It’s no secret that I’m endlessly curious about how people really eat in their busy, everyday lives. Tell me what you make for lunch when you’re home alone or what you pack for your kids lunches, and I will hang on every word. I thought I’d give you a peek inside my pantry (and brain), since I know I’m not the only one…
1. Chickpea flour
I often reach for chickpea flour for a quick lunch, or when the fridge is bare, or just because I feel like it. The simplest way to enjoy this nutrient-packed flour—which is really just ground chickpeas—is whisked with water and salt, and fried like a crepe. Fold it and eat as is, or try it in a sandwich. You can also make a slightly thicker batter and add veggies to make a pancake, or an even thicker batter with finely chopped veggies to make fritters. You can bake it to make a flatbread or frittata. You can even use it to thicken gravy. We go through an embarrassing amount of chickpea flour in our house, and by embarrassing I mean awesome.
2. Red lentils
I always have a few different legumes rotating through (black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, French lentils…) but one thing that’s always in the mix is red lentils. One of the first things I learned to really cook was red lentil soup, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since. It can be made relatively easily and quickly from pantry ingredients, and it’s so tasty and comforting. Simply sauté an onion and maybe some garlic, add spices like cumin and coriander or a curry powder blend, and add red lentils and water in a 1:3 ratio. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until the lentils are soft and falling apart. Finish with something acidic (a squeeze of lemon or a splash of red wine vinegar) and something fatty (a little coconut milk, a drizzle of olive oil, a scoop of tahini) and add salt. Pair it with a grain (bread, rice) and a salad and dinner is served.
3. Coconut milk
One of the tricks of my sleeve for getting my kids to go crazy for a dish is adding coconut milk. It’s creamy, it’s fatty, and it instantly gives soups, stews, and noodle dishes an irresistible mouthfeel. I especially like to add it to chickpea curry, red lentil soup, and Thai-style curried tofu and veggies. I’ve also been known to use coconut milk as a base for fudgesicles.
We always have a few types of noodles in the pantry—for pastas, and for stir fries. We’re partial to rice noodles, soba noodles, a long pasta noodle like linguine, and a bite-sized pasta shape like elbows or shells (which technically aren’t noodles but let’s not talk about that). In a pinch, the kids will go for noodles tossed simply with olive oil, nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, and salt. And a quick stir fry served with rice or soba noodles is a reliable family-friendly meal.
I grew up on rich, creamy pastas (my go-to menu order was ALWAYS fettuccine alfredo—it was the 90s, don’t be too hard on me). So I was genuinely delighted to discover that I could make a satisfying cream from cashews blended with water, which is a perfect base for two things I make regularly: pasta sauce and plant milk. Cashew cream, doctored as appropriate, is also ideal for topping bowls and nachos, and stirring into soup for added body and mouthfeel.
We buy 25 lb bags of organic rolled oats, which last us for about six months. We often make oatmeal with seasonal or frozen fruit, soy milk, and an omega-3-rich seed for the kids’ breakfast. For my own breakfast, I often go for granola, which the kids like to munch on dry as a snack. Oats can also be blended into a flour to make pancakes or muffins (swap out up to half of the wheat flour for oat flour and the recipe should still perform about the same).
7. Brown rice
Brown rice is an easy grain favourite in our house. We especially like jasmine, which has a soft texture and mild flavour, and cooks in only 25 minutes. We use it as a base for bowls, curries and stir fries. I often make a little extra so I can make sushi, which is nice to have on hand for packed lunches and is a massive fave of my kids. Leftover rice is great for fried rice with tofu and peas—another kid fave in our house.
8. Flax seeds
Like its friends hemp and chia, flax is an omega-3 rich seed. Unlike its friends, flax is dirt cheap. We need omega 3—an essential fatty acid—in our diets, and flax is a great way to get it. We add flax seeds to smoothies, and sometimes ground flax to granola and oatmeal (I grind it as needed in a coffee grinder). Flax seeds also make a surprisingly effective egg replacer for binding flour-based goods. Simply whisk 1 tbsp ground flax with 3 tbsp water per egg and allow to gel for a minute, then fold it into your muffins, pancakes, cakes, or quick breads.
9. Peanut butter
Good ol’ peanut butter. It’s inexpensive, nutritious, and delicious (if you’re allergic, almond butter is pretty great, too). When I was younger, I packed myself peanut butter on rice cakes almost every day for my school lunches. Nowadays, we use it as the base for peanut sauces, in granola (sometimes I sub it for tahini in this recipe), to make oat balls, to dip apple slices in, to frost cakes (we melt chocolate chips and mix with peanut butter for a cheater ganache), and straight up on toast. I’m probably forgetting something.
We all love air-popped popcorn tossed with a drizzle of olive oil, nutritional yeast, and salt. This is a go-to snack for longer outings, movie nights, camping—anywhere we’d want a filling, more-ish snack that everyone will go for. I also like that, unlike with many other snacks, I can buy popcorn kernels in bulk and save on wasteful packaging. Win!
Bonus round: dark chocolate
Well it’s not exactly a food staple, but it is always in our pantry. I love a little something sweet after a meal sometimes, and dark chocolate is such a good fix. It’s rich so you only need a little to satisfy, and it doesn’t leave you feeling overly full. Dark chocolate is also extremely high in iron—THANK YOU UNIVERSE. I especially like Whistler Chocolate (they use a compostable liner!) and Chocolat Stella.
How about you, what are you always stocking up on? I live for this info.