Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pantry Basics

For a while, my baby brother and I were living together (with Ben, of course) in Boston. We also worked at the same bakery/cafe -- where we eagerly staked claim on all the leftover goodies that would otherwise be thrown away. Needless to say, our grocery bills were quite low, and prep time for dinners was minimal. When Ben and I left Boston, Mike stayed behind to finish college. He continued working at the bakery (read: scrounging free food) until a unique research position became available. While he might have been ready to bid farewell to a bustling and often stressful place of work, he was not quite ready to give up the perks.

These days, Mike is cooking for himself -- learning how to nourish himself on a budget with all the free time that an employed, full-time student can muster. He asked me to assemble a list of essential pantry goods that meet the following criteria: inexpensive, easy to prepare, and a long shelf life. (Save the science experiments for school -- we all know what an undergraduate refrigerator can look like.) This is what I came up with:

1. Kosher or sea salt
2. Black pepper
3. Sweet Hungarian paprika
4. Rice (brown or basmati)
5. Dried brown lentils
6. Pinto beans (preferably dried but canned is also ok)
7. Stubby pasta shape (smaller shapes lend themselves to healthier sauces)
8. All purpose flour
9. Baking powder and/or soda
10. Oil packed anchovies (best in a re-sealable jar)
11. Hot sauce (something versatile like Tabasco or Sambal Olek)
12. Honey
13. Soy sauce
14. Canola Oil
15. Extra virgin olive oil
16. Red wine vinegar
17. Canned tuna
18. Onions
19. Garlic
20. Sun-dried or canned tomatoes
21. Lemons
22. Fresh or dried thyme
23. Parmesan cheese
24. Frozen legumes (peas, hulled edamame, lima beans)
25. Eggs

Some of these items will not grace our own pantry during our "Unprocessed" year, but they are all healthy choices. After all, not everyone has the time or resources to engage in such a project. Suggestions above are minimally processed and/or nutrient or flavor dense.

Choose brown or basmati rice. These are lower on the glycemic index chart than white rice; the starches are absorbed into the blood stream at a slower rate, making it a better choice for people who are insulin resistant. When possible, opt for whole wheat pasta to remove some of the white flour from your diet. Hot sauce, honey, soy sauce, garlic, and Parmesan cheese offer big bang for your buck, boosting otherwise drab bowls of beans and rice. Anchovies provide the double whammy of essential fatty acids as well as enormous amounts of flavor packed into just a sliver. Frozen peas etc. add a little green for vitamins; they keep for a long time, and they cook quickly. Eggs are a great source of inexpensive protein that stay fresh for longer than you might think. Try a runny-yolk egg on top of a bowl of lentils for a hearty, protein-rich meal with an impromptu "sauce".

I haven't listed fruit and vegetables because I don't consider them part of the basic pantry. Instead, I try to pick up a daily selection of each from a small, local market, keeping things fresh and eliminating waste. When shopping on a budget, seek out ethnic grocery stores; the prices are often much lower than larger chain counterparts.

Pictured above on the day that my new brother came home from the hospital. (I promise that this is the last of the old family photos for a while. More mouth-watering food pics to come!)



    PS Awesome to hear about Mike's new job. I lost my phone awhile ago so I no longer have his # to wish him congrats!!!

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  3. Also, you're a good writer.

    Yeah, I pretty much sweat you.

  4. before embarking on any type of blog-like project, one should be required to find a friend like melissa! ;) mwah...a big smooch right at ya!

  5. This is great - very great! I would like to read more from you about your note on the stubby pasta shape - that it lends itself to healthier sauces...

  6. Thank you, Shaun! I will definitely create a post about pasta and healthier sauces! Great suggestion!