No Need for Hoarding: Foolproof Tips for Cooking With Pantry Staples

Make the most of your on-hand ingredients

If you’re like me and just recently graduated (literally, and from the era of reheated pizza for breakfast) to serious cookery, self-isolation in the time of coronavirus poses an interesting challenge.

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What to do when you’ve frantically eaten all the oranges, payday is still three days away, the other payday is never coming because you and everyone else at the restaurant have been laid off, and all that’s left in the pantry are two godforsaken packages of fusilli, soft potatoes with sprouted appendages, and a few month-old onions? Do not hoard – everything you need for healthy comfort food to last through the apocalypse is most likely already in your kitchen.


The only thing you need to make your kitchen smell like what we imagine the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen smells like is a nice sautéed onion. These babies are your ticket to Flavortown, and even before the apocalypse, I let them sit for many weeks with no issues. But if regular cooked onion is too run-of-the-mill for you, pickled red onion lasts for up to two weeks in the fridge and adds brightness to otherwise dull, carb-heavy dishes. To prepare, stick thinly sliced red onion in a bowl of vinegar (apple cider, rice, white wine, just not balsamic), water, a tablespoon of white sugar, and some salt. Leave them for an hour plus, et voilà.

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Social distancing is in full effect; now is the time to go HAM on garlic like you’ve never done before. Plus, it’s got numerous health benefits, including reducing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Another salubrious spice, ginger, helps ward off bacteria, nausea, and muscle cramps with its high count of antioxidants. Both of these work wonderfully as a base for soup, rice, and noodle dishes.


These pantry standbys do not have to be boring. Think of them as a base for more interesting things: a lentil dahl or a cold salad with some potatoes and lemon make for a long-lasting lunch. Put a fried egg on ’em, toss with fresh greens, or whip up a lime yogurt sauce (limes and lemons last about a month in the fridge) and top with your pickled red onion.

Canned Tomatoes

And once again, I must credit the Bon Appétit team for inspiring my recommendation for what to do with those canned tomatoes: ribollita. Their recipe for this comforting Italian stew includes many staples on this list (onions, carrots, beans), as well as bread and a whole hunk of Parm. Even in the darkest of times, you’ve got some bread and canned tomatoes – why not add all of the Italian cheese in your house and cry into your stew while you watch Moonstruck?


Cans of tuna sitting in the back of the cupboard can easily turn into a tuna sandwich, but their utility doesn’t stop there. You can make a nice springy pasta with lemon, olive oil, and any combination of peas, carrots, olives, etc., or a bright Niçoise salad, with green beans, olives, hard boiled eggs, and any other produce you can scrounge up. Salmon works similarly on top of rice bowls, in salads, sandwiches, pasta, you name it.

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In my most recent grocery run (before quarantine) the only carrots left were the dinky organic ones with the lengthy tops. At first this seemed unlucky – not much to do with those tops, they’re sort of bitter and weird texturally – and less carrot for your buck. But after a quick Google search, I give you: carrot top soup. Make a nice mirepoix with carrots, onions, and celery, then once those are soft, throw in the tops and any other leafy greens you’d like for immunity boosting (I used kale), and season to taste.


Do I really have to explain? Not only do they form a complete protein together (containing the nine amino acids necessary for the human diet), but they are the ultimate comfort food – you can live on this stuff for days. Throw some of those frozen peas in your freezer in the rice, stack your pickled red onions on top, stick it in a tortilla and call it a quarantine.

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