8 Ingredients I Always Have on Hand

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I never leave the grocery store without these staples in hand.

While reading some old posts on which pantry basics I always buy, I was surprised to see how my shopping habits have changed in the past year. Some of the things on the lists (here and here), like tahini, farro, wonton wrappers, and felafel mix, I haven't actually bought in months. This is due to an overall simplification in the way I cook, as I try to be more efficient, cook in larger batches, and spend less money at the grocery store. I guess it's time for an updated list!

So, here is what I've been buying lately. These are the must-have ingredients that get purchased at every weekly shop. Please note, I do not include basic ingredients such as olive oil, onions, garlic, lemons, and spices on this list, which I consider as essential as oxygen.

1. Avocados

I know, the environmentalist in me is cringing as I admit this, but it's one of those ingredients that has increased in importance as we reduce household meat consumption. I find myself seeking high fat, filling foods that can keep me satisfied between meals, and avocados do that. I eat them in chopped salad, sliced beside eggs, or in my husband's stellar guacamole. But because avocados are so exorbitantly expensive in Canada (like $2 apiece), I only buy 4-5 per week and we treat them like the green gold that they are.

2. Frozen naan

Having flatbreads in the freezer has saved me on so many nights. They make the greatest pre-baked pizza rounds and can transform into the kids' favorite dinner within 15 minutes. They're also great at rounding out a meal of spiced dal and veggies, or can be broiled into buttery garlic bread to accompany a pot of vegetable soup. I order the naan (whole wheat flour or spelt) through a local food co-op, so it's handmade and as good as anything I'd make from scratch (and do not have time to do anymore).

3. Sweet potatoes

Every Sunday you'll find me roasting multiple pans of diced sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, salt, and smoked paprika. Then my husband and I eat them for lunch for the rest of the week, paired with whatever other leftovers we can find. That could be cooked grains or black bean burrito filling, other roasted veggies like broccoli or brussels sprouts, or a fried egg. Sweet potatoes are like avocados in that they keep my eternal hunger at bay for longer and help to fuel my rather aggressive CrossFit training routine.

4. Heavy cream

Cream makes life so much better, especially the locally sourced heavy cream that from the food co-op I use. It gets delivered to my front door each week in a glass jar, along with several jars of milk, and I return the empties for refilling. It's the kind of cream that, when I pour it into my coffee, it separates and I can see the melted fat pooling on the top. I love it.

I use cream for many things – turning vegetables into decadent soups (cream of broccoli, cauliflower, and butternut squash are our favorites), making cream-based pasta sauces with greens stirred in (arugula, baby spinach, cooked rapini or kale), frittatas and quiches. And coffee... always coffee. On the days that I force myself to eat porridge before hitting the gym, cream helps it go down more smoothly.

5. Chickpeas

There are a lot of beans and lentils in my pantry, but I find that chickpeas are the ones I reach for most often. I try to cook from dried as often as possible, usually starting a batch in the morning on the stove, transferring to the slow cooker, and using for dinner. (I always forget to soak overnight.) Whenever I see organic chickpeas in BPA-free cans on sale, I stock up.

When cooking, I usually use chickpeas in chana masala curry, bean chili, or spiced fried patties (similar to felafel but easier – I got the recipe from America's Test Kitchen's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook and use it a lot). I often add chickpeas to dishes that contain meat in order to stretch them further – lamb curry, burrito filling, minestrone soup. I mix them into salads and grain bowls for heartier lunches.

6. Old-fashioned oats

Another weekend ritual is to make granola for the week. This takes five cups of oats. Some days we make oatmeal porridge or baked oatmeal for breakfast, so that uses a lot too. I add oatmeal to banana muffins for school lunches and make 'granola bars' with oatmeal, Rice Krispies, and nut butter for snacking at home. I also make oatmeal bread, a.k.a. the best sandwich and toast bread, when we're running low.

7. Apples

It's impossible to have too many apples in the house. They are the easiest fruit to add to the kids' lunches and I eat 1-2 every afternoon with nut butter as a snack. I chop or grate them and add to baked oatmeal, muffins, and pancake mix. If there's a surplus, they get turned into apple crisp, Dutch apple pie, or applesauce.

8. Eggs

I don't know what I'd do without eggs. As we work to reduce our meat consumption, eggs are a crucial alternative to keeping the family fed and nourished. We used to eat our own hens' eggs, but now I buy them from a local farmer whose hens run freely outdoors. The five of us go through 4 dozen a week. We eat them fried for breakfast, atop grain salads for lunch, and braised in tomato sauce for dinner. I use eggs in baking, in dumplings, and when making cheese- or spinach-filled phyllo pastries. I often hard-boil a batch to include in kids' lunches, a good protein substitute for deli meats.

What ingredients do you always keep in the pantry? Please share in comments below.