Beyond Tomatoes | My Top 10 Ingredients for the Kitchen Pantry
Ok, so if you have been following our story along, laying in wait... chances are you subscribed to our newsletter because you were after some cheffing and creative cooking tips beyond just another pumped up Martha Stewart style recipe, Pinterest photo and quirky little picture of me and Ash to round the whole thing off. Cliche yes yes I understand, my apologies. I have been a little slow in fulfilling my end of the bargain and for that I am truly sorry, let me try and make that up to you.
So to get started we are gunna need to stock your pantry if we are to do this "me cheffy teach you cooky" thing. So let's do this shall we? Lets add some funk to that dry store of canned tomatoes and garbanzo beans. This is a small list of things I think you should always have, fresh, frozen or dried. Funny thing is when I step back and look at these ingredients together I could probably make a dozen very different "on the fly" recipes from what I have here and nothing else. All versatile but worlds apart in flavour. (with a "u", get used to it) I'll keep the list small and straight forward for now but will go in to greater detail of each recommendation in a wee bit of time, if that is ok with you... ok enough nonsense lets get on with it..... in no particular order.
So you want Greek yogurt than use it from the source, no not that 2% 0% fat stuff..... go the whole hog! Australia has the largest Greek population in the world after Greece (interesting fact) but I didn't discover the true luxury of real Greek yogurt until I sailed Europe. Incredibly creamy and versatile, great in a variety of hot dishes such as curries (you can read more about creating great indian curries here), dressings, dips, Indian dishes, Greek dishes, cakes and desserts..... you want creative versatility, than get some!
Kecap manis/Fish sauce/Hoisin sauce
Yes yes I know this is three, but you should have all, if not in the very least one. Kecap manis is Indonesian and is a sweet soy sauce (manis means sweet in in Indonesian), and is similar to molasses in texture. It is used to add a sweet soy flavor to many dishes including stir frys, rice, marinades, noodles, etc. Fish sauce (I know all of you are thinking...gross... but it's a GREAT ingredient in cooking and a staple for many Thai/Vietnamese dishes. Fish sauce adds a savory salty complexity to many asian style dipping sauces, condiments and marinades. On it's own, yes it's a bit fishy and strong but in the undercurrents of a dish it is a key ingredient. Hoisin Sauce is made with soybean paste, garlic, chile, sugar and vinegar, it's sweet and used as a sauce and glaze in Chinese/Asian cooking. It's awesome for asian style ribs, peking duck (sometimes hoisin sauce is called peking sauce) and is great to add to noodle and rice dishes as well. All of these sauces are great accent ingredients, too much and you'll over power a dish but the right amount and you'll get a sense of authenticity from the Orient that can't be accomplished by soy sauce alone.
Chili paste in soy bean oil. or Nam Prik Pao
I love this stuff. Nam Prik Pao is by far one of the most — if not the most — versatile composite ingredients in Thai cooking that I can think of. It is intense and complex, a crash of sweet, sour, savory and spice but not an in-your-face kind of way; it features pretty much all of the tastes associated with traditional Thai food minus the usual herbs. A little goes a long way, a teaspoon is more than enough to add a burst of flavor to anything you do, at any stage of the cooking process. Down side is many brands have MSG Maesri brand and Mae Pranom brand are two that are MSG free. Get this in your pantry people!
My go to spice, if you don't want this one than fine, but have one spice that you love to use. Garam masala is a blend of about 15 different spices, including cumin, tumeric, cloves, pepper, and cardamon and the ingredients varies from here to there in different garam masala blends. Many cuisines have a go to spice and for Indian cuisine this is theirs. Ras El Hanout another favorite from Morocco.
Frozen Chopped Spinach
Why on earth would I choose frozen spinach, why, because no better way to sneak in a vegetable or make an entire meal when you have almost nothing. Quiche, Saag Paneer, stews, dips, stir fry. If you got fresh, great than use it, but a block of the frozen stuff tucked away is always a good thing. Cooking for crew on yachts I would always slide in a block of spinach to a dish and make sure those with the intent of avoiding their daily salad & vegetables like big children (I'm talking to you engineers) were still getting their three veg a day.
Chicken breast fillets suck.... that is all. Well, split chicken breasts on the bone are a better choice, but boneless chicken thigh trump both. What I love most about them beyond the usual versatility of chicken and the fact they are more flavourful, is you can roast the absolute heck out of them and the result is something like crispy fried chicken with out the frying or breading. Chicken thighs can be cooked on the grill, put in stews, and slow roasted for flavorful juicy results. Like I said, they are so much more forgiving and don't dry out like chicken breasts. I use them all the time.
I hate cleaning up, parchment paper lessens clean up ten fold and to me that can only be described as a good thing. Obviously there a 1000 and one other non stick applications including things like desserts or en papillote (to cook in a paper bag.... lesson to follow)
Regardless, have it, use it, always.
Usually use lemons????? spend the extra 39¢ and try limes; Thai dishes (curries, dressings, marinades) cocktails, desserts, salsas, squeezed over fresh watermelon... You'll hear me rabbit on a lot about sweet, sour, savory & spice. It's how I think when I am constructing a meal on the fly with out recipes. For my when I need "sour" I love using limes. I find limes can go anywhere lemons can go, but lemons don't always rise to the challenge when used visa versa.
Mainly because too many people hate cilantro.... so pick a side, to me both are winners. Mint is big with Australians, it says summer, lamb, tzatziki, mojitos & Pimms cocktails. Think mint lemonade, thai chicken salad, strawberry salad (shown below, recipe here), cucumber mint salsa...It slips into all south east Asian dishes, great with Middle eastern and Indian cuisine and just as happy in a variety of European favorites.
There is a war of the oils raging at the moment and people are choosing sides. In Australia people find palm oil the evil oil due to its environmental impact on the native habitat of the Orangutan. In the US and Canada, it seems canola is the worst evil due to GMO's. While people will chant for bran oil and grape seed oil as great alternatives truth be told that they are all the same high heat chemically processed rancid crap. That is except for expeller pressed Olive oil, Macadamia nut oil, Coconut oil and Avocado oil. This is a big subject and one I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into it down the track. From research I have done so far, taking into account high heat, health, viscosity and environmental impact, avocado oil is my number one all rounder.