I stared into the refrigerator during the recent cold spell and thought to myself, “I have nothing in the house.”
What I meant was that the milk was running low, the fresh vegetables and fruit were at a minimum, and there was no raw beef, lamb, chicken or fish to cook.
Loathe to go outside, I peered a little deeper and realized that I could probably cook well over a week’s worth of really good meals without ever setting foot into the Bomb Cyclone.
Because I had a well-stocked pantry.
By that I don’t mean a walk-in closet filled with dry goods (though that marvel is something I once had and would love to have again at some point). What I possessed was a collection of non-perishable (or in any case, fairly long-lasting) staples. In the fridge there were eggs, plain yogurt, butter, a couple of lemons and an orange. Toward the back I spied a container of olives and some feta cheese (which lasts a long time because of the salt content — though not as long as halloumi, which seems never to spoil). I had hot sauce, mustard and preserves.
While there were no delicate salad greens, there were carrots and celery. I had potatoes, onions and garlic. My cupboards contained rice, pasta, broth, tomatoes, tahini and dried and canned beans. I had nuts and dried fruit. I even found a pound of ground turkey in the freezer. And of course there was the standard variety of dried herbs and spices.
So out of this “nothing” emerged a steady flow of home-cooked meals.
This morning I saw that chef and Food Network personality Geoffrey Zakarian has a new cookbook called “My Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes From 50 Essential Ingredients,” which inspired me to think about my own version: How to build the perfect Jewish pantry — and ideas for what to make with its contents.
Note that the recipes interspersed herewith generally contain only pantry ingredients. In some cases they call for a garnish of chopped herbs, which of course you can leave out if you don’t have them. (To brighten things up, consider substituting the leaves from celery stalks, a little citrus zest or finely chopped preserved lemon, a dollop of harissa or a drizzle of honey or tahini.)
Please let us know what’s in your pantry — and what delicious dishes you make with its contents.
Olive oil (and if you use them, other oils such as coconut and safflower)
Harissa (the Middle-Eastern version of Sriracha)
Hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco
Honey (and or date or pomegranate molasses) Tahini
Dried herbs such as thyme, oregano, dill and mint
Spices such as cumin, coriander, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, sweet and smoked paprika, saffron
CANNED AND BOXED GOODS
A variety of canned or boxed tomatoes (whole peeled, diced, crushed)
Preserved lemons (optional but great to have for North-African stews) Canned or boxed broths (vegetable, chicken and beef)
Canned coconut milk
GRAINS AND LEGUMES, NUTS AND DRIED FRUIT
Dried legumes such as lentils, split peas, kidney beans and chickpeas
Grains such as bulgar, quinoa and farro
Shelled nuts such as walnuts, almonds (slivered almonds are handy), pine nuts and pistachios
Dried fruit such as apricots, dates, figs, cranberries and raisins
Matzo meal and/or breadcrumbs
Active dry yeast
LONG-LASTING FRIDGE ITEMS
Feta and/or halloumi cheese
Pitted olives, green and/or black
Ground turkey and/or beef
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs
ROOT CELLAR (i.e. to be kept in a cool, dry place)
Onions (and shallots if you like)
Winter squash such as butternut or acorn
Fresh lemongrass (very optional but a great addition to soups and stews such as spicy coconut-chickpea stew)
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @LifeDeathDinner