STORE CUPBOARD ESSENTIALS
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 I use everyday.
This page contains a list of 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 bulk buy items which I know will not be good for me, my family or the environment. Always keep everything away from heat and light.
Simple fact: Salt makes food taste good! No question, salt is the most important ingredient in your kitchen, fact. Used in the right amount, salt brings out the natural flavours of food, a tomato just tastes better with salt. Not all salt is the same and what is known as salt today, is actually processed sodium chloride with chemical additives widely sold as Table Salt, READ THE LABEL and best to avoid these! We are talking about good salt, the 100% natural kind.
You need two types of salt, one for cooking and one for finishing. For cooking I would recommend a Himalayan fine pink salt and for finishing Maldon is wonderful, with a delicate flake which melts away quickly so no gritty texture on you food or teeth. STORAGE: I keep both these salt in a double bamboo salt pot which is very handy, but a flat jam jar will also do the trick. USE: you need to be able to pick the salt up with your fingers to form a pinch, use it often! By using your hands you will soon be able to understand how much salt you need. Those shakers are not a good way to teach 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 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 its harvested and the processing method.
What does Extra Virgin mean? For an oil to be classified as extra virgin olive oil it needs be low in acidity (1 per cent or under) and a high rating (6.5 plus) for organoleptic qualities – meaning how good it smells, tastes and looks. If an oil only scored 3.5 or 4 on the organoleptic scale and had an acidity of 3 per cent, it would qualify as virgin oil rather than extra virgin. I don’t differentiate between my oils and only cook and dress with one variety, i.e extra virgin, but you can cook with a modestly priced olive oil and save the more expensive oils for dressing and finishing. Because I use olive oil so much I tend to buy organic from Blue Sky Organics, a locally produced olive oil.
We will discuss more about my love of olive oil in my Kitchen Cleanse but you are looking for the following words on the label: extra virgin olive oil, small estate, cold extracted, I like the idea of the picking and bottling on the same estate. Good Olive Oils are Tokara, Gabrielskloof, Morgenster, Willow Creek. Olive Branch Deli has a fantastic olive oil supply and owner Ommy is very knowledgeable. STORAGE: look for a dark bottle, store away from the sun and never next to the oven in a cupboard.
A few twists of good black pepper is the easiest way to elevate a dish. As with most spices, freshness is key with a full flavour and a nice peppery kick but above all non irradiated. I tend to buy organic peppercorns which tends to be inexpensive. STORAGE: Keep whole peppercorns in glass jars making refilling easy. USE: The pepper mill you use is very important, see my essential equipment for more information. Essentially you are looking for a mill that produces a fine rather than overly course. No one likes biting on a whole peppercorn.
I love my spices and I have a love for Indian and Middle Eastern foods and their spices. 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. STORAGE: In small marked glass jars. LABEL: look for non-irradiated.
Nuts and seeds are essential in my kitchen. I use them for pesto’s 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 are created equal. In order to receive any health benefits, the nuts need to be raw and unpasteurised. Because nuts (and 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. STORAGE: In small marked glass jars. LABEL: Raw and unpasteurised – if you love your nuts you might want to read this.
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 BC and they provide good nutrition and are affordable. In my house, I cook rice on a weekly basis and love the varieties available: jasmine, basmati and plain white rice (at my husbands request). STORAGE: Kept in the packaging, in glass jars (if used quickly) or even in the fridge. LABEL: Stoneground, small producers, GMO-free.
Red lentils are cheap and quick to cook! Going organic will just be a little bit more. Brown lentils are another staple, they cook a bit longer but adds such a nutritional boost and a handful will go along way.
These days there are numerous types of flour out there and I discuss the variety in my Kitchen Cleanse. Both harvesting and milling of the grains are important in trying to avoid any chemical process the flour might have undergone. Bleaching, chemical sprays and refinement are just a few of the other processes the grain can undergo before landing in the flour bag. What one needs to take away from this section is that even before you decide what flour to use one needs to decide who the supplier is. See here for ethical sourcing.
We eat pasta at least once a week. I would love to say I make it fresh weekly, but the reality is fresh and dried pasta are two very different things. Some pasta sauces prefer dried pasta and I normally reserve pesto’s for fresh pasta. I tend to go for organic or wholegrain pasta. Italians do it better, so always buy Italian! LABEL: 2 ingredients water and flour (some might include egg) and look for bronze dye which is just the machine they use giving the pasta a thick and rough edge rather than actual dye!
A well stocked larder needs to have a well stocked pantry. Yes, fresh is 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. I usually have a selection of organic tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes, organic coconut milk, organic chickpeas and black beans. LABEL: no sugar! Tomatoes will mostly have ascorbic acid. Look out for preservatives in coconut milk, we are only looking for coconut and water.
Good 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. My top picks are Olives, Capers and Artichokes.