The Assembly of a Happy Pantry

happy pantry items
How is your pantry looking lately? Chock full, a little cluttered? Barren except for some packets of soy sauce? While we’ve discussed the merits of making magic out of leftover meals and ingredients in the past, the foundation for such a practice is an organized, well-stocked pantry. Today I’m going to run down a few ideas of how to stock your pantry, shelf by shelf. We’ll also talk about why you want to keep certain items around, and what to do with them in a pinch.

 Oils Shelf

  • Peanut oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Olive oil
Cooking oils are a bit controversial these days, as lots of opinions float around about what types of fats are good for you. While I don’t think vegetable or canola oil will kill you, there are more flavorful options for all of their uses: peanut oil for frying, grapeseed oil for dressing and baking, and olive oil for dressing, sauteeing, and being the general workhorse in the kitchen. These three oils alone should meet your culinary needs sufficiently.

Vinegars Shelf

  • Red Wine vinegar
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • White Vinegar
Essential for making a vinaigrette, marinade, or adding to soups, stews, and braises, these vinegars are key. Apple cider and white vinegar have cleaning uses as well! Balsamic vinegar is worth adding if you get a quality bottle, and use it as garnish on salads or bruschetta. You might consider white wine vinegar a necessary addition if you’re big on some flavors and types of vinaigrettes. But overall, this brief list should serve you well.

Condiments Shelf

  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly or jam
  • Lemon and/or lime juice
  • Soy sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Dijon mustard
  • Yellow and/or spicy mustard
  • Tahini
  • Oyster sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Hot sauce and/or sriracha
Condiments are not just for the finished meal; they double as important elements to add during the cooking process, so the items listed at left serve dual purposes. Tahini is the sesame paste that is used to make hummus, but is also a nice addition to salad dressing or a garnish by itself. Oyster sauce is often used with soy sauce for stir-fries. Fish sauce is a condiment associated with East Asian cuisines, but it also adds complex layers when added to any traditional soup or stew. Even if you are not a fan of spicy food, hot sauce is something to keep tucked away for uses in chili or sauces. Finally, you may ask yourself: who needs three types of mustard? It’s a good idea to keep at least dijon around for vinaigrettes and tuna salads; if you’re not a mustard fan, the others are optional. Note that once opened, all of these items should be kept in the refrigerator.

Canned and Jarred Shelf

  • Capers
  • Jarred olives
  • Cans of beans (garbanzo, pinto, cannellini, etc.)
  • Pickles
  • Cans of chopped and whole peeled tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
Canning and pickling are wonderful ways to preserve fruit and vegetables, and wonderful resources for rounding out a dish that just seems “blah”. Whip up a quick tomato sauce with the canned varieties, garnish your salad with some pickled capers, or create the perfect bean dip for your last-minute guests by having a pantry stocked with canned and jarred items.

Nuts, Grains, and Seeds Shelf

  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pistachios
  • Pine nuts
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Dried Grains (i.e. quinoa, farro, rice, and even pasta)
  • Nuts for baked goods (i.e. walnuts or almonds)
Nuts and seeds are great for snacking, with high satiety and nutritional content. They’re also great in baked goods and atop salads. But the stars of this grouping are clearly dried grains. Whether its rice, quinoa, or refined products like pasta, keeping a healthy inventory in your pantry will ensure last-minute meals come together with ease. They don’t go bad very quickly, so grains should certainly be bought in bulk! Don’t forget the popcorn, which is, by the way, the best snack of all time.

Baking Ingredients Shelf

  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Breadcrumbs (plain or panko)
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Vanilla
While not all of us are gifted bakers, having the basics on hand is a good idea. Many of the items listed to the left are used in all types of cooking techniques, and hey, if you ever need cookies urgently, this will have you covered. Cornstarch is essential for thickening gravies and sauces, and having any type of breadcrumbs on hand will up your frying game significantly. Make sure to stock both baking powder and baking soda, the latter of which is also a great air freshener.


lemon juicer

Of course, your pantry may end up differently organized than what we’ve discussed here; you may be a pickle aficionado and need a whole shelf for gherkins alone. Depending on your kitchen storage options, your pantry may also include your spice rack, which you can learn more about stocking at this link. It might also hold your coffee and tea, or you may have an area dedicated to non-food items like aluminum foil and toothpicks. But in the end, however you stock it, fill your pantry with everything you need to nourish yourself. That is the most important part!

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