Recently, I enrolled in an online course on Coursera about child nutrition and cooking.
In one lecture, the instructor outlined her kitchen essentials for baking and cooking. I disagreed with some of her suggestions, like oil, sugar and salt.
This is my list of 10 ingredients I need in my kitchen. They help me cook and bake nutritious, delicious meals and recipes. My kitchen staples are in no particular order.
Garlic offers a great flavor to start off almost any dish. To enhance the flavor without adding oil or salt, I sauté the garlic and onion in vinegar. Mushrooms, legumes, grains and vegetables are all delicious with garlic. I can’t get enough of it.
You can store fresh and jarred garlic for months without going bad. Garlic powder can last almost indefinitely in a cupboard. I prefer to use fresh garlic every time, but choose whatever works best for you.
Watch out for jarred garlic preserved in oil. You don’t want to add unnecessary oil and empty calories to your food.
Avoid garlic salt, too. Look for pure garlic powder. Garlic salt can be tasty, but it adds way too much sodium.
When there’s garlic, an onion follows close behind. Onions and garlic add flavor without adding sodium, cholesterol, fat or refined sugar. As long as you don’t use them in excess, garlic and onion won’t overpower dishes.
I prefer yellow or white onions because they’re easier to store. However, my favorite onion is spring onion.
I love spring onions because I can use the tops and the bottoms in different ways. Bottoms are best whenever a recipe calls for standard onions. I prefer to cook the bottoms because they’re almost as pungent as traditional onions.
The less-pungent tops are best for adding subtle onion flavor. They’re delicious in salads. You can also finely chop the tops and use them as a minimalistic garnish.
Onions have a reputation of making people cry. While there’s no way to avoid this, the more onions you cut, the less they’ll affect you. Leeks and spring onions don’t cause as much tears, so start with those. You can work your way up to purple, white and yellow onions.
As a last resort, you can buy dried onion pieces or onion powder. Dried pieces and powders still add flavor, but not as much as fresh onions.
3. (White Wine) Vinegar
White wine vinegar is more versatile than you might imagine.
I prefer white wine vinegar as one of my kitchen staples because it has a distinct, light flavor. It also has a wide variety of uses.
You can choose what type of vinegar you prefer: white wine, red wine, balsamic, apple cider, etc. I currently use a lot of white vinegar, but I enjoy a stronger vinegar taste than most. I recommend starting off with a light, flavored vinegar before transitioning to standard vinegar.
Vinegar is great for sautéing onions and garlic. In fact, it can even tame the flavor of onions and garlic.
You can use vinegar as a salad dressing, too. I like to combine it with lemon juice, nuts, herbs and spices for the perfect taste and texture.
For more information on vinegar, see my post Cooking with Vinegar.
Lemons (or lemon juice) are essential in my kitchen. Sure, lemons are simple, but they add another dimension to your meals. They provide brightness to an otherwise dull and heavy-tasting dish.
You can use the juice from half a lemon as a super simple salad dressing. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to almost any dish. For example, you can add lemon juice to:
- Italian tomato sauces
- American BBQ sauces
- Asian dipping sauces
- Mediterranean couscous
Lemons can flavor any type of food: greens, beans, lentils, peas, whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
Prevent brown apples, bananas and other produce by adding a spritz of lemon juice.
Lemons: flavorful, multicultural and diverse!
>>Try dressing a salad with lemon juice or my Exotic Moroccan Bean Variety to squeeze some lemon into your life. <<
Parsley is an herb that can be used in many different cuisines. Use it in almost any cultural cooking: American, Italian, Chinese, Mediterranean, Mexican… you name it!
There are different types of parsley, but any type will suffice in a recipe that calls for parsley.
Parsley doesn’t take a lot of effort to grow, so adding some fresh parsley to a dish can be a snap. Garnish and add flavor depth to a dish with a sprinkle of parsley. Fresh parsley on a salad can change its flavor profile in a refreshingly new way.
6. Black Pepper
Pepper is one of those spices I add to every dish.
I’m a person who likes spice, and I’ll enjoy a dish whether I add a little or a load of pepper. This staple may disagree with you if you don’t like spicy foods.
But pepper can be used for more than just adding spice.
I use pepper mainly to increase my flavor range. Doing this increases the number of activated taste receptors on my tongue, making recipes more appealing and delicious.
In addition, while salt is visually undetectable, pepper adds visual appeal. Make a bowl of pure white mashed potatoes look prettier with a dash of fresh black pepper. Remember, how foods taste and look impact your eating experience.
7. Raw nuts/seeds
When used properly, nuts are a wonderful addition to a healthy kitchen.
Sprinkle some nuts on your salad to add a bit of healthy fat. Doing this increases your absorption of fat-soluble nutrients. In general, vegetables are rich in fat-soluble nutrients.
Replace wheat flour with nut flours for those who are gluten-intolerant
It’s easiest to buy nut flours in a grocery store. But they’re simple to make at home, too. Make your own nut flour by measuring out a few more nuts than the recipe calls for. Grind and use!
Make your own homemade nut (and seed) milks and cheeses.
Fresh, homemade nut milk or cheese don’t have any nasty additives or fillers. What’s more, they contain more natural nutrients and taste better.
Replace any milk with nut or seed milk. Plant-based milks give creaminess to a dish without adding cholesterol or loads of saturated fat.
Nut cheeses don’t melt like animal or soy cheeses. However, they’re better because they’re less processed and contain neither cholesterol nor saturated fat.
Like nut milks and cheeses, nut butters don’t have cholesterol or additives. They’re also much less processed and contain fiber. Add nut butters to toast instead of regular butter or margarine.
You can buy nut milks, cheeses and butters at most grocery stores. But be wary. Most have added oil, salt and fat. When you make your own, you’re in control of these things.
Finally, crushed nuts and seeds can be used in dressings instead of oils.
Nuts have more calories per gram compared to other foods like rice or potatoes, but they’re not nearly as calorically dense as oil. Nuts and seeds add nutrients like vitamin E and fiber to the fat.
Don’t eat too many nuts and seeds. Adults only need one handful of nuts or seeds per day. One piece of toast spread with nut/seed butter will give you enough fat for the day.
Seeds are better than nuts because they contain more nutrients. In addition, their ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is better and they’re more sustainable.
>>Try my fresh Sweetly Spiced Pumpkin Seed Butter. <<
Bananas may be an unusual staple in the kitchen for many people, but they’re useful to have for many reasons.
Because I follow a high-carb, whole-foods plant-based diet, I don’t have a problem drinking a banana smoothie for a quick breakfast. Throw eight bananas into a blender, add water and have a healthy breakfast within minutes. Add ice, vanilla or cinnamon if you like.
Bananas can be frozen without losing much nutrition or flavor.
Use frozen bananas to make a quick, cholesterol-free ice cream or chill a smoothie. You can also substitute a banana (fresh or thawed) as a binder in a recipe to replace eggs and oil. Replace butter or margarine on toast with a mashed banana.
Even though dates provide 100% of their carbohydrates in the form of sugar, they’re still healthy as they provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to the body. Fresh dates are better than dried dates.
Dates are one of my favorite fruits.
They’re nature’s candy.
They’re sweet, gooey and delicious when fresh or dried. The numerous varieties have different levels of flavor, sweetness and moisture. Dates are sugary, but they won’t raise your insulin like processed foods. This is because dates have a large amount of fiber.
Like bananas, they can be eaten by themselves for a simple and delicious meal. Because they’re calorically dense, you don’t need lots of dates to consume enough calories for a meal. Thus, they’re travel-friendly. A meal will depend upon your caloric needs, but 300 grams (~850 calories) is an appropriate meal for an average individual.
Dates are great for both cooking and baking as well.
Replace sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, agave, etc. with blended dates for natural, nutritious sweetness. Blend, puree or mash gooey dates before adding to your recipe. Make sure to adjust for changes in liquid levels.
Using whole or chopped dates work in some recipe, too.
Legumes can be stored for a long time and have more nutrients than kitchen staples like potatoes and pasta. Legumes contain more vitamins, minerals and fiber than processed staples. In fact, they have more fiber per calorie than most other plant foods.
Legumes are beneficial to include in your diet because they create “the second meal effect.” This effect is a slower rise in blood sugar after eating both the meal that contains legumes and the meal that follows.
Talk about plant power.
Another fantastic aspect about legumes is that when soaked and sprouted, the bioavailability of certain vitamins and minerals increases. This means that you can increase the amount of nutrients you absorb from your food with a bit of pre-planning. Sprouting certain legumes, such as lentils and peas, makes them edible raw.
Sprouting takes some planning, but it cuts down on cooking time. In some cases, you can choose to eat the legume raw.
- brown rice
- whole wheat flour
- baking soda
- ginger (fresh or dry)
- pepper flakes
- basil (fresh or dry)
Your turn: What are your most important kitchen staples?