Foodie Friday: The Multicultural Pantry

Take a look in your pantry, particularly in your spice cupboard. Pull everything out, and take a good look. How much of this stuff do you actually use, really?

If you’re like many people, the answer is “surprisingly little”.  I know I’ve certainly got a few extra things hanging around in there.

Now, you have this stuff. That means (usually) that you bought this stuff. It’s a pretty rare bird that shows up at the grocery store and buys spices all willy-nilly (although that does sound fun, now that you mention it!)

So why do you have it?

It probably has to do with a cookbook somewhere. Or a recipe card in the meat aisle at the store. Or some well-intentioned friend telling you about how great a particular recipe tasted.

At some point, a recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom. You dutifully scampered to the store, and gosh – the 3 oz jar is a much better value than the 1 oz jar, so that’s what you bought.

And there it now sits, on the counter in front of you.

Since much of this stuff was bought with no plan for handling the extras, much of it goes to waste.

Most of us hate waste; we particularly hate wasting things we spent good money on.

So how do we get a handle on this?

Pick A Couple Of Core Cuisines
Unless you have an unbelievable amount of money and space, you can’t have it all. If you really like Mexican and Italian, focus on those two.

Pack Your Pantry
Stock up on the staples. You’ll know what a staple is because it will keep showing up in recipes – keep those things on hand!

Add Any Favorite “Must-Have” Dishes
If there are any other dishes you really like, examine them for ingredients that are common to what you have in your regular stock. Consider substituting ingredients that you have for ones that you don’t (red onion for white onion, for example). Then make a note of the extra ingredients you need to make your other favorite recipes.

Be On The Lookout For Creative Add-Ons
You might see a recipe that calls for a bunch of things you already have, plus a poblano pepper and a can of white hominy. That’s safe enough – once the recipe is made, the pepper and hominy are gone and not taking up space anymore.

But Be Careful What You Allow In!
Now that you generally know what you eat (plus or minus a bit), and you’re looking for interesting ways to jazz up the menu, be careful what you buy. If a friend tells you about a fantastic dish that she makes, maybe you could arrange a meal swap rather than buying six things you don’t have on hand (and may never use the leftovers of). Or try something at a restaurant before making it at home if you’re unsure – if you don’t like it, you’re money ahead in the long run!

This is very similar to decluttering a home. And, just like decluttering a home, it will yield some wonderful benefits in the way of available space and peace of mind.

Oh, and if you do this right, you’ll be a solid step closer to substantially reducing your food waste – and as Jo likes to say over at SimplyBeingMum, no waste tastes great!

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12 Responses - Add Your Input!

Posted February 11, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

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Posted February 12, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

What a lovely surprise on a Saturday Morning to find myself quoted
Totally get where you are coming from on the store cupboard clutter – however I have approx 35 jars of spices, salts etc… and I have looked through and I do use them all…. not everyday of course but they are used probably once a month. I am presuming this isn’t the norm? However I do now steer clear from recipes that have either a) a long list of ingredients or b) new spices etc that I would need to purchase. Also (and I probably shouldn’t admit this!) but I keep dried spices, leaves etc even after they have expired ensuring they are edible before use of course. Not sure how something that is dried can deteriorate that much and as you know I like to use food stuffs up! No Waste Certainly Does Taste Great!

    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I’d actually just finished reading one of your posts when the idea popped into my head for this one, so this is all on you. :D I agree about the ingredient lists….I try to keep them relatively short and to the point.

Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

I was stunned to read this. You’ve identified something that’s bothered me for years but I never got round to thinking too clearly about. Some great suggestions here about how to not overstock on spices etc. I’d add to only buy in small quantities and preferably of the best quality you can afford. The reason for this is that old spices lose their flavor so you’re less likely to add them to a dish. I find if something tastes great I’m more likely to spontaneously add it to a sauce, omelet or whatever. Then it gets used up and faster. When it comes to food I like simple but great flavors and you give some great tips for helping that happen in my kitchen.

    Posted February 12, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I definitely agree on buying small amounts. Around here we have these little spice jars that are about an inch and three quarters in diameter, and a little under 2″ tall. They’re called “Spice Trend” or something like that. The quality is decent, the plastic jars are small (so you can stack a few of them on top of each other in our cupboard), and they’re relatively inexpensive (I think $1.50 or so each?). I buy them for the stuff I use less frequently, and I buy bigger containers for the stuff I use more frequently, or for stuff that pretty much won’t go bad in any sort of short time (like seasoned salt).

    Thanks for commenting!

Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

Well done. I like this post.

I wrote several decades ago about minimizing my spice rack — sorry, it was in March of last year. It seems like a lot longer ago than that. I had to re-read the post to remember what I said. It was one of the first “real” posts I wrote for So Much More Life.

Here it is, if you’re interested…


    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I’d ever read that post – very interesting! I know I’ve got way more than that in my spice cupboard, but like Jo said about hers – it pretty much all gets used at some point.

    I’m curious how much yours has grown since that post. :)

Posted February 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

oh that is soooo my cabinet! and funny that i just bought some cardamom not too long ago.

these days when i buy a spice that i know is only for one recipe and i may not use it again, i go to whole foods to see if i can’t find it in bulk. then you can just buy a small little baggie of the spice and not have any leftovers.

well i did this w the cardamom, but i apparently bought a little too much ;)

    Posted February 14, 2011 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    You need a good chai tea recipe to use up that cardamom. :D

      Posted February 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      oooooooooooh i like that!!

        Posted February 18, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Ok, a week late here, but have to jump in… the need for cardamom must be in the air or something because we also replenished our supply not long ago. We fell in love with Chai in Kenya (we have friends that got us hooked after their stint in Africa, we just got doubly so in Kenya) We make a saucepot full of half milk half filtered water (ok, bottled in Kenya ;) then use several good black tea bags or loose black tea in an infuser adjust to size of pan, add cardamom to taste and sweeten when served, as a variation you can use a touch of vanilla creamer to have a vanilla chai. This is so much better than any chai mix! Next time I make it I’ll double check how much cardamom I add. :)

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