Glance in your pantry and chances are, you have a few extras lying around that just haven’t made their way into your meals. But who has the time to sit and think of what to do, let alone scour recipes to see how to use them?

Luckily, pantry pleasers are often the top choices for dinners that don’t require a recipe. They’re perfect for one-pot-wonders and saucy-skillets. And the know-how? Well, that can be negatory, my friends.

You see, a can here, some dried goods there, and a couple aromatics can easily equal a dinner that pares down the pantry; especially during times when money might be a little tight.

Quick chilis are easy to prepare and can be made in large amounts, perfect to pack in lunches or away in the freezer.

Canned tomatoes, varieties of canned beans, tomato sauce/paste (if you like it saucy) are the main contenders. Season with chili powder, cumin, salt, fresh ground pepper, and cayenne, if you like the heat. Add fresh onions, garlic, and other veggies if you have them (peppers, mushrooms, corn).

Saute the onions, garlic, and other veggies in a large Dutch oven. Add the other ingredients, and let simmer until flavours meld, and desired consistency is reached.

Side note: canned tomatoes
In the summer, fresh, local, ripe tomatoes are at their peak, each bite causing a taste explosion in your mouth, whether it’s the hearty bite of a beefsteak or the tender chew of the cherry tomato. But in the winter, canned tomatoes are one of the only things I make sure I always have on. Picked at their peak of freshness, they offer the most taste in the mealy months of winter. soup

As simple as a soup
Soups (and stews) are just as simple to throw together with pieces from the pantry. Canned tomatoes are a great alternative to broth in a vegetable soup – add some canned beans and noodles or rice and you have a hearty meal. Flavour with Italian herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, oregano.  Saute some garlic and onion, then throw the remaining ingredients in the pot, and let simmer.

Easiest Entertaining
Company coming and need a good appetizer? Roasted garlic spread on crostini (or even crackers) is a great quick fix. Garlic is a pantry favourite and having a bulb or two on hand is common in most kitchens. Just slice the top portion of the bulb off so the cloves are slightly exposed. Rub with a little olive oil, wrap in foil, and place in the oven at 375F for an hour. When it’s finished, let cool. Cloves will squeeze out easily and spreadable, with a mild flavour reminiscent – but not as strong – as its raw form.

Super side dish
A favourite side dish of mine highlights the creaminess of cannellini beans, but really, any type of white legume does the trick – navy beans, chickpeas, butter beans. Saute together onions and garlic, then add your favourite greens, such as Swiss chard. Cook until softened, then toss in a can or two of beans, stirring until heated through and smooth.

Make it mole
Want to try something new? Make a Mexican mole with black beans and your favourite pasta. For the sauce, saute onions and garlic, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne to taste. Add a can of diced tomoatoes and stir in a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa powder.

Satisfying snack
Hummus is the easiest dip to make, and chock full of fibre and nutrition. Whizz together chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, cumin and salt in a food processor until smooth. If you have it, add a couple dollops of tahini to make it more authentic.

Revamp your rice
Simmer your rice with fresh (or dried herbs) for a flavour-infused side dish. Alternatively cook it in coconut milk and curry powder for a complement to your main dish. If you’re in the mood for a dessert that is healthy to boot, simmer short grain brown rice in milk (dairy, non-dairy, or coconut), with ground cinnamon. Stir in vanilla extract and sweet with honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar. If you have a cinnamon stick or a vanilla bean, use those instead, adding them both in for the simmer, then removing when its cooked through.


Check out these pantry-based cookbooks to add to your kitchen collection:

The Stonewall Kitchen Cookbook: Favorite Pantry Recipes by Jonathan King

Pantry Raid: Extraordinary Meals from Everyday Ingredients by Dana McCauley

Off the Shelf: Cooking from the Pantry by Donna Hay

The Ethical Pantry: The Essential Guide to Fair Trade, Organic and Cruelty-Free Supplies for the Principled Cook by Korero Books

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