7 Pantry Basics That I Can't Stop Eating

CC BY 2.0. Robin McNicoll

Add these to your grocery list today. You won't regret it.

My kitchen pantry has roughly three categories. There are the basics that never change -- ingredients that I use all the time and must be restocked constantly. These are things like dried pasta, canned tomatoes, stock, and chickpeas.

Then there's the category of novel items, ingredients I've picked up on a whim or because a recipe calls for them. Despite being delicious, they tend to languish on the shelf for an embarrassingly long time. Things like amaranth and millet, Indian flattened rice (poha), avocado oil, semolina, and chia seeds fall into this group at my house. It's all good stuff, but not part of my regular rotation.

Finally, there is the intermediate group of new pantry obsessions -- ingredients that have not yet made it into my everyday toolbox, but are on their way to getting there. These are foods I may have known but not fully appreciated, or else I've recently discovered them and can't get enough.

1. Falafel mix

falafel mix

© Arz Fine Foods -- This is the brand I prefer.

Ever since I discovered falafel mix, it has made weeknight dinners with kids much easier. It's cheap, delicious, vegan, and healthy, and the ingredient list pretty much matches how I'd make it from scratch. The wet mix has to sit for an hour, but then it's just a matter of minutes till hot little falafels are on the table, ready to pair with naan, tzatziki, and Greek salad.

2. Full-fat coconut milk

Cha's coconut milk

© Cha's Organics -- This delicious coconut milk is organic and fairtrade-certified.

I've always had this in the pantry, but never used it as frequently as I do now. Ever since giving up dairy, I've been using the solidified coconut cream at the top of the can in my coffee -- far superior to almond milk! Because we eat much less meat than we used to, many braised lentil recipes and chickpea-vegetable curries call for coconut milk, so as long as I have some on hand, I can pull together a last-minute dinner. Please note: It's worth paying for high-end coconut milk without all the additives. Read the ingredient lists carefully.

3. Steel-cut oats

steel cut oatmeal

rpavich -- Steelcut oatmeal with blueberries, a great way to start the day/CC BY 2.0

Again, one of those things I've had kicking around for years, but didn't use frequently because it took so long to cook. Finally I got around to trying the overnight soaking method, and it has changed my life: 1 part oats to 2 parts water. It cooks up in 10 minutes and fuels me and my kids for the rest of the morning. I add a dash of cinnamon, some maple syrup, and coconut milk on top.

4. White truffle oil

white truffle oil

Otters Fine Foods -- Apparently white truffle oil has a more potent flavor than black./via

I brought this back from the UK and it was so expensive that I spent several months staring at the bottle before I worked up the courage to start using it. Now that I've started, though, it's hard to stop; it is highly addictive stuff. My favorite use is drizzled lightly over popcorn with salt and nutritional yeast, but it's also decadent in mashed potatoes, mushroom risotto, and as a garnish on minestrone or creamy soups. Not sure what I'll do when it runs out... start saving?

5. Peanut butter with sea salt

peanut butter with sea salt

Metro.ca -- Amazing how such a simple addition can transform an everyday food to something novel and delicious/via

A new product recently introduced by Kraft, this is insanely fabulous. It's just like regular natural peanut butter, except with an undertone of salt. Think of the frozen salty peanut butter ripple in a pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate-peanut butter ice cream, and that is what it's like, except without the chocolate. It's divine on toast with jam, where you get that contrasting sweetness, or simply eaten with a spoon (what I do most). It sells out rapidly at the grocery store, so whenever I see it, I buy several. Try it; you won't be disappointed.

6. Smoked herring & sardines

Brunswick smoked herring


After vowing never to buy tuna again and missing it terribly, I discovered smoked herring and sardines. These small fish are considered much safer to eat, since they're at the bottom of the food chain, and their populations are not at risk in the way that large predators like tuna are. Rich in omega-3s, these are the fish we should be eating, if we're going to eat fish at all. The ones I buy come from Canadian waters, packed by a Canadian company, and are an excellent protein- and fat-packed snack. I often have it for lunch with leftover rice, kimchi, and sautéed veggies.

7. Almond extract

almond extract

Simply Organic/via

A little bottle of almond extract has always lived in my baking drawer, but it saw relatively little use, except when I made the occasional batch of biscotti. Now, though, I feel like I'm reaching for it on a daily basis because it seems to make everything taste superior. I add a full tablespoon to my weekly batch of granola, and it adds punchy flavor that wasn't there before. I add it to muffins, cookies, baked oatmeal, and no-bake granola bars. It's reached the point where I'm constantly running out!

What are your new favorite pantry basics?