To make the most of what the farms bring into our kitchens during winter, there are a few ingredients that are handy to keep around.
Perhaps the most obvious one are spices. Winter is characterised by the strong flavours of warming spices. Black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger, paprika and Chinese 5-spice are almost musts in a winter kitchen. Those who like some kick in their food, should also add some kind of chilli to the mix. While not a spice, coconut milk is another way to add warmth to dishes, and it can also be used as a base for curries, and in baking.
Winter is the season of hearty foods, and nothing brings hearty to a plate as starches do! Keeping flour on hand allows for pies (sweet and savoury) and thick creamy sauces, as well as delicious gravies. When it comes to gravies, some instant gravy granules are good to have around as a way to add some extra flavour to some foods when we are in a rush. Stock cubes are another pantry staple that, in a pinch, can save a dish. Of course, you can always make your own stock. Onion and garlic skins, carrot tops and celery bottoms (all seasonal vegetables) make delicious stock.
Whole grains such as barley, brown rice, wheat and oats are affordable, versatility and filling. All four can be used in sweet and savoury cooking and bring variety to the more traditional white rice. Pasta shapes are also a great addition. They are quick easy to cook and will be just as happy with a simple sauce as in a casserole. Polenta, or coarse cornmeal, is another fantastic addition to the pantry. It cooks in minutes and can take on all sorts of flavours.
For those typical cold-weather soups and stews, a variety of canned or dried beans and canned tomatoes are indispensable. I like buying beans in bulk (Asian supermarkets are a good place to find affordable beans in large bags), cook a batch in my pressure cooker during the weekend and use them throughout the week. Most cooked beans will freeze without issues. It’s also a good idea to keep some sort of acid around (the seasonal citrus fruits or balsamic vinegar are good options), to help lift the flavour of soups, stews and roasted vegetables.
Those who enjoy baking should keep around some cocoa powder and honey. Both are versatile and add warmth to most bakes, and can be used in drinks too!
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