If you are starting out, your trips to the shop will be more expensive than they should be as you will have to buy every last thing to make your meal, but over time you will naturally accumulate store cupboard staples that will (nearly) always be there when you need them and you will eventually find yourself in the position where you can get home after a day’s struggle and strife and find everything you need to make yourself a tasty dinner.
Carbohydrates, or the stuff that actually makes you full.
Spaghetti, Penne, Fusilli, Farfalle, Linguine, Tagliatelle, Macaroni, etc., etc. Pasta has long been a favourite of mine and has kept me fed when I didn’t have the price of a bag of chips in my pocket.
Basmati, Jamine, Arborio, Carnaroli, Wild, Brown, whatever way you like it. The 4 billion people in the world who eat this every day can’t all be wrong.
When you feel like making a quick and easy stir fry
Onions, shallots and garlic
The base of a million meals. Onions come in a variety of sizes, colours and strengths. I usually have white and red and some shallots. Red and shallots are milder than regular white onions and shallots are very handy if you only want a small amount of onion. It is hard to know what the writer of a recipe means when they say 1 onion as the onion could be the size of a golf ball or the size of a baby’s head!
The onions in my recipes would, on average, be a little smaller than a tennis ball.
If you really don’t know how to peel and chop an onion then go google it. There will be a thousand tutorials on youtube! I actually learned how to do it properly watching some food program on TV as a youth. An elderly Asian man reduced an onion to a fine mince in under a minute with a massive cleaver. I was impressed.
For thickening sauces or baking
There is some snobbery about canned goods but there is nothing wrong with them at all and to expand from beans on toast, it is very possible to make an entire meal with little else than a can opener.
Canned Chopped tomatoes
I always, always have canned tomatoes in the house, sometimes 4 or 5 cans as I tend to buy them automatically when I am in the supermarket. I get very annoyed if I forget I have used the last one and have to run around to the convenience shop and pay three times what they cost normally. Many supermarkets are now selling half cans which are also very handy to have.
Canned Red Kidney Beans
With rice tomatoes and chilli , you have a meal. Versatile, healthy, nutritious and delicious.
Canned baked beans
When all else fails or you can wash the tomato sauce off them if you need haricot beans.
Canned sweet corn
I loved the natural sweetness of this vegetable treat as a child and I still keep a can or two in stock
Canned peas, carrots and potatoes
If you don’t have them fresh or frozen keep a few cans lurking in your cupboards.
Tuna, herring, salmon, anchovies or sardines, you’ll always find a use for this healthy, handy, source of protein.
I used to argue with a friend about the merits of fresh versus frozen vegetables. He was convinced that frozen was better as they are frozen at source within a few hours of being picked rather than thrown into a lorry or flown halfway around the world for a few days before you get them. Therefore they are going to be fresher than ‘fresh’. My inner food snob just saw them as a cheap shortcut but I have changed my mind. I still prefer some fresh veg, broccoli for instance, doesn’t freeze well in my opinion but I still keep some in the freezer. Spinach, peas and green beans are always present.
Other things I usually keep in the freezer are processed fish and chips, frozen pastry for lazy pies, homemade stock, breadcrumbs, minced beef, leftovers and ice. Lots of ice. My friends get very angry if there is not enough ice for their drinks!
Herbs and spices
Basil (I grow it in a pot on a sunny windowsill in the warmer months and make a pesto when I have enough but I usually use dried to cook with)
Rosemary (Rosemary is one of the few herbs that grows successfully for me so I have a bush in the garden I can go to)
Parsley refuses to grow for me so I usually buy it fresh, but dried has it’s uses.
Cumin (The king of spices for me)
Chilli powder and flakes
Nutmeg (I keep the dried powdered stuff but you can’t beat freshly ground nutmeg)
Black pepper (Always freshly ground, the powdered stuff is a poor substitute)
Salt (I do use the posh stuff ground from a mill but I also use plenty of regular table salt)
Nuts and Seeds
Cashew, Brazil, Cashew, Peanut, Sunflower, Sesame, Nigella etc. they keep for ages and can make a plain dish a bit more special.
A hard cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino
Cheddar is always useful
Strong blue cheeses make delicious sauces
Eggs, if you have an egg, you have a potential meal
Vegetable Oil, rapeseed or any.
Olive oil and Extra Virgin Olive oil add a delicious mediterranean flavour anywhere you use them.
Red wine, White wine, cider, balsamic for salad dressings or malt vinegar for your chips. All have their uses and keep for years.
Dark and light Soy sauce and Fish sauce
For seasoning rice and adding a taste of the orient to stir frys.
Lemons and limes have a multitude of uses, they’re not just for drinks. A bottle of lemon juice does the trick when you don’t have fresh.
The above list is not exhaustive but merely a snapshot of what a reasonably well stocked kitchen could have. Don’t go mad buying things you don’t need as some of them will merely taunt you from the back of the cupboard and slowly deteriorate from lack of use. Even dried spices and herbs lose their their potency over time and though you won’t poison yourself if you use them after their best before date they won’t do you a lot of good flavour wise. I have thrown out things that were hiding in plain sight for ten years! You will get to know your own favourites and what you do and don’t use.
Now you are ready to cook.