Having a well-stocked pantry is the first step towards cheap and easy cooking. 🥫
But it’s sometimes hard to know what to make with all those cans of beans that populate your kitchen shelves.
So here are some tips and recipes to help you cook with common (and inexpensive) pantry items. They’re tailored to eight of the most-used staples in our kitchens: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, canned tuna, coconut milk, white beans, anchovies, and canned tomatoes. Save this list! 📝
Lentils are a great source of fiber, iron, and protein.
They’re also cheap, versatile, and a delicious addition to salads, stews, and grain bowls. There are several types of lentils, and it’s good to know a little about each of them so you can prepare them well.
Brown and green lentils: These are the most common varieties. They cook quickly (20-30 minutes) and tend to get pretty creamy. They’re great in stews and soups, as well as dips and spreads.
Red lentils: These also cook very quickly (about 20 minutes) and get soft and creamy. They’re great in curry and dal recipes. You can also use them in dips and they can act as a thickening agent in soups and stews.
French lentils: These have a thicker skin and take longer to cook (at least 40 minutes) and they usually retain more texture and don’t get as soft. So they’re a perfect addition to salads or grain bowls.
Black beluga lentils: They’re the ~prettiest~ and most flavorful, IMO. Like French lentils, they tend to have a thicker skin and their shape will remain intact, making them another great option for salads and grain bowls. If you cook them longer, they’ll get softer and you’ll be able to use them in soups and stews. Best of both worlds!
Like lentils, chickpeas are protein-packed, delicious, and versatile.
The main question? Whether you should get them dried or pre-cooked in a can. Chickpea purists will tell you that dried is the only way to go. And for recipes where chickpeas are the absolute star of the show (like hummus), dried chickpeas do provide better texture and richer flavor. The dried variety is also cheaper.
But their required overnight soak is a real hassle many don’t want to deal with — and rightfully so. Besides, canned chickpeas can be very good too and they have something extra going for them: aquafaba. It’s the magical liquid left in the can, and it doubles as an egg-substitute in many vegan recipes.
Black beans are super rich in fiber, protein, and magnesium — making them the most nutritious bean of all.
And they’re much cheaper than any meat, so they’re the perfect option for a protein-packed meal. They also double as a smart substitute in baked goods.
Canned tuna is yet another great budget-friendly source of pantry-staple protein.
It’s a solid addition to many dishes, from lunch sandwiches to hearty pasta. Our main tip when choosing canned tuna is to pick one packed in olive oil, not water. This will bring even more flavor to your recipes.
Coconut milk is a true pantry MVP, used in both sweet and savory recipes.
But not all coconut milks are created equal, and for richer texture and flavor, we recommend picking a full-fat version. If you want to know what brand to choose, this is a helpful guide.
There are several types of white beans: cannellini, baby lima, navy, and great Northern.
Ad although they each have their own slight specificities in taste and texture, they’re pretty interchangeable in recipes. They’re a great way to add texture to a dish — and their mild taste makes them an ideal blank canvas.
People either love them or hate them, but if you’re in that second group, you already know anchovies are king.
That’s because in many recipes, anchovies are used to add depth of flavor to a dish without actually overtaking it. (That’s why many people who hate anchovies on their own still love Caesar salad, even though the little fishes are one of the key ingredients.)
Our most useful tip? Get the ones in jars rather than tins. They’re easier to use —pick out a few, stash the rest in the fridge — and taste better overall.
Canned tomatoes are essential for any pasta lover.
Especially the peeled variety — because who has time to peel tomatoes anyway? These work in so many different recipes — from shakshukas to tomato soups. If you’re wondering which brand to buy, here’s a helpful guide.