Stop us if this sounds familiar: after the lockdown announcement a few days ago, you’ve read all the articles, went to all the supermarkets, did all the panic buying, scrolled to the end of all of your social media feeds and possibly pulled every last strand of hair out of your head. Now that you have had some chance to calm down, you’re stuck with an ungodly amount of toilet paper in your closet and a kitchen overflowing with ingredients you’ve never used before. Don’t worry: we’re here to help you. To help you cross another worry of your list in these difficult times, we take a look at our favourite pantry staple recipes.
You don’t have to be a chef or a sociologist to know that food occupies an essential role in our lives. Through all of humanity’s history, food has been used as much more than a simple basic human need. It can be used to show someone’s social status, soothe in times of distress, celebrate in times of happiness, bring a sense of nostalgia or gather people together. Most of us have a very personal way of feeding ourselves: you could be a health nut or a junk food lover, a “three meals a day” type of person or an all-day long snacker, a lover of great home cooking or get most of your nutrition from late night takeaways and pizza deliveries.
However, despite all these differences, on the most basic level, food remains fuel that our bodies need to survive. If you are lucky enough to have food in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, chances are that your kitchen looks quite different from what you’re used to. You might feel lost after being unable to find your usual fresh fruit and vegetables, or have been following advice to stock on non-perishable items that you don’t normally use. If you are at a loss on what to do, fear no more: we’ve got your back. From easy recipes for those working from home or taking care of kids to more ambitious ones for people with more time on their hands, here’s our guide to four of our favourite pantry staples.
Healthy, cheap, quick to cook and versatile, oats are the perfect example of what a pantry staple should be. If you’ve managed to get a bag of this whole grain cereal, whether under its original, rolled or quick-cook form, you should be happy to know that you have made a nutritious choice full of filling fiber and essential vitamins. Read on for how to make the best out of them.
The obvious: porridge or oatmeal. In a saucepan, bring your desired quantity of oats with twice the amount of water or milk of choice to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and cook for about five minutes. Remove from heat, then add whatever your heart fancies: some pantry staple friendly examples could be spices like cinnamon or turmeric for a health boost, nuts or nut butter, dried fruit, maple syrup, or even some chocolate if you’re feeling fancy. What you get is a super nutritious and delicious breakfast in under ten minutes. It may feel too easy, but if anything, it proves that it is a classic for a reason ! Bonus point: if you’re feeling lazy, you can also cook it in your microwave (just make sure to keep a close eye on it as it cooks).
A bit more effort: baked oats or granola. Same principle, but you will need to turn your oven on. To make matters simple, baked oats are more or less a fancier version of oatmeal: put oats with water or milk and your favourite toppings in a baking dish and bake until golden brown. For granola, skip the milk and instead coat your oats in a neutral oil and your liquid sweetener of choice, add your favourite mix-ins, and bake on a baking sheet until crunchy. These recipes may take a bit longer to get right, but have the advantage of making many servings at once and can be kept for a long time if properly stored away. These pantry staple recipes are ideal if you have a big family or are a meal prep adept!
The unexpected: take the above recipes… And make them savoury ! Who said oats had to remain a breakfast food ? Due to the grain’s neutral taste, you can get away with mixing them with pretty much anything. Add your favourite vegetables, sauces, spices and even protein like eggs or tofu to your bowl for a change in your routine.
One type of ingredient that you will see on almost every single pantry staple list are beans and legumes. Whether under their canned or dry form, these plant protein powerhouses can be kept for months without losing any of their nutritional value. Although all of them are good choices at the moment, we’ve picked chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) because of their wide availability in more or less every grocery store, making it more likely to find a can even when other shelves may be empty. Now that we’ve introduced you to your new favourite pantry staple, here is our guide on how to use it.
The obvious: hummus. While you can buy ready-made hummus, the homemade version is so easy that it would be a shame not to try it. The easiest recipe will ask you to add your can of chickpeas to a food processor with a bit of tahini. Then, add some basic mix-ins until you reach an ideal taste, like lemon juice, salt, olive oil or garlic. We recommend starting with just a little liquid and adding as it goes on to achieve the perfect texture. Use the resulting creamy spread slathered on warm toast (hot tip: bread can be frozen and taste as good as new if taken out a couple of hours in advance and slightly warmed in the oven minutes before serving), as a dip for fresh veggies and crackers, or even dilute it for a delicious pasta sauce. You can easily switch up the flavours and sneak in some additional nutrients by adding red peppers, beetroot, avocado or curry powder before blending!
A bit more effort: falafel. A classic of Middle Eastern cuisine, falafel have become a staple of street food everywhere in the world. Making them yourself will be a time consuming enterprise, but could be a fun project for days when you don’t know what to do with your time. Start with dry chickpeas and soak them with water overnight. The next day, drain and rinse thoroughly before adding to a food processor with garlic, onion, flour and a mix of spices (ideally salt, cumin, parsley and coriander should be on your list, but don’t fret too much if you don’t have anything – imperfect times are a good excuse for imperfect falafel). Refrigerate the resulting mixture, then shape into balls and fry a couple of hours later. Eat as is for a delicious snack, or put them in a pita or add them to a salad for a refreshing lunch.
The unexpected: cookie dough. If you’re feeling skeptical, we don’t blame you: this recipe is one that few will believe in… That is, until they try it. Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas very well, then add to a food processor with a couple drops of vanilla extract, some nut or seed butter (the more neutral the taste the better), your sweetener of choice and of course, as many chocolate chips as your heart sees fit. Process very well, and prepare to get every trace of doubt you had evaporate as soon as you take a bite of this healthy dip. Eat with or without moderation.
If there ever was an award for the most life-saving pantry staple out there, the humble dry pasta would no doubt be the winner. Unfairly demonized for its perceived lack of nutritional value, pasta is a classic ingredient for both renowned chefs and terrible cooks. Choose your favourite shape, your favourite variety (classic, whole wheat, or even lentil or chickpea for an extra protein boost), get some water boiling, and read on for our advice on how to make the most out of this unmissable pantry staple recipes superstar.
The obvious: put it on a plate, add a sauce, maybe some cheese if feeling fancy (reply with nutritional yeast or vegan cheese if you can’t have dairy) and call it a day. We know what you’re thinking, and no, we won’t write a novel on what is probably the easiest meal of all time, and one that you’ve made many times over the course of your life. As it turns out, quarantine meals and “lack of inspiration” meals have quite a lot in common. Thankfully, it doesn’t make them any less delicious.
A bit more effort: make your own sauce. There are only so many ways you can eat pasta, but why not mix things up by bringing your own touch to the meal ? By making your own sauce, you can have complete control over the ingredients and make what could have been a boring meal way more personal. A good pesto may be the easiest road here: add your green of choice (classic pesto is made out of basil, but you can easily use spinach, kale, parsley…), whatever nut or seed you can access (again, classic pesto is made out of pine nuts, but walnuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds are perfectly acceptable substitutes), garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to a food processor, and you have a delicious sauce ready to use. Add some sun-dried tomatoes or roasted peppers for a splash of colour.
The unexpected: give it an Asian twist. Some may scream blasphemy and insist that pasta must remain strictly Italian business, and we’re in no position to blame them. However, if you’re willing to switch things up a little, you may end up being surprised at how well Asian flavours can go with traditional pasta. Add some miso paste to your traditional pesto or top your plate of spaghetti with stir-fried veggies, soy sauce and sesame seeds. You can easily go the other way around and mix ramen noodles with your traditional Italian sauce. Some may judge you for it, but chances are that there won’t be too many people around to judge you anyways. The world is upside down – why not ditch social and cooking conventions in your pantry staple recipes and make yourself a tasty meal in the process?
Restricting our list to only a few pantry staple items wasn’t an easy chore. For our last pick of our look at pantry staple recipes, we settled on coconut milk as a truly versatile ingredient that can easily be found in its canned form and can be found in many different types of recipes. Read on for our advice on how to use it.
The obvious: coconut curry. There are as many types of curry as there are countries in Asia, and European amateur cooks could benefit from adding a few of them to their dinner rotation. For a truly delicious curry, bring a can of coconut milk with curry powder or paste with veggies and protein of choice (to keep with our pantry staple theme, frozen works very well here) to a simmer in a saucepan, then reduce heat until your add-ins of choice are cooked through. Serve with rice or your favourite grain.
A bit more effort: drink it up. If you were a coffee shop lover before the lockdown and are now finding yourself with too much time and too little to drink, now is the time to uncover your secret barista talents. Coconut milk is a creamy alternative to milk and is therefore the perfect dairy-free alternative for some of the most beloved hot beverages. Try your hand at old school hot chocolate making on the stove, make the latte you always order from scratch, or finally use up the bananas in your freezer for a refreshing smoothie.
The unexpected: whip it up! These days and all the extra time that came with them have found many people trying their hand at baking. If that is you, why not try to make your latest creation even more impressive with some homemade whipped cream? Chill a can of coconut milk overnight. This will prompt the coconut liquid and cream to separate, so you can only use the cream part. The next day, simply beat the hardened cream with icing sugar and a couple of drops of vanilla extract to make a delicious and fluffy topping for warm pies or brownies !
We’re not here to give you lessons. If you’ve been struggling to eat balanced meals due to stress or have been snacking on processed foods as a way to get through the day, that is completely understandable. These are strange times, and the last thing you need right now is unnecessary guilt about your eating habits. However, we hope that showing how easy or how enjoyable it can be to try your hand at new, possibly unfamiliar pantry staple recipes has given you some motivation for the days to come. If the situation ever gets to you, don’t forget: this is all temporary, but pasta will always be there for you.
What did you think of our favourite pantry staple recipes? Did we miss your favourite way to cook one of our picks? Are there other ingredients currently in your lockdown kitchen that you would like us to dissect on Babylon in the future? Let us know in the comments below !