· Posted on Jul 25, 2021
I love planning out fun dinners, grocery shopping for the perfect ingredients, and cooking gourmet meals. But every now and then, I don’t feel like grocery shopping or cooking anything intensive (I’m only human, after all). Luckily, there are some ingredients that I can always find in my kitchen. Here are the staple foods I always have on hand and how I turn them into exciting dinners, even in a pinch.
2. Canned Tuna
If you have a can of tuna on hand, you always have a satisfying meal at your fingertips. Make a cheesy tuna melt; mix tuna with eggs, mayo, bread crumbs, and spices to make pan-fried or baked fish cakes; or, my absolute favorite: Toss tuna fish with spaghetti, capers, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese to make the easiest pasta ever.
3. Instant Ramen
It’s easy to think of instant ramen as the cheap stuff that probably sustained you through college years, but these $1 cups of goodness are so much more. With just a few simple ingredients (chopped scallions, a soft-boiled egg, crumbled bacon, toasted seaweed, soy sauce, sesame oil, etc.), you can whip up a practically gourmet-tasting meal in about 20 minutes.
When I don’t have meat or seafood to cook for dinner, canned chickpeas are one of my go-tos. Filling and packed with protein, they’re an easy addition to lots of dishes, from stews and salads to power bowls. This coconut chickpea curry is a great weeknight meal for when you didn’t go grocery shopping, as is this Greek chickpea salad. I often add roasted chickpeas to vegetarian dishes, like this roasted and charred broccoli with peanuts, for some extra oomph.
5. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk comes in a can and has a shelf life of basically forever, so you can always keep it on hand for delicious curries, decadent soups and stews, rich plant-based sauces, and so much more. My absolute favorite (and easiest) way to turn coconut milk into a meal is this five-ingredient green curry. Start with green curry paste and coconut milk and add whatever veggies or protein you have in your fridge. I also love making this salmon coconut curry and coconut lime chicken with cilantro.
Splashbacks That Look Good With a White Kitchen
6. Canned Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes — whether diced, pureed, or whole peeled — are a total kitchen lifesaver. With just a handful of simple ingredients like olive oil and garlic, you can whip them up into a savory and bright pasta sauce. Simmer some diced tomatoes on the stove top with spices and add eggs for easy shakshuka, or turn them into a one-skillet meal with chicken and rice.
7. Store-Bought Tortellini
IMHO, cheese-filled tortellini is the most perfect pasta there is. It also happens to freeze beautifully, so you can keep a whole bunch in your freezer and you always have a gourmet meal just minutes away. Toss tortellini with your favorite pasta sauce, bake it with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, or turn it into soup (tortellini in brodo just might be the most delicious, minimalist meal in the world).
8. Feta or Halloumi
Halloumi and Feta are two of my favorite cheeses to cook with. If I don’t have fresh protein on hand and haven’t remembered to defrost anything, I can easily turn one of these two cheeses into a meal. Roast vegetables on a sheet pan with chunks of Feta and olive oil, make a ripe Greek salad, try out the TikTok-famous Feta pasta, or grill Halloumi and serve it on toast or in a big grain salad loaded with fresh veggies.
11. Spicy Chili Oil
I love condiments; in fact, most of my fridge is occupied by sauces, dips, and spreads. But if there’s one condiment I can’t live without, it’s spicy chili oil. I love Trader Joe’s chili onion crunch, but I’m constantly buying different kinds of chili oil, and I even make it from scratch. This stuff tastes amazing on pretty much anything and instantly upgrades whatever I’m cooking, whether it’s roasted broccoli, a big bowl of soba noodles, scrambled eggs, fried rice, or avocado toast.
12. Frozen Gnocchi
There’s a golden rule in my kitchen: My freezer will always be stocked with at least one bag of Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi, but really, any kind of gnocchi will do. Whenever I want something easy and comforting, I heat it up with whatever pasta sauce I have in the fridge. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll add some veggies and/or protein (chicken sausage, shrimp, etc.), and it always hits the spot. You can also add it to soups (like this super-tasty Italian sausage and gnocchi medley) or to one-pot dinners like this chicken, mushroom, and gnocchi skillet.
13. Fresh or Frozen Chicken Thighs
14. Frozen Bread (Sourdough)
Fresh bread always seems to go bad quickly, so whenever I make (or buy) bread, I freeze the leftovers after the second day or so. That way, I have perfectly soft bread whenever I need it. One of my absolute favorite lazy meals for just about any time of day is open-faced toast. I’ll top a slice of sourdough with cream cheese, smoked salmon, mashed avocado, and a poached egg or with a marinated white bean salad; or I’ll make my absolute favorite, Ina Garten’s cheesy cauliflower toast.
16. Rice or Farro
Grains are a total godsend. They are filling and delicious and can be served with just about
anything to make a complete and satisfying meal. I love rice and farro, so I always keep them in my kitchen to turn into fried rice, grain bowls, stir-fries, and more. I usually make sure to have a few bags of frozen or microwavable rice for when I’m really feeling lazy. This easy fried rice is a no-fail recipe in my kitchen, and it only takes about 15 minutes. I usually add in whatever cooked protein I have left over, like rotisserie chicken or last night’s salmon, plus fresh or frozen veggies.
17. Frozen Shrimp
Usually when I cook seafood, I plan out my menu and buy fresh ingredients. But I always have a bag of frozen shrimp on hand for when I’m not sure what to make and didn’t plan in advance. It defrosts in no time, so shrimp can be a last-minute thought. I add them to salads, pastas, grain bowls, skillet dinners, tacos, wraps, and more. Some of my favorite easy recipes include these shrimp lettuce wraps with peanut dipping sauce, this garlic butter shrimp pasta, and this Greek-inspired baked shrimp with tomatoes and Feta. All three recipes call for minimal fresh ingredients and mostly pantry staples, which makes them easy to rely on when I’m not sure what to cook.
Cooking utensils and nutrition: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
18. Boxed Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Hannah Loewentheil, Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed
You can call me a 5-year-old, but nothing in the world comforts me like a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese. And while homemade mac is outrageously delicious, I am equally excited by a bowl of boxed white cheddar shells. When I want a cozy meal, I just whip up a box of Annie’s, then I bulk it up with whatever vegetables are in my fridge so I can feel a ~little bit~ more like an adult. If I want to get extra fancy, I’ll add some extra cheese like Gruyère or goat. In fact, this is such a common occurrence in my kitchen, I wrote a whole post about some of my favorite jazzed-up mac ‘n’ cheese combinations.
19. Bread Crumbs
Bread crumbs are one of the easiest ways to make pretty much anything taste good. Making pasta? Sprinkle some for that perfect crunch. Have chicken breasts in your fridge? Coat them in bread crumbs and pan-fry them until you achieve golden-brown deliciousness. Making a flaky white fish like cod? A little bread crumb coating turns it into decadent fish and chips. With Italian or panko bread crumbs at your disposal, the options are limitless.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tacos are one of the single best foods in the entire world. You can put pretty much
anything into a warmed tortilla, fold it up, and it will taste wonderful. Go ahead and try to prove me wrong! When my kitchen is especially sad and empty, I’ll put a scrambled egg and some salsa in a tortilla and it’s perfectly delightful. When my fridge or freezer is more stocked, I’ll make tacos with anything, from avocado and refried beans to fish tacos or shrimp. And of course, let’s not forget about quesadillas. Filled with nothing more than shredded cheese, a tortilla is completely and utterly satisfying. Plus, a bag of corn or flour tortillas stays fresh for quite a while in the fridge.
I have two words for you: naan pizza. If I have no idea what to make for dinner but there is frozen naan in my freezer, I know I can find at least some ingredients in my kitchen to turn it into a flatbread.
I literally always have some sort of cheese in my fridge, but even on the extremely rare occasion that I don’t have cheese, I can use something like pesto, hummus, tahini, or cream cheese to spread on the naan. Top it with whatever combination of flavors you can dig up in your kitchen — arugula and sun-dried tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and bacon, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar, peaches and prosciutto, etc. — the list goes on and on.
22. Bacon or Pancetta
They say that bacon makes everything better, and this is undeniably true. If you have a boring meal and add a little bit of bacon or crispy pancetta, it automatically tastes 100 times more exciting and delicious. If you have pretty much any type of cured meat on hand, you can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Toss diced bacon in fried rice, add some pancetta into your spaghetti for a cheater’s carbonara — hell, you can even wrap asparagus in bacon or prosciutto and turn it into the world’s best vegetable side dish.
Obviously, this doesn’t need much explanation, but every kitchen should contain some pasta or noodles. Whether it’s spaghetti, rice noodles, rigatoni, cavatelli, orzo, or another pasta shape that whets your appetite, stock your pantry so that you will never be caught without it. Even in the most dire situation, when you have no more than pasta, olive oil, salt, and pepper in your kitchen, you can still create magic. Chances are you can find some combination of simple pantry staples to make a killer pasta, like spaghetti with butter tomato sauce, cacio e pepe, cherry tomato and ricotta linguine, and more.
24. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce isn’t a sexy condiment, but it’s a tremendously important one, and if you have soy sauce in your arsenal, you have a lot of power in the kitchen. Use it to marinate your favorite proteins (hello, three-ingredient honey soy grilled chicken), add a pop of umami to lo mein or stir-fry, upgrade salad dressings (like this ramen chopped salad), or give dishes a tangy kick, like this salmon with soy and citrus.
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