I love cooking. I’ve been cooking since the tender age of 10. Apparently my mother decided I was old enough to start contributing to family meals by then. I never complained though. I loved looking through the cookbooks and coming up with menus for the one day a week that I would feed the family. I wasn’t always the most efficient cook in terms of time or ingredients. Dinners would be a 2-3 hour affair and all the ingredients would have to be bought from the store. Now that I have to pay for everything myself, I’ve gotten a bit smarter about reusing ingredients and knowing what to always keep on hand. Here are the top ten ingredients that I cannot do without:
I use tomatoes in a lot of things: salads, sauces, salsa, etc. You can easily make a tasty delicious sauce with just tomatoes, oil, garlic and some wine. Or you can roast it and make roasted tomato salsa. If you’re worried that you won’t use the tomatoes fast enough, there’s always the option of canned tomatoes.
Onions are a mainstay in my apartment. They can be added to practically everything and just makes whatever you’re making taste that much better. I especially love putting caramelized onions in my BLT.
8. Canned Tuna
While it’s not as cheap as it used to be, it’s still a pretty quick and easy alternative to buying fresh. Not only that, there’s a plethora of ways to use it. Add some mayo, curry powder and apples and you’ve got an exotic tuna salad. Cook it with some butter, wine, onions and garlic and you’ve got yourself a nice pasta sauce.
I always keep eggs in the fridge and I always run out by the end of the week. Boiled eggs are especially great for a quick breakfast and you can cook it while you’re getting ready for work.
I may have “non-stick” pans, but adding a little oil or butter adds flavor to whatever you’re cooking. I like olive oil the best, but don’t mind substituting which vegetable oil on occasion. Butter is my favorite when I’m cooking eggs or other breakfast food.
5. Chicken/Beef/Vegetable Stock
Either one is fine, but it’s always good to have some stock on hand. It will add flavor to your sauces and, of course, will make for quick and easy soup-making.
I used to never eat a lot of beans, but I came to love them. When you don’t have enough money to buy meat, beans are an excellent option. You can buy the dried or canned though dried is the better deal. I like having kidney, garbanzo and cannellini beans on hand as these tend to be the most versatile.
Aside from salt and pepper, having a variety of dried spices will make your meal tastier and are also essential for meat rubs. It’s good to have a variety, but dried spices are expensive and most people only really use about 5 spices. My top five spices are: basil, oregano, cinnamon, garlic powder and cumin. Of course everyone’s tastes differ so see what you make a lot of and what kind of flavors you use.
This might just be because I’m part-Asian, but rice to me is a must (or a rice substitute). It’s filling, it’s cheap, it’s easy to make and most of all it’s versatile. You can have it plain, make some fried rice, add it into soup, make a paella, there’s a lot of options. It’s a great lazy man’s ingredient.
I know garlic is a spice, but fresh garlic, I simply cannot live without. I put garlic in almost everything I make. It just tastes so good and imparts this delicious flavor on everything else. I even (accidentally) made garlic ice cubes! Even though I use garlic so much, I still feel like I’m not fully utilizing it. I think there has only been one day when I have not had garlic in the apartment, and what a sad day indeed.