In order to cook good, wholesome food for your family every day, you need a well-stocked store cupboard full of good-quality basics. This is the definitive list of those all-important basics – it may look like a lot to start with, but these ingredients will last for a while and make a world of difference to your cooking.
Whole plum tomatoes
- Essential for sauces, soups, stews, casseroles – a true all-rounder!
Pulses and beans (chickpeas, cannellini, kidney, and lentils)
- Great fillers and bulkers, a source of protein and fibre.
Light coconut milk
- Add to soups and curries for a mellow, creamy flavour.
Good-quality tinned tuna, salmon, or sardines
- Great for simple pasta dishes and fishcakes.
- The perfect salty seasoning for sauces and stews.
- Wholegrain rice is full of fibre which we need for our digestive system. Add a handful to vegetable soups or use leftover cooked rice in a stir fry.
- Perfect for pasta bakes or straight-up stovetop wonders – make sure you hang on to any leftover bits to stir into soups and stews.
Dried noodles (egg or rice)
- Great for stir-fries, soups and curries.
- Made from semolina, couscous is a beautiful accompaniment to a tagine or stew, and makes the perfect base for a salad. Add chopped dried cranberries or apricots to really jazz it up.
Grains (bulgur, pearl barley, farro)
- Also great and relatively cheap bulkers for stews and soups. Cook a larger batch than you need and turn into delicious salads, warm or cooled.
Jars & bottles
- Add a touch of sweetness to sauces and marinades. At breakfast and in baking, you only need a little drizzle!
- Add a bit of a kick to stews, sauces and marinades, or use as a condiment.
- Tip: a tablespoon of grainy mustard and a tablespoon of honey make a great coating when roasting sausages.
- Use as a basic cooking oil for lots of Western dishes.
Groundnut or vegetable oil
- Good flavourless oil for everyday cooking.
- Seasoning for Asian dishes, marinades and sauces. Use the lower salt varieties whenever possible.
Vinegars (red wine, cider, balsamic)
- Lots of dishes benefit from a little vinegar – think dressings, marinades, sauces and stews.
Herbs & spices
- Mediterranean vibes. Also an essential flavour in Italian-American cuisine.
- Punchy, smoky goodness, from Spain to the American Deep South.
- Flakes, powder, mild or hot…we all need a bit of spice!
- A warming and comforting flavour. Bakes and sauces – both sweet and savoury – love a little sprinkling.
- Robust and earthy, and integral to Indian and Mexican cooking. Buy the seeds and toast in a dry pan to release another level of flavour.
- Lemony and fragrant.
- A classic blend for basic sauces and curries.
- A fabulous blend for marinades, rubs, and noodle dishes.
- Sea salt flakes will last you longer than table salt, and encourage you to use less salt in your cooking.
- Buy whole peppercorns and grind them when you need them in a pepper mill or pestle and mortar. It tastes a hundred times better than stale, pre-ground pepper.
Good-quality stock cubes
- An excellent way to add flavour and seasoning to loads of different dishes. Try the low-salt versions – they’re often just as good.
- Perfect for a filling breakfast, even in warmer months. For a change from porridge, try making a big batch of bircher muesli – it’ll keep in the fridge for a few days. Oats are also super useful in baking, from cookies to crumble toppings.
Plain flour, self-raising flour (wholemeal or white)
- For thickening sauces, coating meat, fish and veggies for frying, and baking.
Nuts and seeds
- Have a couple of packets of your faves for toasting and sprinkling over salads, soups and stews, or onto yoghurt.
Good-to-haves (extras but not essentials)
- Extra virgin olive oil (for dressing salads and drizzling over finished dishes – never cooking)
- Tomato purée (add a flavour punch to lots of different dishes)
- Bread flour
- Dried yeast
- Dried fruit
- Cocoa powder
- Sugar (white and brown)
- Toasted sesame oil (a flavoursome oil used often in South-east Asian cuisine)
- Baking powder
- Turmeric (beautifully yellow, and a secret weapon in lots of Indian recipes)
- Garam masala
- Ground ginger
- Fennel seeds
- Your favourite condiments (ketchup, brown sauce, mayonnaise, Tabasco – you never know when you’ll need ‘em)