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It might be only the start of September, but for many that means the cold weather is just around the corner. And with school starting again soon, it’s a good idea to stock up and make sure you have some staples to help you make the most of cold-weather cooking.
Autumn gives us the big harvest and winter keeps us going with filling and tasty root vegetables. To make all these seasonal ingredients shine, there are a few ingredients that are handy to keep around.
I will never stop talking about my list of 10 basic ingredients to always have around. They are easy to get pretty much anywhere food is sold, and affordable to buy. And having them around will open up your cooking possibilities!
On my post I talk about why they are basics, different options, and even simple recipes you can make with them.
Herbs and spices
I am a big fan of having a well-stocked herb and spice collection. They allow us to keep using the same basic ingredients but completely change the flavours in seconds and with ease.
For the cold months, perhaps the most obvious ones 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.
Two herbs that will immediately cosy-up your meals are thyme and rosemary. They work just as great on a roast as they do in a soup or a casserole.
And while not a spice or herb, coconut milk is another way to add warmth to dishes. Of course, it can also be used as a base for curries, and in baking.
Winter is the season of hearty foods with delicious sauces. To make the starting roux of a sauce, flour is a must. You can go traditional and use wheat flour or try any of the other alternatives, like oat, coconut, rice, rye, spelt, buckwheat, chickpea, almond, cornmeal, teff, sorghum, or quinoa.
Gravy is probably the king of the sauces, and while it’s always nice to make it from scratch, having some instant gravy granules around is a great a way to add some extra flavour to some foods when we are in a rush. If your sauce, stew, or curry is not thick enough a little bit of instant gravy granules will fix that and add some delicious flavour. I personally prefer to have vegetable gravy granules as I find them more versatile, and they can be used for vegetarians (and vegans if you get one without dairy).
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, versatile 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 and 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.
Stew and soup ingredients
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.
Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, swedes (rutabaga), celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, and sweet potatoes, all last for a long time if stored properly and add heartiness to both soups and stews. Root vegetables can also be roasted with a variety of herbs and spices.
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. They usually need to be cooked for a long time, and the freshness of an acid is always welcome.
Those who enjoy baking should keep around some cocoa powder, baking chocolate and honey. All three are versatile and add warmth to most bakes, and can be used in drinks too! My favourite drink as a child was called submarino (submarine in Spanish), it involved a bar of baking chocolate melted in almost boiling milk. It was a great start to a cold Sunday morning! Now, I make it with non-dairy milk as I’ve become lactose intolerant.
Almond flour is another great ingredient to start playing with if you’ve never used it before. The nuttiness it gives bakes is especially welcome during the cold weather months.
And of course, all sort of dried fruits and nuts. Nothings says winter more than those!