and side dishes. I prefer roasting fresh peppers, but these will do in a pinch. I always have a jar or two on hand. I really prefer to roast my own, but sometimes lack the time so these come in handy.

Black olives: I buy these whole, sliced, chopped and minced. Blander than green olives, they actually impart a salty but fresh flavor to salads, casseroles, pizzas and sandwiches. Black olives are salty, but according to this source, they can lower your blood pressure. Go figure. Anyway, they are an acquired taste, I think, and lucky me, I've acquired them.

Sun-dried tomatoes in oil: These tart little gems, which gained popularity about 25 years ago, are akin to roasted peppers in terms of usefulness and versatility. I use them in pasta dishes a lot, but also in salads and on pizza. Sun-dried tomatoes offer bone and heart benefits, providing calcium and magnesium, and they protect against prostate cancer. So start eating them while you are young, gentlemen!

Quick-cooking bags of brown rice and quinoa: There are so many uses for these staples, from salads to casseroles. When I have time, I cook my own using the dried variety, but a few ready-to-heat bags are an enormous convenience. Read about brown rice here and quinoa here.

Water-pack, low-sodium tuna: A can of tuna, a cup of quinoa and some raw vegetables and Voila! A fast meal after a long day. Some weekends I make old-fashioned tuna salad; yes, the kind with crushed potato chips. In fact, I probably have tuna at least twice a month, which is not a bad thing as it is 99 percent fat-free and rich in Omega-3s and high in protein. Just hold the chips.

Lentils: For a time I could not find lentils du Puy locally, so I'd buy a bag or two every time we went to France. Now they are readily available. I use them mainly in soups and warm salads. But this humble legume is extremely versatile, and one of my goals is to make better use of my lentil supply (which is at an all-time high). Lentils offer a host of benefits, among them stabilizing blood sugar.

Water chestnuts: In winter, I crave Asian foods a lot. I buy a few cans of water chestnuts in January and I'm set. They add crunch to stir fries and salads, which are a great way to use every single vegetable in the larder. Celery, broccoli stalks, onion and water chestnuts, stir-fried, atop a bed of rice and topped with onions make a great snow-day lunch. I love cashews with water chestnuts, which aren't a nut at all but an aquatic vegetable. And good for you!

Peanut butter: You will never go hungry with peanut butter in your cupboard. Frankly, some nights my husband and I have peanut butter sandwiches for supper. I love them with chili, a holdover from high-school hot lunch. Peanut butter on tart apples is a healthy, make-do dessert. Apparently I am not alone in my love for peanut butter: The average kid will eat about 1,500 peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches before graduating from high school, according to the National Peanut Board.

Fleur de sel: Hand-harvested sea salt, fleur de sel is now widely available in US supermarkets, but at one time I could only find it in France or online. Once you've start using sea salt, regular Morton's Salt will pale by comparison. Sea salt crystals are large: you need very little to season your food. Using this instead of regular salt may well be why my blood pressure is under control. I am consuming less salt overall. There are more benefits to be had from sea salt.

(I love the brand shown in the photo: Paludiers, sea salt harvesters, were from the same part of France as my maternal grandmother's family roots. There is some speculation the family name Plourde comes from the word paludier, suggesting some of my long-gone ancestors were salt harvesters. This video provides a look at a paludier's work.)

Herbes de Provence: There was a time these were hard to come by in Northern Wisconsin, so I made my own. Now I find them locally, or order online. But I prefer to travel to France to acquire them when possible. Herbes de Provence are not necessarily herbs grown in Provence; they may be grown anywhere, but they are a mixture of herbs typically used in Provençal cooking: savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano. I use herbes de Provence for chicken, soup, egg salad, ratatouille and scones.

Grainy mustard: Again, this is something I used to buy in France in delightful little crocks. I was first introduced to it during my college days when a handsome Frenchman named Louis ran the cheese counter at a Madison supermarket. I use this in egg dishes, in potato salad, ham spread, coleslaw, salad dressing, and in meatloaf.

For more on pantry staples, keep on eye on Lydia's blog, The Perfect Pantry.


Katie Zeller said…
I have never had, nor will I ever have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Peanut butter and butter, yes, lots LOL. Apparently your -quick-cooking brown rice is different than what I get, (which is just labeled brown rice) Mine is like brown basmati and cooks in 15 minutes. I used to love to watch snow.....
Mimi Johns said…
I have bought quick rice in bags at LeClerc. The kind with tomatoes is wonderful!

Fortunately, our snow bower was easily fixed. So we might not mind watching it when it comes later. The snow that is. I'm still recovering from shoveling.

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