How to Cook a Meal with Whatever is in the Pantry
Learn how to make a meal from food you already have. This article will teach you how to cook with ingredients that are already in your pantry or fridge.
"What's for dinner?"
Oh no! that question again. You head to the pantry, open it— nothin! Inspiration is not striking today!
What now? This article aims to give you some inspiration for those dreaded pantry blank-stares and will have you cooking up a random food storm in minutes!
Let's Get Started
Even if you don't have any recipes in mind, you can still cook a great meal.
The best thing about cooking without recipes is that it allows for creativity in the kitchen! You just need to know what ingredients you have on hand, and then we can work out what to do with them.
Choose a Base Ingredient
Let's start by selecting a base ingredient for your dish. These ingredients will be most versatile to cook with. I think of them as rice, potatoes, bread or pasta.
Rice is a versatile food that can be eaten as a side dish, used as an ingredient in other dishes, or even cooked into creamy consistency if using shorter grain rice. Check if you've got some in the pantry. Maybe this can be your base ingredient.
Pasta is my favourite ingredient. I must admit when I run out, I can feel a bit lost. There are so many tasty ways to cook pasta, it is versatile and easy to cook up into a sauce or other baked dish. Is pasta calling you today?
Potatoes The first thing that comes to mind is roasted, loaded potatoes [mm mm!] But then there's mashed, boiled, fried or even potato bake. Another great versatile ingredient that lasts in the pantry for ages.
Bread is an excellent option if you want to keep things simple.
Think [anything] on toast!
But there are other ways to use it, too, like toasting it and turning it into crumbs for a crunchy topping. This is especially good if you've got some bread that is starting to see better days and needs to be used up.
Choose a Protein
Now that we've chosen a base ingredient. Next, let's look at what else you have available to add more flavour and give the dish depth.
I often look to protein foods for this job. Options might include either meat, tuna, tinned salmon, eggs, or plant-protein like canned legumes.
*Tip Even a sprinkling of bacon or adding in some kidney beans, for example, can lift a dish and make it feel more substantial. Once you've chosen a protein ingredient, bring it out and pop it on the bench with your base.
Got any Veggies?
Okay, We now have a base ingredient and a protein.
It's veggie time!
If you're like me and it's the end of the week, fresh vegetable options might be scarce. But, don't forget canned or frozen vegetables are good options too. Some sweet corn, or tinned tomatoes, can pep a dish up.
Canned veggies are super convenient, and they last a long time in the pantry, which can come in handy when you need to shop but haven't had time. Choose whatever you have on hand and pop it on the bench!
Now that we've got our main ingredients let's look at some finishing touches that we can add in while cooking.
Herbs and Spices, including salt and pepper, chilli flakes, or dried stock can add flavour to your food.
Oil is one of those essential staples for cooking and makes a great salad dressing base. Use it for sautéing or roasting, and it helps bring out the flavours in your other ingredients! My preference is olive oil, I love the taste, but vegetable or canola oil is a great option also.
Vinegar has many exciting uses in cooking and can make a basic dish taste quite sophisticated.
What do you Feel Like Eating?
Now that you have selected ingredients to cook with, how should we cook them?
Think about a favourite cuisine that you feel like or a cooking method you'd like to use. For example, Italian, Mexican cuisine, Asian inspired, or curry are cuisines that come to mind.
If unsure, I find it helps to keep it simple and stick with some family favourites like a loaded potato, a pasta dish, fried rice, or a buddha bowl. The great thing about these dishes is they are flexible.
Bring it Home!
Start by getting your base ingredient cooking. This is usually pretty simple like boiling up some rice, pasta, or roasting potatoes.
While that's underway, prepare the central flavourful part of the dish. This will include preparing your protein, veggies, herbs and spices.
The way you cook these ingredients will vary but consider roasting some veggies and adding them onto rice or a potato. Sauté to whip up a stir-fry style dish to go over rice. Or Boil to up a tasty sauce to go over pasta, rice or potato.
Taste as you go. This is where the random magic happens (or not). Don't be afraid to try something new. If it doesn't work out, that's fine! Next time, you can tweak it!
It's a handy skill to have—being able to cook something randomly without a recipe. Practice makes perfect.
Now it's time to serve and enjoy. Dinner done!
What's the best random meal you've made with whatever you had in the pantry at the time?
Photo credit: Dan Gold, Tomáš Hustoles, Sarah Pflug, Avelino Calvar Martinez