essential ingredients


Over many years, I’ve learned that I can’t live without these ingredients. They’re the core of our weekly grocery list, and the items (non-perishable ones, at any rate) that we buy in large quantities when we go to the warehouse store. As this article about grocery lists on Food52 notes, what people consider essential is pretty personal. The Kitchn has a pretty good list, too (the aminos are the only thing I wouldn’t buy myself. As commenters note, other items may be even less expensive elsewhere than Whole Foods, where their contributor shopped). But as long as my pantry and fridge are stocked with the items below, I can come up with a meal quickly without having to run to the grocery store.

Beans: black, pinto, chickpeas, navy, lentils, cannellini. It’s my ambition to use dried beans rather than canned (it’s less expensive that way, for one thing). But except for lentils, which cook quickly, I like the convenience of canned beans for any dish that isn’t going in the slow cooker. Just because I can’t always count on having time to soak or precook the dried ones.

Grains: rice (brown and white), couscous, bulghur wheat, oatmeal. I’m working additional ones into the repertoire, too, including barley and wheat berries, so I’m trying to keep those around as well.

Cheese: a rotating assortment that usually includes Monterey Jack, Mozzarella, Neufchatel and Cheddar, with appearances by Chevre, Feta, Cammembert, Gouda, Fontina, Manchego, Gruyere, Jarlsberg.

Yogurt: I make at least a half gallon a week of plain yogurt (around half the cost of a manufactured quart). Though for some reason the kids prefer the pre-flavored, pre-sweetened ones. They’ll come around eventually.


Bread: Whole-grain sandwich bread, challah, flour and corn tortillas; a baguette, ciabatta or some other crusty bread; pita. Also an assortment of good crackers.

Oils: extra-virgin olive oil, canola, grapeseed

Vinegars: rice, sherry, red wine, white wine, and balsamic

Sauces and condiments: tomato sauce, salsa, soy sauce, fish sauce, Worcestershire, Tabasco, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, honey, maple syrup, miso.

Proteins: we have a monthly CSA share for our meat, so there’s always some beef, chicken or lamb in the freezer. But I like having ground beef and extra chicken parts around, so usually buy extra. And we stock tofu, eggs and some type of fish.

Produce:  always onions (red and yellow), shallots, garlic, lemons, limes, greens (usually lettuce for salads; also kale, chard, spinach or broccoli rabe for stews and side dishes) peppers (green or red) and tomatoes. We tried going whole winters without tomatoes. But my crew, even though they know the difference between tomatoes that grew up in the soil instead of the hothouse, still wants them in their salads and on sandwiches.

Pasta: penne and spaghetti

Olives: fresh, green & black mixed

Canned tomatoes: whole and crushed or diced

Baking supplies: all-purpose flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cornmeal, yeast


Spices and seasonings: kosher salt, peppercorns, ground cumin, ground coriander, red pepper flakes, dried marjoram, paprika, dried thyme

Fresh herbs: parsley, cilantro. In the warm weather, I grow parsley, basil and thyme. At some point, I want to grow these indoors in cold weather, but haven’t settled on a space where they can get enough sun.

Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts


What’s on your list?

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