Thursday, 19 August 2010
Which store-cupboard ingredients could you not live without?
One of the problems about being a food writer or blogger is that you very quickly lose touch with the number of ingredients that your readers actually possess. Unlike you they probably don’t have whole cupboards full of herbs, spices and seasonings and groan when they see you list something that involves an extra expense. And fair enough.
I’ve been particularly thinking about this in conjunction with students going back to uni. They don’t have a huge budget - or much room to store things. On the other hand cheap food is immeasurably improved by being well-seasoned. I’m not counting salt and pepper which I think most people would have automatically though I admit that's a bit of a cheat.
Here are my top 10. What about yours?
Herbes de Provence
If I could only have one herb it would have to be this classic French mix which typically includes thyme, rosemary, basil, savory and marjoram. Ideally a French blend. Generic ‘mixed herbs’ just don’t taste as good
Possibly my favourite spice for its aromatic lemony lift. I have both ground and whole seeds but if forced to choose would go for the seeds every time. I love them toasted.
Spanish smoked pimenton
The ultimate paprika - adds depth and richness to all kinds of dishes, especially stews. There are two kinds - dolce and piccante (sweet and spicy). I’d have to go for the sweet.
It was a toss-up between cardamom and cinnamon as I adore the taste of the former but cinnamon is far more flexible, especially for desserts and baking. And you can add a pinch to savoury dishes too.
Probably the cheapest, most efficient way of making a curry. The jars (I like Patak's) keep for weeks once opened. Much more effective than curry powder though you do need to doctor them a bit with . . .
Ideally fresh though they are more expensive. Essential when you’re creating something lemon flavoured but if you just want a dash of sharpness bottles of lemon juice - especially the Cypriot ones - are fine.
Again, has to be fresh - garlic salt doesn’t count.
I prefer a light one which I buy in big bottles from Asian supermarkets. Cheaper and more natural-tasting than stir-fry sauces.
Vegetable bouillon powder (Marigold)
I use this all the time as a base for soups. Much less synthetic and salty than stock cubes.
Or Grana Padano at a pinch which is cheaper. Ideally aged for at least 18 months (a worthwhile expense - it tastes better and goes further). You can make a meal out of spaghetti with butter and parmesan
I've already got to 10 and that doesn't even include condiments such as mustard, olive oil and vinegar which are essential if you want to make salad dressings from scratch. There are no fresh herbs - I usually have parsley at least - but students typically wouldn’t. No fresh ginger, another favourite. No fish sauce :( But I could survive.
What couldn’t you live without if forced to choose just 10?