I’ve written before about how having a well stocked pantry makes it easy for me to choose to cook every night instead of eating out. A well stocked pantry means different things to different people. For me, it means having versatile ingredients around that are as ready as possible to use at a moment’s notice. It also means having items around that won’t spoil, and knowing how best to store items that will.
Dried Beans and Grains
I’ve written a lot about keeping dried beans around, and Jen’s last post about red beans and rice is a great way to put them to use. But how best to store dried beans so that they are always on hand? I like to keep them in glass jars. They are pretty that way, and generally protected from insects that might be attracted to them. An airtight container also helps to keep them generally free from too much moisture. Usually I save jars any time I buy something that comes in one, clean them thoroughly and take off the labels by soaking in hot soapy water. This gives me jars of all shapes and sizes to use for storing any manner of dried good. I think I may have developed a bit of a love for jars, especially since I’ve started following Food in Jars.
I do the same thing with grains, though usually in bigger plastic containers, since I tend to keep around much greater quantities of each grain.
Aromatics and Spices
I always have a few fresh aromatics around, such as garlic, onions, and ginger. Garlic goes in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator, still attached until I’m ready to use it. Onions go in a bin on a pantry shelf (though in the summer heat, I’m considering finding a darker, cooler place to put them).
Ginger gets a different treatment, however. I used to keep it in the vegetable bin with the garlic, but I often found that it would get a little moldy or dried out before I was able to finish it all. And then I tried freezing it. That was the best trick I’ve ever found for storing ginger. Just pop a few fingers of ginger into an airtight freezer bag and put them in the freezer. Take out pieces as you need them.
Freezing causes many raw aromatics to get mushy, but since I usually pulverize ginger with a microplane when I use it, I don’t really care about maintaining its natural texture. Even better, frozen ginger is ridiculously easy to peel, and even easier to grate because the ice crystals that form during freezing have already broken down the tough fibers of the rhizome. So there are two wins – the ginger can be kept for longer (meaning that it is always on hand for making my favorite dish), and it is even easier and faster to break down when I do wish to use it.
We always keep a good amount of our favorite spices around. My favorite trick with spices has been to make a mix of the spices we use the most frequently so that they are always on hand and easy to throw into any dish. We’ve done this with our own blend of taco seasoning (a mix of cumin, granulated garlic, cayenne, bouillon) and gyro seasoning.
Getting things out of those jars
It’s all well and good to keep a well stocked pantry, but what happens when you’ve stored something too well? In our house, there always seems to be a sneaky little gnome or something that goes around tightening jars. No problem, though, because Jen came up with my favorite trick to get just about any jar open, no matter why is it sticking. Put a big rubber band on it, and just twist off the cap! For those repeat offenders, just leave the rubber band there.
Stay tuned – next time I’ll talk about how I freeze just about everything for later use.
About this author: I'm a New Yorker who would rather cook than go out to restaurants. Sometimes I think I may be in the wrong city for that. Then I remember the exotic ingredients I'd be hard-pressed to find if I lived somewhere else. My cooking style is an eclectic range of everyday-American, Italian, middle-eastern, with extensive forays into Japanese cuisine, and some pit-stops into Indian and African cuisines. I love to try my hand at recreating dishes I taste. While I enjoy most anything with a flavor, from high cuisine to instant junk food, I have a soft spot in my belly for home-style cooking no matter the geographic or ethnic origin. Read more from this author...