My pantry is, admittedly, aggressively robust. Perhaps these tendencies developed from eighteen years spent growing up on a remote island off the coast of Washington State where the grocery store closed at 6pm in the winter and couldn’t be counted on to supply much more than dust covered spice jars and Friday-treat-day candy bars at 49 cents a pop.
Or maybe my pantry skills stem from those two years that I lived high in the Colorado Rockies in Telluride where grocery shopping meant either a trip to the basement aisles of Clarks Market — where the store manager stood sentry over wilted produce and overpriced eggs — or an hour-and-a-half drive to the closest “real” town where I could buy pine nuts in bulk and find those little grape tomatoes that come in a yellow cone and last for weeks on the counter.
Whatever the origin, I learned to stock up on bulk items and keep my cupboards full, and keeping a full pantry has become the cornerstone of how I cook. At some point I attempted to compile a list of everything I keep on hand, and discovered I store no fewer than eight kinds of nuts, six kinds of flour, and five kinds of coconut. (Shredded coconut, flaked coconut, coconut water, coconut milk and coconut flour. Ok, the coconut may be a little overkill).
The virtues of a well-stocked pantry cannot be oversold. It is much easier to grab a healthy afternoon snack rather than a bag of chips or ice cream when the shelves are stacked with jars of cashews and dried apricots. The temptation to order takeout is notably diminished when there is frozen garden pesto in the freezer and bags of whole wheat fusilli stashed under the counter.
My dinner rotation often includes meals that can be made straight out of the cupboard. I spent years searching for a decent peanut sauce recipe, and eventually one showed up on my doorstep with my friend Twila. She used to stay in my spare room during extended visits with her Oceanography PhD advisor, and we’d make her foolproof version peanut sauce to top bowls full of soba noodles with sautéed veggies. Everything in this dish usually rests in full supply in my pantry or fridge — I throw in whatever vegetables I happen to have or pull a few out of my garden. It also comes together faster than it takes me to locate the Thai takeout menu and call in delivery, making it a regular on the emergency weeknight meal rotation.
On your next grocery store outing, grab a packet of soba noodles, a can of coconut milk and some peanut butter to add to your pantry shelves. The next time you’re so hungry you just can’t be bothered to come up with a dinner plan so maybe you’ll just have yet another fried egg on toast, make this instead.
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