A strong storecupboard is a game changer for any keen home cook. It can provide the base of a good meal, bulk out dinners, crank up the flavours or even make an entire dish (try our storecupboard recipes). The better stocked it is the more possibilities!
How to organise your storecupboard
Start with a clear out. If you want to use a storecupboard more efficiently then the first point of call is pulling everything out from the back of the shelves, giving it all a good clean and then surveying what you have.
Check whether anything might need to be thrown away, or is nearing its use-by date. Make a note of anything in the latter category and stick it somewhere you’ll see it every day as a reminder to use it up. Organisation is key – group things with their relevant bedfellows (such as oils, vinegars, spices, etc) and put back in a designated area so they’re easy to find again.
Pasta, pulses, grains and rice are storecupboard essentials that form the base of many meals.
Split red lentils are a true storecupboard staple – combine with spices and a tin of coconut milk, and you’ve got a delicious dahl in around 30 minutes. They’re also great stirred into soups as they cook, for extra body.
It’s good to have basmati, jasmine and risotto rice to hand, as well as potatoes and a few different types of dried pasta – from spaghetti and penne to orzo. Some of these might be ‘think ahead’ items such as dried beans that require soaking – so bear this in mind when meal planning.
Most of these items will keep nearly indefinitely if kept dry and out of direct sunlight, so where possible decant from open bags into larger jars or lidded containers and condense multiple packs into the same vessel.
Mixed grain pouches are a speedier standby. These contain pre-cooked grains, which can be eaten as is or take two minutes to be warmed through. They’re delicious in salads as they soak up and take on the flavour of dressings, and can be added at the last minute to a curry or stew instead of serving on the side.
Storecupboard herbs and spices
Ground and whole herbs and spices can enliven meals at little cost. They’re best value bought in larger packs from Asian supermarkets or from zero-waste stores, which encourage you to bring your own container. Buy this way for spices used regularly – for example, ground turmeric, dried chilli flakes and smoked paprika – otherwise buy little and often to keep them fresh. Dried spices and herbs lose their flavour and aroma over time – keeping them in airtight containers, out of direct sunlight, will help prevent this. Dry toasting (until aromatic) and grinding whole spices, with a pestle and mortar or spice grinder, also ensures a fresher, deeper flavour.
Storecupboard baking essentials
Even if you’re not a fan of baking, having flour, baking powder, and caster and soft brown sugar handy will mean you can do anything from thickening sauces to making simple flatbreads, cakes, pancakes, scones and waffles. The way these items are stored is important. Flours are prone to weevils (little insects) so transfer flour to large sealed containers or jars and use what you have before buying more. Sugars and dried fruit should be kept in sealed jars or containers to keep them fresh and moist, otherwise they can dry and harden – meaning lumps in your bakes! The same goes for nuts – they’re high in fat, which can go rancid if left uncovered and in sunlight.
There are the ingredients that turn up the flavour in meals, from miso-glazed grilled aubergine to harissa tossed through roasted veg. For example, Marmite isn’t just for toast – stir it into stews and sauces for added umami, or do the same with worcestershire or soy sauce. A spoonful of peanut butter stirred into a veggie curry adds sweet, nutty depth, or mix with lime juice or rice vinegar and a little chilli for a zingy dipping sauce or Asian salad dressing.
Instant storecupboard meals
It’s always good to have items that make a quick, simple meal. The key is knowing how to perk them up to make the most out of them. Try scattering thinly sliced spring onion and toasted sesame seeds on top of instant ramen, cheesy croutons on top of tinned soup or even just a good splash of chilli sauce in baked beans as they heat through.
Tins are relatively inexpensive (especially when bought in multipacks), they keep for an age and they also stack away neatly in the cupboard. Chopped tomatoes are great for pasta sauces, stews and curries, and are one of the most versatile items in a storecupboard as so many cuisines use them. Coconut milk can be used in a Thai curry, cake or even a piña colada, while chickpeas can be used with left-over pasta sauce in a stew, or to make hummus. Tinned fish such as tuna, sardines or anchovies can be used in a multitude of ways – from topping toast to salads, jacket potatoes, pasta and pâtés.
How to use your freezer
In many ways the freezer is simply an extension of your storecupboard, so it’s always good to keep it stocked. Frozen vegetables can be added to almost anything, and frozen fruit is great for compotes, overnight oats and smoothies. Slice and freeze stale loaves for toast and making breadcrumbs. Spare veg can be prepped and stored in freezer dump bags – try combining sweet potato with peppers and carrots to make the base of a soup, stew or curry that can be cooked straight from frozen. Woody herbs that are starting to wilt can be stashed in the freezer and added to dishes later.
Oil, salt and vinegar are must-haves. Most people keep these out on the side next to the hob but it’s really important to keep oil in the cupboard as fat goes rancid when exposed to direct sunlight and fluctuating temperatures.
Check out episode 5 of the olive magazine podcast’s Lockdown Special for more tips on how to make the most out of your freezer and storecupboard.