Saturday, January 17, 2009

A well-stocked pantry

It's a grey, chilly Saturday afternoon - not the kind of day you want to spend outdoors. I've just returned from the St. Lawrence Market with a bagful of cans and jars to add to my growing pantry, and today I'm organizing my kitchen cupboards to make room for it all.

Ever since moving to my current apartment last July I've been picking up items for my pantry. Obviously I buy things when I need them for a particular recipe, but it's also great when you just have the items on hand (most keep for a good long while). I started with the basics - sea salt, black peppercorns, oils (olive, canola, sesame), vinegars (white, cider, balsamic, red wine, white wine, rice), flours (all-purpose, whole wheat), sugars (white, confectioner's, light brown, dark brown), molasses, honey, baking soda, baking powder, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, spices (cinnamon, cloves. allspice, nutmeg, chili powder, paprika, cayennne, ginger), a few dried herbs (oregano) although I favour fresh, rices (long grain white, long grain brown, basmati, jasmine, arborio), various dried pastas, canned fish (tuna), canned tomatoes, and chicken stock.

Since then I've been slowly adding a few things at a time. Last week I picked up some white peppercorns - they have an earthier flavour than the black variety and are quite good. I used them in a bouquet garni last Sunday when making chicken stock, but they're often used in pale-coloured dishes when you don't want the dark grindings of black pepper to stand out.

Today's pantry additions:

  • Tahini - ground sesame seeds, an essential ingredient in hummus
  • Fish sauce (or nam pla) - Used lots in Thai cuisine - stir frys, Pad Thai, etc.
  • Oyster sauce - A dark brown sauce of cooked oysters and other ingredients, used mainly in Asian dishes to add richness.
  • Canned chickpeas - For hummus, curried chickpeas, salads, chilis, etc.
  • Sambal oelek - Ground fresh chili paste, used in small quantities to add a bit of heat to a dish.
  • Hoisin sauce - Again, mainly used in Asian dishes, it's a thick, dark brown sweet and sour sauce that can either be added to recipes or used as a condiment. I often use it for dipping cold salad rolls into. It has a nice tang that complements the fresh ingredients well.
I'm using the oyster sauce tonight, in an Asian-influenced beef salad. The recipe calls for, among other things, fresh cilantro, pineapple, lime juice, green onions, mint, sesame oil, and a little heat from a chopped, seeded red chili pepper. On a frigid cold day, a little heat is just what I'm craving!

What item in your pantry can't you live without? Let me know at



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