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.

Curry paste
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.

Soy sauce
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.

Fresh parmesan
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?


Jean said...

What, no Worcestershire sauce? That's a must have in my kitchen.

Also, passata for quick and inexpensive pasta sauces, black peppercorns, sea salt, garlic, italian herb seasoning, soy sauce, honey, good stock cubes/bouillon, lemons. Is that ten?

Fiona Beckett said...

It is! Good list. Thought about honey but in actual fact I don't use it that much in cooking. Ditto Worcestershire sauce though love it in steak & kidney pie and other beefy stews

pumpstbakery said...

here goes!

fresh garlic
olive oil
tinned tomatoes
curry powder
fresh ginger
chili powder
maple syrup
soy sauce

i think with that list you can use a lot of inexpensive vegetables, beans, pasta, rice and noodles in many ways. you can make great curries, pasta, chili, soups, stir fries, etc. and teriyaki! oh and dressings for warm and cold salads.

it was painful to leave out a few things - harissa, dijon mustard, fresh chillies. but this is quite close to what i cooked with for my university years, and i enjoyed them!

Fiona Beckett said...

That's quite close to mine. I toyed with having a hotter chilli seasoning or chilli sauce but in the end went for pimenton but I think it earns its place. Maple syrup is interesting. You must do a lot of pancakes!

san said...

olive oil surely???

Anonymous said...

Oooooh, it's so nice to have you back!

Must haves in my kitchen: Worcestershire sauce, onions, fresh garlic, sea salt, Sriracha chili sauce, Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard, cinnamon, cloves, canned tomatoes, and dried pastas.

Mary Eman

Anonymous said...

Fresh Garlic
Olive Oil
Fresh Ginger
Fresh Chillies
Fresh Black Pepper
Sea Salt
English Mustard

Fiona Beckett said...

Yes, olive oil, definitely San. Originally conceived this as a seasonings list but EVOO has to be in the top 10.

I agonised about a chilli sauce, Mary. It would be very near the top 10 but I guess I don't cook Asian quite often enough to warrant it. (And suspect it might be sweet chilli sauce if I did). Also nam pla. Love it!

@anonymous another good list. Limes I like a lot too!

Helen said...

Yeah EVOO has to be in there and lemon juice! I donn't know what I would do without it. I don't know, this is too hard. I literally can't live without yoghurt but I realise that is pretty unusual. Butter! Right now that is definitely in there.

Fiona Beckett said...

It IS hard. And to some extent artificial. Even if you're hard up as most students are I reckon you should acquire some kind of basic every fortnight or so. A pack of cardamom pods for example would last you at least a year unless you were cardamom-crazy. (Agree about butter incidentally.)

Emily said...

Nom pla
Fresh Ginger
Fresh Garlic
Dried whole Chillis
Garam Masala
Lemon Juice (or lime juice)
Tomato Paste
Dried Thyme
Stock Cubes

Its a bit of an odd list.

Fiona Beckett said...

It's a good list, Emily. I'm with you on nam pla - that almost made my list, as I mentioned, along with ginger. And dried thyme is also underrated. I love it in British cooking

Johnonfood said...

That is hard, I stopped typing when I realised that I had reached 23 things, and then had to start paring it back.

A good olive oil
Jerez sherry vinegar
Smoked pimenton (picante)
Soft brown sugar
Mustard powder
Fresh mint

I've included Olive oil and a vinegar in the list as these are two things that every kitchen has to have - then you can create a meal out of a bit of salad greenery.

Apart from that I've put in a soft brown sugar, cinnamon and fresh mint because they are equally useful in both sweet and savoury dishes. If you look at most of the lists on here, you would never make a desert of any kind.

BakersBunny said...

Can't be without the following. I can make a decent meal with pudding and I can still make cakes.
Rapeseed oil
Risotto rice - for main & pud!
Citrus fruit

Fiona Beckett said...

Fair point about desserts Johnonfood and BakersBunny. I don't have a particularly sweet tooth so tend to neglect sweeter ingredients (except cinnamon)

Sherry vinegar is a great ingredient too and eggs, of course. Duh!

Mal's Allotment said...

Hi FB - Lovely to discover you're back.

A student's store cupboard? Parmesan and Sherry? reality check time.

My list (There are 6 former or current students in family)

Tinned tomatoes
Tinned chick peas
Marmite ( for toast or in case you've run out of Marigold)
Garam masala (or fav curry powder blend)
oil (rapeseed or groundnut)
peanut butter (for bread or satay)
soya sauce
Marigold bouillon
Harissa (or more realistically a bottle of gin)

damn - run out of options before I got to ras al hanout

Anonymous said...

No mustard? Controversial!

I'd have gone for cardamom over cinnamon misself...very good in a lot of puds - works well with autumn fruits and chocolate in particular.

Fiona Beckett said...

No sherry, Mal - where did you get that from?! Harissa's good though toss up between that and chilli sauce. And think most students would prefer vodka to gin these days ;-)

Absence of mustard VERY controversial, James. Will would certainly agree though I did mention it at the end. Cardamom and chocolate yes, absolutely, but cinnamon and apple . . . gotta be good