12 Essential Pantry Ingredients

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12 Essential Pantry Ingredients
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12 Essential Pantry Ingredients

Click through the slideshow to learn our 12 essential pantry ingredients.

1. Sugar

Unless you bake often, sometimes it's easy to forget to stock up on this pantry staple. Besides its obvious uses in cakes, pies, jams, cookies, and ice cream, sugar is also an important component in non-dessert recipes.

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2. Olive and Canola Oil

No cooking oil generally means no cooked food, unless one is content with steaming, microwaving, or toasting everything. Olive oil is useful for salad dressings and low-to-moderate heat applications.

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3. Soy Sauce

With a little canola oil, soy sauce, sugar, and some leftover meat and vegetables from the fridge, a quick lunch or dinner is just a few flicks of the knife and a trip to a searing hot wok away.

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4. Tomato Paste

Ever make pasta sauce from canned tomatoes that's too thin? One solution is to let it sit around for another hour, but if there's tomato paste around, it can help thicken up the sauce in a jiffy.

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5. Crushed Tomatoes

Crushed tomatoes are a great base for everything from basic marinara sauce to stews, soups, and casseroles. When tomatoes aren't in season, it's an easy and economical way to work some tomato-y flavor into a dish.

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6. Chicken Broth

Having a little chicken broth on hand can lend body and flavor to soups, stews, and sauces. Sure, water is OK for most purposes, but chicken broth can give dishes a little extra oomph to wow guests.

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7. Nuts

Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans are a good source of protein, iron, calcium, and dietary fiber. Plus, they can be worked into salads to give a little crunch, crushed up as a crust on fish fillets, or ground into pesto.

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8. Flour

Even if you don't like to bake, flour is a useful ingredient for thickening sauces, coating meat for stir-frying or pan-frying and making fresh pasta. Don't leave the store without it.

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9. Salt and Pepper

It's been said so many times before, but we'll say it again: Always, always, always, season your food. Season as you go and food will be less likely to taste oversalted or bland.

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10. Brown Rice, Whole Grains, and Pasta

Pasta is great for a meal in a pinch. Toss it with some garlic and olive oil, maybe a few red pepper flakes, some salt and pepper, and it's a meal. Brown rice and whole grains are also great to have on hand.

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11. Beans and Lentils

Like whole grains, beans and lentils are also a great source of protein and fiber. While dried versions also have extended cooking times, canned versions can be worked quickly into soups and stews to thicken them up.

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12. Vinegar

Vinegar is an essential component of many salad dressings, but is also useful for balancing out heavily sweet, savory, or salty dishes. Plus, it helps erase food stains on clothing.

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Without a well-stocked pantry, cooking up an elegant meal to impress a date, the boss, in-laws, neighbors, or even just a few close friends can be difficult. After all, what good is linguine with clams without a bottle of white wine, lamb tagine without cinnamon sticks, or crème brûlée without vanilla beans? But, a pantry without the bare essentials means it's hard to do any cooking at all. It's probably easy to recall an awkward situation that went something like this:

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Sally and Jane are contemplating spending a night in. They are in Sally's kitchen in her brand-new apartment. Boxes are still strewn across the floor, but most importantly, the television has been unpacked, and the coffee table and sofa are in place.

Sally: "I don't feel like going out tonight. Why don't we just stay in and watch a movie?"

Jane: "That's a great idea! I'll make my mom's famous orange spaghetti. What do you have in your cupboard?"

Sally: "Why, Jane my dear, I have everything you need!" Sally opens the cupboard to find mothballs and weevils inside. Awkward silence ensues.

Jane: "Hmm. I think we might have to order takeout."

Sally: "Yeah, let's do that."

Don't let this happen to you. Make sure the pantry is stocked with the bare essentials on our list, and the next time a friend comes over, they might just cook for you. (It's also nice to be able to pop something on the stove quickly after a busy day at work.) Check out the slideshow above for 12 essential pantry ingredients.

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