In order to cook great quick meals I rely heavily on a well-stocked kitchen cupboard. I love to be organised in the kitchen and believe that ‘if you see it you will cook with it’. I find it really useful to have my ingredients organised and labeled and I use glass jars for many of the ingredients.
These are my everyday ingredients. I believe in ‘less but better’ and try to source the best quality I can afford. I would rather invest more and use less than buy in bulk knowing it’s not good for me, my family or the environment.
Top tip: Keep everything away from heat and light.
It’s a fact that salt makes food taste good! Salt is the most important ingredient in your kitchen. Used in the right amount, salt brings out the natural flavours of food, a tomato just tastes better with salt. But not all salt is equal and what we know as salt is actually processed sodium chloride with chemical additives sold as table salt, Identify these by reading the label, and then avoid them. We want a 100% natural salt.
You need two types of salt, one for cooking and one for finishing. For cooking I recommend a Himalayan fine pink salt and for finishing Maldon is wonderful. Maldon has a delicate flake which melts away quickly so it doesn’t leave a gritty texture on your food or teeth.
STORAGE: I keep my salt in a double bamboo salt pot which is very handy, but a flat jam jar will also do the trick. You need to be able to pick the salt up with your fingers to form a pinch. By using your hands you will soon be able to understand how much salt you need. Those shakers are not a good way for you to season.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
I can write a book about olive oils and was lucky enough to spend a day in Tuscany picking and pressing olive oil on a small organic estate. I have also attended an olive oil tasting course with a leading oil master in London. Olive oil is a huge reason why I love cooking and I can’t imagine how I would make food taste good without it. Like wine, the flavour of the oil depends on the variety, the climate, the soil, how it was harvested and the processing method.
What is Extra Virgin? For an oil to be classified as extra virgin olive oil it needs be low in acidity (1% or less) and a high rating (6.5 or more) for organoleptic qualities – meaning how good it smells, tastes and looks. If an oil only scores 3.5 or 4 on the organoleptic scale and has an acidity of 3%, it would qualify as a virgin oil rather than extra virgin. I don’t differentiate between my oils and only cook and dress with extra virgin. Because I use olive oil so much I tend to buy organic from Blue Sky Organics, a locally produced olive oil that is grown and harvested without any chemicals.
Top tip: You can cook with a modestly priced olive oil and save the more expensive oils for dressing and finishing.
We will discuss my love of olive oil more during a Kitchen Cleanse session (if you are interested in booking one) but you are looking for the following words on the label: extra virgin olive oil, small estate, cold extracted. I like it when it’s picked, processed and bottled the same estate. Good olive oils are from Tokara, Gabrielskloof, Morgenster, Willow Creek and Olive Branch Deli that has a fantastic olive oil supply. The owner Ommy is also very knowledgeable.
STORAGE: Look for a dark bottle, store away from the sun and never next to the oven in a cupboard.
Out of interest: variety vs varietal
Variety can refer to either the grape itself (Malbec, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris), or to the style or kind of wine, as in red, white, or sparkling, etc. Varietal is used to describe a wine made from a single variety of grape. So, a glass of Chardonnay would be a varietal wine, made from Chardonnay variety grapes. The same goes for olives and olive oil.
A few twists from your pepper grounder with good black pepper is the easiest way to elevate any dish. As with most spices, freshness is key and the pepper has to have a full flavour and a nice peppery kick, but above all look out for non-irradiated. I tend to buy organic peppercorns which also happens to be inexpensive.
The pepper mill you use is very important, see my Essential Equipment page for more information on this. Essentially you are looking for a mill that produces a fine rather than overly course grind. No one likes biting on a whole peppercorn.
STORAGE: Keep whole peppercorns in glass jars making refilling easy.
I love spices and especially those from Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. The world of spices and the flavour compounds locked inside them is fascinating. In my Kitchen Cleanse we will explore the world of spices to match your liking. I always try to source my spices organically and in small quantities. Read the labels and look for non-irradiated spices.
STORAGE: In small marked glass jars.
Nuts and seeds are essential in my kitchen. I use them for pestos and crunchy toppings and they make fantastic dairy alternatives. My favourite nuts are almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans and walnuts. Nutritionally, nuts are good for us, but not all nuts provide the same value or benefit. In order to receive any health benefits, nuts need to be raw and unpasteurised. Because nuts (as well as seeds and flours) have a fairly long shelf life, it is vital that you buy your nuts from a reputable company with a high turnover ensuring stock is moved quickly and you don’t end with old or expired nuts.
Read the labels or ask your purveyor, but make sure the nuts you buy are raw and unpasteurised. You can rather roast them yourself, using less or no salt.
STORAGE: Store in small marked glass jars.
I love the fact that I am seeing more ‘”unusual’” grains on menus everywhere. Whole grains like spelt, barley, quinoa and brown basmati rice have been around since before Christ and they provide a good nutritional and affordable option. In my house, I cook rice on a weekly basis and love the varieties we have available: jasmine, basmati and plain white rice (at my husband’s request). To get the best quality, and healthiest options, read the label and opt for stoneground and GMO free. You can take it one step further and support small producers.
Grains are a quick source of protein and are a healthy carb. They can turn a quick salad or soup into a full meal. Quick-cooking grains like couscous can be a lifesaver on days when I need to quickly rustle up a lunchbox salad as they are ready in about 10 minutes.
STORAGE: Kept in the packaging, in glass jars (if used quickly) or even in the fridge.
Pulses such as lentils and beans are a great source of protein and form part of a healthy diet. They are cheap and easy to source and you can choose canned or those you can pre-soak and cook yourself. I tend to buy organic dried goods and soak and cook them myself which is much more cost effective as the organic canned variety can be expensive.
I tend to have a variety of pulses in my cupboard at any given time, for example:
Red lentils – quick cooking! Think soups, stews and dahls.
Cannelini Beans – think hummus, soups and quick salads.
Black Beans – think chili con ‘carne’, Mexican stew and salads.
Brown Lentils – think vegan bolognese and sprouts.
Chickpeas – think hummus, curry, salads, crispy snack, sprouts.
These days we have so many options when it comes to types of flours, and I discuss these in depth during my Kitchen Cleanse. Due to the process grains go through to become flour, choosing your supplier is almost more important than choosing the type. Again, you want to avoid as much chemicals and processes as possible. The way in which the grains are harvested and milled are therefore important. Bleaching, chemical sprays and refinement are just a few of the processes a grain can undergo before landing in the flour bag.
I use many different flours in my pantry, these are the flours I use on a weekly basis.
My top three favourite flours are:
This is a kitchen staple. I try to source the best quality flour I can get my hands on to avoid unnecessary additives and over-processing. Gideon Milling is superior, easy to source (Checkers) and affordable. I use plain flour for:
- no knead bread
- fritters and pancakes
Strong White Flour
Again, I tend to use Gideon Milling strong white bread flour for my bread making and for making pizzas, which I do every Friday. Foccacia is a firm favourite in our home too.
STORAGE: All flours should be stored in glass jars (or in the original packaging) away from direct sunlight.
Spelt is a flour made from an ancient wholegrain and it can be used interchangeably with normal flour. It has a lower gluten content for those sensitive to gluten. I use it for:
- easy spelt loaf
- quick pancakes
My family eats pasta at least once a week. I would love to say I make it fresh weekly, but the reality is both fresh and dried pasta are very different and have their rightful place on a menu. Some pasta sauces like bolognese or chunky vegetable-based sauces prefer dried pasta while I usually reserve pestos for fresh pasta.
The home of pasta is Italy and the Italians simply make a better pasta so I always buy an Italian brand. I also tend to choose organic or wholegrain pasta. When you read the label, the only ingredients should be water and flour (some might include egg).
Having some quick-cooking noodles handy is a sure way to a quick and easy supper or packed lunch. I tend to buy gluten-free noodles in the form of buckwheat and rice noodles.
STORAGE: I store pasta that I use often in glass jars (penne and orrechiete). Other opened packets of pasta rest in a small basket and my opened spaghetti packets in a large tall glass jar.
Out of interest: bronze dye
If you see bronze dye it only refers to the machine they use to cut or shape the pasta and not the actual colour dye. The reason why this would be on the label is that bronze died pasta has a rougher surface that helps sauce and other ingredients stick to the pasta, creating more taste and “a perfect bite”.
A well stocked larder needs to have a well stocked pantry.
Fresh is always better and cooking your own beans might bring you joy but in reality there is no significant nutritional difference between canned and freshly cooked beans (for example). Canned goods are good to have for those impromptu times when you need to quickly put something together and didn’t prep, or have time to cook from scratch. I usually have a selection of organic canned staples like tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes, coconut milk, chickpeas and a variety of beans.
Watch out for sugar content and preservatives in coconut milk, this affects the taste and consistency of the milk. I tend to buy coconut milk where the main ingredients are coconut and water; they are superior in taste and consistency, but can be expensive so I use coconut milk sparingly.
I always have canned tomatoes in my pantry, chopped, cherry or whole peeled. I tend to buy Italian where I can Most of the canned tomatoes have ascorbic acid added to them to preserve the colour. The organic varieties tend to be without this preservative but they are often expensive. I tend to make a batch of tomato sauce when the organic tomatoes are cheap and plentiful, and freeze the sauce in a variety of sizes.
Nice to haves
I love a selection of bottled goods which I can make a platter from, throw in a pasta or use to jazz up a salad. I treat these as treats. My top picks are olives, capers and artichokes (think quick pizza topping or stirred through pasta for a quick supper).
I also love to have a few ‘flavour boosters’ in my cupboard like preserved lemons, harissa and nutritional yeast and Sriracha hot sauce.