How to stock your pantry

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

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Eating is easy. Getting food on the table is not. Yet, eat we must and few of us have the time, money or metabolism to dine out each night. 

The key to getting fed and feeding others lies within a well-stocked pantry, freezer and fridge. You don't need many tools, though a sharp knife is crucial and an Instant Pot can also help you get things ready in a hurry.

The staples 

Grains: Rice, especially long-grain white rice, cooks quickly on the stovetop and quicker in the Instant Pot. I like to make more than I need at night and eat it in the morning with a fried egg and some fermented vegetables, another staple in my kitchen. For dinner, you can make fried rice with some scrambled egg and chopped chicken or vegetables.

Oats are a constant, too. They're handy in muffins and for the overnight oats my 5-year-old devours.

Beans: I like to cook big batches of beans and freeze them by the quart. I have some Mayocoba beans from Rancho Gordo I slow-simmered with garlic and finished with some chicken drippings thawing in my fridge right now. I'll probably eat them with a little leftover rotisserie chicken this afternoon.

Slow-simmered beans from Rancho Gordo.

But you don't need to buy fancy beans. Black, pinto and other readily available legumes are great sources of protein and perfect in a bowl with grains, greens and maybe a bit of pulled pork or chicken. Just simmer yours slowly with aromatics like chopped onions, celery, garlic and herbs 

Other proteins: Canned tuna or salmon is great mixed with mayo, a little acid like lemon, plus onion and maybe parsley and served on toast or salad. Canned chicken also makes a quick protein-rich salad, or make quick work of them in your Instant Pot.

A perfect protein-packed pantry meal: Salmon with pickled beets, rice and hard-boiled eggs.

I also keep some quick-thawing proteins in the freezer, including chicken breast, salmon and sometimes shrimp if there's room for it in the budget. If you have an Instant Pot, you can dump in some frozen chicken legs and simmer sauce, and you have dinner. 

Eggs keep practically forever. I like to keep a few hard-boiled eggs on hand for quick snacks. 

Produce: While it's great to have a rotating cast of fresh veggies in your fridge, don't overlook frozen. I often have peas, baby green beans, corn, spinach and edamame in the freezer, which all cook up perfectly in a pan or the microwave and don't suffer from being frozen. The same goes for fruit, especially berries, peaches and more exotic stuff like passionfruit for smoothies.

Pasta: Keep spaghetti or linguini, orzo and maybe some penne in your pantry and you'll almost always have a meal, even if that just means some buttered noodles with a little bit of Parmesan.

Fats: These are essential to cooking. Keep a high-temperature cooking oil on hand for searing or deep-frying, and some olive oil for dressings, sautéing vegetables or pasta sauce. Butter keeps forever in the fridge and longer in the freezer. Toasted sesame oil is essential for Asian food. 

Acids: Lemons and limes keep for a while in the fridge, but vinegar is practically forever. I keep relatively neutral rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and white vinegar on hand. The latter I use for pickling.

Flours: Cornmeal for breading, corn muffins and cornbread, wheat and white flour for pancakes, pies and muffins. Enough said. 

The best of the rest 

Spices: In my opinion, little is essential in your kitchen beyond good kosher or sea salt, fat and acid for seasoning your food. I also always keep whole black peppercorns on hand, good smoked paprika and high-quality cinnamon. Granulated garlic is great and so is a go-to chicken rub to make life easy. Coriander, Chinese five-spice and cumin pop up in my cooking a lot, too.

Canned tomatoes: Whether it's for soup, chili or pasta sauce, you'll be glad you have this on hand. As for tomato paste, I often buy resealable tubes to cut down on food waste.

Pickled things: I like to quick-pickle jalapeno slices for nachos and tacos. Pickled red onions are great for sandwiches, salads and chili. Capers add a nice pop to salmon or tuna salad. Olives are perfect to snack on and add to pasta. Stick pickled green beans on cheese plates or even in your Bloody Mary.

Garlic and onions: if you keep these in a cool, dark place, they should last quite a while and they're indispensable for flavoring vegetables, beans and soups.

Tortillas: Keep them in the freezer and you'll always have a meal, whether it's egg and cheese breakfast tacos or fajitas using leftover rotisserie chicken, cheese and spicy sauce. 

Condiments: Sure, everyone has ketchup on hand, but it's also nice to keep a few types of mustard on hand. Grainy mustard is great rubbed on salmon or served with sausages.

I also like to keep spicy pastes like harissa or gochujang on hand for roasting vegetables or adding a pop of spice to just about any dish. Salsa is important, too.

Pesto freezes well and has so many uses, from stirring into pasta to finishing off chicken.

Olive tapenade can be spread on crackers, spooned over fish or even tossed with linguine.

If you like to cook Asian food, particularly Thai food, you should have a high-quality fish sauce in your fridge. Don't forget a high-quality soy sauce as well. 

And, if you live in the South, Duke's mayonnaise is the only way to go.