Like you, I have seen all kinds of lists of what people seem to think are basic staples of a kitchen. I don’t know where they got their definition of “basic”, but I’m positive it wasn’t from a dictionary. Most of us these days are commiting the “crime” of trying to cook while broke and don’t care if the flour is ground by virgin unicorns under a harvest moon as long as it’s flour and it does the thing. This holds true for most pantry staples for those of us on a budget, store brands are our friends.
These are what I consider to be basic dry goods, obviously alterations for dietary restrictions are totally super.
- Plain old All Purpose or AP flour. It’s good for about a bajillion things and keeps pretty much forever as long as the container is air tight. I keep mine in a rolling dog food bin I found online. It was way cheaper than more official options, fits all the needs, and came in blue… Everything should have a blue option.
- White and brown sugar. Again, super versatile and keeps forever if the container is air tight. If sugar is a no-go for you, you’re still going to want to keep your sweetener away from air and light while storing. Both are arch enemies of shelf lifes.
- Cornmeal and Corn Flour(Masa). Not just for cornbread and tamales, these two superheroes of the pantry can do amazing things if you’re willing to think a little sideways.
- An assortment of dry pasta. Whatever shapes and colors you like, it really doesn’t matter. If you keep 4 to 5 different types on hand at all times, you’ll notice a drop in your regular grocery spending.
- Dry Yeast. My favorite is bread machine yeast even though I don’t own a bread machine because of the faster rise and ability to take a little more abuse that other varieties.
- Baking Powder, Baking Soda, and Cornstarch.. As we go on you will understand more why I consider these a necessity instead of an option.
- Dry beans and/or lentils are easier to use on the fly than you think. Lentils can add a lot of flavor and great texture to a whole lot of soups, and dry beans can do the same. Try out all the varieties! You’d be surprised at how many you’ll end up liking.
- Rice! All the rice!! It’s cheap, filling, versatile, fast, and can take on a whole lot of roles and variations.
Obviously in my case coffee is a must have, but my caffeine level is well into professional levels and should not be attempted by amateurs or anyone that wants to sleep in the next 10 years.
Challenge yourself to just pantry raid one meal a week. No plan, no recipe, just take random ingredients and make a thing. It doesn’t have to be gourmet or perfect, and you’re going to fail really hard a few times. Throw out the whole kitchen and live on raw veggies levels of fail… And there is NOTHING wrong with that. It happens to anyone that has ever looked at what they have on hand and gone ” what if..?”. If you never feel like maybe you should give up cooking entirely, become a monk, and devote your soul to ready-made only while teaching monkeys to read, you’re not learning anything.