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One of the best ways to reduce food waste is to cook what you already have, whether it’s the half a cabbage that’s been sitting at the back of the fridge or leftover chicken from two days ago. Even if you plan like a pro, there will always be some surplus. That’s why you need to be flexible in the kitchen. To successfully cook your leftovers, you’ll need a certain amount of “working capital” in your pantry. Here are my can’t -go-wrong essentials for easy fridge-free meals.
Bread. Who doesn’t love bread? It can be used as a base for sandwiches or pizzas, or simply as a vehicle (e.g., hummus, veggie pâté and tomatoes). Keep some in the freezer for better preservation: tortillas, bagels, pitas, English muffins, etc.!
One or multi-grains. Rice, quinoa, couscous, barley or naked oats can be used as a base for stir-fries or meal bowls.
Pasta. Nothing empties the fridge like a vegetable pasta recipe.
We’re used to letting protein take centre stage in a meal, but I suggest you try it the other way around: decide which vegetable recipe you’re cooking tonight and simply add a protein to it. For example, add textured vegetable protein (TVP), lentils or canned fish to your pasta dish. You could also add canned chickpeas and nuts or seeds to your meal salad. UHT milk or vegetable drinks that can be stored at room temperature can come in handy when it’s time to make a smoothie or vegetable gratin.
These proteins don’t go in the pantry, but they’re worth mentioning because of their long shelf life and versatility: eggs and cheese. Eggs can be added to fried rice or used as the basis for a delicious quiche. For cheese, you can even keep some grated in the freezer for a quick pizza or to add flavour to your recipes.
Fruits and vegetables
In general, they’re the basis of our “leftovers” recipes, but you can keep some spare in case you run out. Dried and canned fruits are excellent options to use as is or in recipes. Canned vegetables can also be added to soups or stir-fries.
Among my favourite essentials, all canned tomatoes are a staple to add to stews and as a sauce for pasta and pizza.
This is where substitution really comes into play! Start by opening your pantry and fridge and checking the incredible variety of sauces, dressings and condiments you already have. A clean-up is in order! Do we really need 8 different types of vinegar and 6 different oils? Maybe if you’re a top chef, but most likely not!
In general, oils are easily interchanged. Those with a more neutral taste for cooking are sunflower, canola and grapeseed oil. Choose your favourite, or whichever is the local option that’s easiest to find.
With one or two vinegars of your choice (cider vinegar for a local option!), you’ll get the acidity you’re looking for in any recipe. You can even use vinegar to replace lemon juice if you don’t have any.
Dried herbs can be a lifesaver when it comes to adding flavour to a recipe. As a bonus, they won’t rot at the bottom of your crisper drawer! Tomorrow’s recipe calls for rosemary, but you don’t have any? Just use thyme!
When it comes to sauces and various condiments, you can assemble just about any sauce or marinade with the following components: tomato paste or ketchup, mustard, nut or seed butter, soy sauce, sugar and hot sauce.
Since we all have our own habits in the kitchen, take a few minutes to create your own list of essentials, leave it on your fridge and make sure to check your inventory before every trip to the grocery store.
Happy culinary improvising!
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