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The Organic Pantry

written by: Kathy Hester•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/6/2011

There are so many benefits to having a stocked pantry. Imagine never having to run out to a store and settle for non-organic food, because you already have everything you need right in your own cupboards.

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    Create Your Own Organic Pantry

    On nights that you can't bear to cook a full meal from scratch, a well stocked pantry can come to your rescue. When you are trying to keep an organic kitchen, planning ahead can make all the difference. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an all-night farmers' market, so what would go into a fully stocked organic pantry?

    Beans

    Stock up on all types of beans, both dry and canned. Quick cooking lentils make a great last minute chili, and yellow or green split peas can make a soup without soaking all night. Beans are an inexpensive way to add variety to your menu. They show up in almost every culture's food, so if you try new bean recipes you will never get bored of them. Make sure to have a large variety on hand such as kidney, pintos, black beans, lentils, split peas green and yellow, garbanzo, and aduki. Pick up some heirloom varieties when you run across them at farmers' markets, they are beautiful and nutritious. Use beans instead of meat in some of your favorite dishes like jambalaya, curries, gumbos and more.

    Grains

    Grains are another essential part of any pantry. Great to add to soups, pair with beans, or use in a casserole or to make your own veggie burgers. Try new to you grains mixed with fruit and nuts for breakfast. You'll be in for a pleasant surprise. Make sure to have these on hand: rice (brown, wild, long and short grain varieties), quinoa, bulgur, barley, oats, millet, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn (cornmeal, grits, polenta), and flours - at least whole wheat and pastry.

    Pasta

    Nothing comes together as easy as a pasta dish. You can add leftover veggies and protein, or start from scratch. You are only limited by your imagination. Use whole wheat pasta, but also keep some gluten free for an easy dinner party for friends with gluten allergies. And of course stock up on all kinds of shapes - shells, lasagna, egg noodles, angel hair, ziti, and tiny stars for soup.

    Keep jars of pasta sauce including various tomato based ones, traditional pesto and sun dried tomato pesto. If you have trouble finding organic sauces, make large batches and freeze in ice cube trays, then transfer to a freezer-safe container. Then you can take out just the amount you need.

    Nuts

    Nuts are a great source of protein. I sprinkle them on salads, use in odd pesto combinations like arugula pecan or cilantro pistachio. Always have slivered almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, pine nuts to top dishes or salads, and use in baked goods. Dried fruit is great sprinkled on salads, in oatmeal, or in baked goods. Try dried cranberries, blueberries, raisins, pineapple, on salads and as a garnish to burritos. It'll add a little zing and color to your dishes.

    Other Staples

    Don't forget assorted kinds of potatoes, onion, and garlic. They are good in almost everything, and don't forget a baked sweet potato or fluffy Idaho makes a great base for chili, stews, or even steamed veggies. Now that's a meal even the kids will love.

    I always keep some silken tofu and soy, almond, rice or cow milk in shelf stable containers. They are lifesavers, and silken tofu makes a great last minute chocolate mousse! You will also want to have sweeteners (agave nectar, honey, organic white and brown sugar, maple syrup), as well as baking soda, baking powder and yeast for spur of the moment baking.

    Seasonings

    Spices and herbs make plain food spectacular. I try to keep as many on hand as I can, as well as blends like chili powder, garam masala, Cajun, Italian, jerk, and lemon pepper. Don't forget some kosher or specialty salts to round out you spice cabinet. Start an indoor herb garden so you can always have access to fresh herbs. Try planting basil, cilantro, chives, parsley, mint, and rosemary. Keep them in a sunny window or use a grow light in a darker area of your house.

    Tips for Freezing

    Don't forget to utilize your freezer while you are at it. Besides freezing leftovers for lunch you can keep a stock of tempeh, tofu (don't freeze the silken kind though), veggie burgers, and of course frozen vegetables. I cook extra soups to freeze for nights I just don't feel like cooking from scratch. I also freeze bits of leftover veggies and use them in soups later in the month.

    Once you have a full pantry, cooking will be much more enjoyable. It's always nice to have exactly what you need. You can skillfully avoid the take out trap, know exactly what's in your family's food, and simply eat tastier food.