I HAVE found that it is very useful to have a basic stock of go-to ingredients waiting in your cupboard to be used to brighten up that boring midweek meal. Simple yet versatile items that can add a bit of oomph to any recipe.
Many people have a favourite spice or flavour. For some it may be the classic combo of salt and vinegar on their chips, others may like using paprika or cumin on chicken or salmon. Below are my eight basic store cupboard staples that I have sitting on standby for when something needs a little spicing up.
Crushed, roasted, sliced or diced, garlic is an essential ingredient for me and I use it at every opportunity.
I just love the pungency of garlic; I think it adds a wonderful background note to soups and stews and it turns sweet and sticky when roasted alongside vegetables. I’ve recently discovered frozen garlic – cubes of crushed garlic that you can throw into a sofrito, soup mix or stir fry when you’re short on time but want to maximise flavour.
I tend to use balsamic vinegar as more than just a salad dressing. A drizzle over vegetables pre-roasting, reduced down to a glaze or used in a marinade, the contrast between the acidic tang and syrupy sweetness is intoxicating for me.
I don’t buy the expensive stuff for general use. Though it definitely has its place, a budget bottle does the job! There is a huge range in prices of balsamic vinegar but these days, you can get a decent enough bottle from your local supermarket for as little as 99p.
Dried Chilli Flakes
Dried chilli exudes a deep intensity as oppose to the zingy kick of a fresh one. I don’t necessarily use a lot but sometimes, when I’m feeling spicy, I like to add a few flakes to my cooking for a mild chilli hit. I even add chilli flakes to my soy sauce before splashing it over my rice.
Dried Mixed Herbs
Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh herbs but a jar of dried mixed herbs can add a different dimension to your food. An instant flavour enhancer, a pinch added to roast potatoes or on a chicken breast prior to grilling can make a big difference.
Sea salt has always seemed luxurious to me. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the uses of salt. I have replaced any fine table salt in my kitchen with a tub of either Cornish or Maldon sea salt which have become widely available in most supermarkets. Some, such as Morrisons, are now producing their own brands of the coarse white wonder ingredient.
Some devout foodies may deem it as lazy but stock cubes, in my opinion, are an ingenious invention. A quick and convenient base for any soup or stew, or an oxo cube crumbled into a ragu (apologies to any Italians reading this!), I always have stock cubes in the cupboard ready to be used when I need them.
Soy sauce is one of my favourite ingredients. It can be used in so many different ways. I use it in dressings, marinades, in my homemade bbq sauce, stir fries, dipping sauces and any other recipe that needs an oriental hit or a deep salty flavour. There is no substitute in my opinion!
I just love olive oil. It would be my cooking oil of choice due to its versatility for marinades, dressings, roasting or shallow frying and not to mention its long standing reputation for possessing amazing health benefits. Virgin and extra virgin varieties have a low smoking point and are generally not used in cooking but standard olive oils are just fine. I reserve the extra virgin stuff for dipping in some rustic breads and drizzling over homemade hummus.