Flour, Oil, Salt, Sugar, Baking Soda, Vinegar
With these basic items, the combinations are endless and provide the resources to create “something from nothing” solutions.
All of these ingredients have variations, and for the refined cook and kitchen these are crucial to the perfection of each recipe. For the home cook, who just wants to have good, affordable food these specifications are not as important. I will go through each ingredient and why it’s always good to have on hand.
Bread, pancakes, sauce thickener (mac and cheese anyone?), biscuits, flat bread, pita bread, cookies, the list of possibilities goes on. To purchase 1kg of Organic Red Fife flour at a local health food store cost me $7. With this $7 I was able to make:
Pizza for 2 people 5 times.
Pancakes for 2 people 6 times.
Flat bread tortillas once.
If I were to purchase these items individually at the store I would have spent:
$3 per pizza on dough.
$4.48 on a bag of Tortillas.
$ 1.97 on pancake mix (the just add water kind).
2 out of 3 products I made with a $7 bag of flour were cheaper to make and had healthier, heartier ingredients in the dough.
The pancakes would have been cheaper using the “just add water” mix but I would not have received the same nutritional value out of them. Most pancake mixes are actually around $3 and still require eggs, oil and milk, making it more expensive to use the mix and still not as fulfilling.
You don’t have to buy a $7 bag of flour either. You can take empty jars to a bulk store and fill them up with any flour that you deem affordable and appropriate for your life.
We need oil to cook with heat. We need oil to bind ingredients. We need good fats in our lives for our brains. Oil is essential to cooking and eating. The question is what oil?
Things to think about are cost, quality, and versatility. These are oils I am familiar with and find to be used most often.
Quality: Depends on the butter you buy. Highly pasteurized low-fat butter is probably not that great for you. Local organic butter is beautiful and nutritious, but hard to find.
Versatility: The ultimate winner. Works with just about everything. Pan frying, baking, and throwing on top of everything.
Quality: Touted for its health benefits, on food and your skin.
Versatility: Strong flavour makes it a mostly savoury ingredient. What most recipes call for.
Quality: Still researching…will let you know. Recieves a bad reputation as it is mostly used for deepfried foods, which are not know for their health benefits.
Versatility: Mild taste, good for both sweet and savoury recipes. You can fry you pancakes and samosas in it alike.
Cost: Depends on source. Only local oil I have found in Ontario. Local can be expensive.
Quality: Light oil. I haven’t used it very much but seemed to be very similar to vegetable or canola oil.
Versatility: Similar cooking properties to Vegetable/Canola Oil
Cost: Middle ground
Quality: Controversial health benefits. I enjoy it.
Versatility: Strong coconut flavour, so not always suitable to every dish. Can handle high heat. Solidifies at room temperature, making it a fun ingredient in vegan cooking.
Cost: Varying based on source. Can be from a local farmer, or drippings from your morning bacon.
Quality: Based on supplier, diet of animal. Similar to coconut oil in that its health benefits are controversial. Fat was part of the human diet for many years and is slowly making a comeback as research continues.
Versatility: Lard is great for baking. Saving meat drippings is a great way to cut down on oil costs while adding amazing flavour to your next meals.
While some philosophies do away with these ingredients, most would agree that using salt and sugar is key to bringing dishes to life.
Salt can come in a pure form or through other ingredients you may have on hand.
Sugar can be raw, white, brown, corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, honey ect.
When cooking, be aware of whether or not you are using dry sources of salt and sugar or wet. Wet sources will add liquid to your dish and change the consistency. You may need to balance this out by increasing your dry ingredients.
Biscuits, pancakes, and flat breads all require some sort of leavening agent. Baking soda is here to the rescue.
TIP: When “baking powder” is requested, you can replace it with baking soda and vinegar. The vinegar will not be enough to affect the taste of your dish. I often do this with pancakes. (Pancakes seem to be coming up a lot…).
Baking soda is also a great cleaning agent, which is much less expensive than any chemical concoction you can buy at the store. When I burn food to a pot, I scrub it with a scrubby and piles of baking soda.
Not only useful with baking soda, but all kinds and sources of acidity can provide depth and deliciousness to a dish.
My go to vinegar is unfiltered cider vinegar. If you are only going to have one kind of vinegar in the house I would go with a lighter tasting one, and avoid balsamic or red wine vinegars.
Good options include: Cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar
Starting a pantry from scratch is expensive so hopefully this list shows that there is flexibility in food, and recipes do not have to be as rigid as they appear to be.