I am aware that I am a little more obsessed with food than most and that some people would likely be put off by the amount of ingredients in some of my recipes. None of the recipes are that complicated it is just what that particular type of cuisine calls for. You will find that once you have the key ingredients for one recipe, those ingredients can be used in dozens of others.
I didn’t always have a well stocked pantry. When the kids were little and my skills were limited I tended to stick to the dishes I knew. Spag bol, bangers & mash, chops & veg and a basic chicken curry were pretty much the extent of my midweek menu and I would branch out on weekends with something slightly more adventurous.
It was when we got the addition of Food Channel on Foxtel (one of the happiest days of my life) and the Australian Good Taste and Delicious magazines became available that I really stepped it up a notch. I just couldn’t go past those delicious recipes and my calling became very clear.
These weren’t recipes in Gourmet Traveller that had “The milk of an Iranian Goat” or “The toenail of an unborn sucker fish” as ingredients, these were achievable to the most basic of cooks and all the ingredients were available at the local supermarkets. Hallelujah!!
I admit, that now my pantry is ‘fit for a king’ and probably borders on the ridiculous. I do have a bit of a fetish for quality ingredients so tend to over indulge at produce markets. In saying that, you can get by just fine with a few basics – you don’t need every rice variety known to man, light, medium & dark soy or even 10 different oils. Most ingredients can be substituted in some way and if in doubt use everyone’s best friend….”Mr Google”! I can’t tell you how many times he has saved my behind.
There are however a few essentials that will see you through a wide range of cuisines. Listed below are some of my favourites:
Spices: Are the basis of so many cuisines including Mexican, Indian, Portuguese, Afghani, North African, Moroccan, Spanish and Greek to name a few. These essential spices will see you through all of these and more…..
Sumac (a ground Middle Eastern berry that has a really tart flavour)
Garam Masala (An Indian Spice Blend)
Chinese 5 Spice
Rice: Arborio for risotto, Jasmine for Asian cuisine and Basmati for Indian & Middle Eastern dishes
Pasta: Spaghetti & Linguine are my all round favourites. Pappardelle & Fettuccine go beautifully with Ragu’s and rich sauces, as does penne and spiral shapes as the sauce really sticks to all the nooks and crannies.
Asian sauces: Fish Sauce, Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar, Mirin Seasoning, Shaoxing Wine (can be substituted with dry sherry), Hoi Sin sauce and Oyster sauce. All are readily available in the local supermarket or can be bought online.
Canned Goods: Tin tomatoes, a variety of tinned beans and lentils, canned red salmon and tuna. You can make a meal out of any of these ingredients.
Flour: Self Raising flour, Plain flour & Cornflour are the most commonly used but if you are wanting to bake or make pasta then a Strong or ‘OO’ flour will give you the best results.
Sugar: Raw sugar, Caster Sugar and Brown sugar pretty much cover all the bases.
Oils: Oil can be a personal choice depending on taste as well as dietary needs. I use a basic Olive oil for frying and have an extra special Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling and salad dressings. Peanut oil or a cholesterol free Vegetable or Canola oil are perfect for stir frying and muffins and cakes.
Vinegars: Good vinegar is a must, it is a bit like buying cheap wine verses expensive. A good aged Balsamic vinegar or Red Wine vinegar drizzled over a salad is all that is required to make it taste amazing. A little goes a long way and you won’t need to add anything else except a good drizzle of olive oil. Plain old White vinegar is also really useful.
Salt & Pepper: Seasoning your food is essential. It will take an ordinary piece of meat and make it extraordinary. I use a good quality organic Sea Salt as it has a higher concentrate so you don’t need much and a sprinkling of black pepper makes all the difference.
What I have discovered about cooking a wide variety of cuisines is that apart from a few spices they are all based on the same principal: A good balance of flavours and fresh is best. Always try your food before you serve it (just in case you mixed up the salt with the sugar) and trust your taste buds. If you are a lover of food, you will instinctively know if it needs tweaking.
Cheers and Happy Pantry Stocking!