In order to cook great, quick vegetarian food for my family I rely on a well-stocked store cupboard. My approach to nutrition is to try to eat a wide variety of foods — it’s like placing a bet on every single horse. I find it really useful to have my ingredients organised and use glass jars for lots of the ones I use everyday. After a busy winter, I often find I need to have a rejig and refresh.
Now is a brilliant time of year to replenish them. If you missed the first part in this series on Dry Goods, you can find it here.
I keep a small amount of almost 40 spices on hand (but I am a professional cook!). Indian and Asian markets are good places to find them cheaply, though don’t be tricked into buying massive bags, as they will spoil in a few months and lose their flavour. I store them all in little glass jars so I can easily see what I have. Here are a few of my essentials:
Cumin seeds: This is a well-used spice in my kitchen. Its distinctive rounded flavour is a great base for curries.
Coriander seeds: Coriander seeds are probably my most-used spice. It goes well with lemon, and I use it to season hummus and even to flavour vodka. I keep mine in seed form as it retains its flavour better whole. When adding coriander seeds to a recipe, toast them and then grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle.
Turmeric: Its earthy flavour lifts many dishes in our house. Be careful not to make any curries in white pans though, as the colour has some serious staying power.
SumacThe sumac bush, native to the Middle East, produces deep red berries, which are dried and ground into this lovely colourful powder. Sumac adds a lovely tart, lemony flavour and is a primary ingredient in the increasingly popular blend of Za’atar, also one of my favourites.
Fennel seeds: Fennel is one of my absolute favourites, and adding the seeds is a quick way to impart the anise flavour.
Smoked paprika: This traditional Spanish ingredient is a staple in my kitchen and is a beautiful partner for everything from hummus to black bean stews.
Mustard seeds: The seeds I normally have are the black ones, which are the most pungent and originated in the Middle East.
Tamarind Paste: Tamarind is a sticky, sour-tasting fruit. It's used in Thai, Indian and Mexican cooking.
I always have a whole bunch of chilis because they each bring something different to a dish. Chipotles are lovely and smokey and the paste is perfect for Mexican food like tacos, and scotch bonnets have a fiery, fruity heat.
Chilli flakes: Perfect for a quick injection of heat.
Turkish chilli: I favour the gentler spice of Turkish chilli. It almost has a sweet aroma and works really well with roasted root vegetables.
Chipotle is a smoked chilli from Mexico and a magic ingredient, its sweet, smoky and packed with flavour. You can buy it a few ways; as whole dried chillies, good for a stew, you rehydrate these in hot water then they become chop able. You can also buy it flaked like dried red chilli which you can add by the pinch. Or my favourite is chipotle paste or chipotle in adobo, a chilli paste which can be added to stews, beans, roasts, tacos and last for ages in the fridge once opened.
Not strictly a storecupboard item but I keep a bowl full of lemons on hand, always. I see lemon as a third seasoning — I probably use it more than pepper. I have an old fashioned wash basin filled with lemons and limes on my kitchen table and add citrus to almost every meal. It’s an essential flavour component for me, whether it’s the juice at the end for sharpness or the zest to add a zingy kind of flavouring.
Miso is one of my most used ingredients (for those of you who don’t use it miso is a fermented soy bean paste which tastes amazing). It’s great in soups, stews, broths, dressing and marinades and is even good in sweet things like caramel. It adds a welcome salty umami note as well as somehow being a little sweet. Buying miso can be confusing as they are so many types out there.
Here is a low down on my favourite 3:
White miso: Lighter in colour and taste, good for light broths, dressings and in baking or caramel.
Brown rice miso: Generally darker in colour and a little saltier, good for more punchy dressings to stand up against chilli and for tossing roast veg in for the last 5 mins of roasting.
Red miso: Often made from barley is salty and deep in flavour, it’s good for stews, noodle soups and gravies.
Sea salt is my go to. I buy it in big bags from Halen Môn who make sea salt on the island of Anglesey where my husband was born and I spend a lot of time. Good sea salt tastes cleaner and you need less of it. I have a smoked salt too for adding a smoky hum to sweet and savoury alike. The Anglesey one has a Protected Designation of Origin status - what Champagne has - so you know it’s made from water from Wales (not imported salt re-diluted).
Soy sauce is a really useful seasoning, I usually buy a tamari sauce (this one from Clearspring is a favourite). I use it for stirfries, soups, dressing where I want the flavour of soy but also where I want an even saltiness. There is as much variation in soy sauce as there is in wine so, as with any ingredient taste it and see which type suits your tastebuds better
A good veggie/ vegan stock
Sometimes I make my own, but I like to have a tub as back-up whenever I need it.
I think vinegar is totally underrated as an ingredient. I keep as many vinegars on hand as I do oils. A red wine, white wine, a raw cider one (which I sometimes drink with hot water and honey in the morning if I feel like my digestion needs a boost), a balsamic and a white wine, I realise this is a lot and I cook a lot so it makes sense for me to have a few bottles. White wine/cider/rice vinegar can be interchanged without too much trouble if you don't have room for this many. Check out The Vinegar Shed run by the brilliant Andy Harris for amazing artisan vinegar, he's starting a well overdue vinegar revolution.