The Pantry: A Timeless Tradition  

To this day when I hear the word pantry, I think of my grandmother's kitchen. You walked in the back door of her house and faced a small room lined with shelves brimming with ingredients. Every food item that didn't need to be refrigerated lived there.

Babci (grandma in Polish) didn't have any cupboard space as we know it today. Her only cabinet, which she called her szafa (sha-fa) was where the china, flatware and cookware were stored. The szafa was wooden, built into the wall, about four feet wide and extended from the ceiling to the floor. The top section had shelves behind glass doors, in the middle were two enormous drawers and the bottom had shelves with wooden doors.

Today's kitchens are laid out quite differently. A separate room for ingredients doesn't exist unless you live in an old farmhouse. Yet the spirit of the pantry lives on.

Cookbooks frequently include a section titled "Stocking your pantry," or "Basic ingredients for your kitchen." The idea is identifying ingredients that you should always keep on hand; items frequently used in many recipes. You can store them in a cupboard, under a counter or inside the fridge. It doesn't matter, just as long as they're handy when you need them.

Anyone who is interested in cooking on more than a "now and then" basis needs to keep some ingredients in their kitchen. There's plenty of advice out there on putting together that "basic pantry." It will include milk, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, pepper, flour, coffee, mustard, bouillon cubes, herbs.... A very comprehensive list can be found in
The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

You don't have to buy everything at one time. Add an item or two to your cart when have a light order, or pick them up the first time you need to use them. Buy quality products in small quantities. The trick is to restock after you empty the jar or container - keeping ahead of the demand, if you will. In a short time, you'll have the right ingredients handy to cook almost any recipe.

And now, a small twist. 

I thought it might be fun to add some ethnic ingredients to your pantry. Do you enjoy Asian? Italian? Tex-Mex? Many of us do, so here's my list of some additional items you'll want to consider buying. With just a few extra products in your cupboard, you'll be able to prepare dishes from around the world.

Asian:
basmati rice
coconut milk
curry paste
dried red chilis
fish sauce
ginger
oyster sauce
rice vinegar
rice noodles
sambal oelek (red chili paste)
sesame oil
soy sauce
wasabi

Italian:
anchovies
arborio rice
balsamic vinegar
basil
dried mushrooms
extra virgin olive oil
garlic
olives
Parmesan cheese
pasta
pesto
pine nuts
tomato paste
whole canned tomatoes

Tex-Mex:
cilantro
chili powder
chipotle paste
cumin
lime juice
refried beans
serrano chilis
tortillas

Grocery stores are constantly expanding the range of ethnic products they carry. If you don't see an item, ask for it. Most stores will gladly oblige when their customers ask.

Another great source is ethnic grocery stores. (Look under ethnic grocers in the yellow pages.) Stop in, and you'll be shopping with those who speak the native language and demand authentic ingredients. Often, the prices are less expensive than in a chain-grocery, and you'll see a greater range of products on the shelves.

Don't be intimidated by potential language barriers. There's usually someone around who can translate. The owners and your fellow patrons will never scoff at your desire to cook their local cuisine.

Bon App
étit!