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Pantry Raid: 50 Essential Ingredients To Stock Up On

Your ideal pantry should feel like a wonderland of endless recipe options. Are those shelves currently looking a little bare? These are the 50 essential staples you should always keep on hand, plus three recipes for how to make the most of each ingredient.

Garlic

It may do some wild things to your breath, but there's no denying that a bit of garlic flavor makes most dishes just a little bit better. Want to get that smell off your fingers? Try rubbing them on stainless steel. Science!

Dried or Canned Beans

Pound-for-pound, dried beans are one of the best values on the shelf. No time to soak? Canned beans ain't bad either. If you're craving a cool dip for chips, a bowl of spicy chili or stick-to-your-ribs comfort, beans are your new best buddy:

Dried Pasta

Whether long, twisted or tied in a bow, pasta is the ultimate vessel for homemade sauces. Tired of spaghetti with sweetened, canned ragu? The opportunities for combination and customization are endless. Try south-of-the-border flavors, a cool pasta salad or an umami-rich red sauce:

Canned Tuna

Fancy sushi-grade ahi ain't got nothing on this last-minute lunch staple. Whether we're craving salad or melty cheese sandwiches, we're not ashamed to open a can, mix it with mayo and enjoy for any meal of the day:

Olive Oil

Olive oil is available at all price points. Use the cheap bottles for cooking and the more expensive oils for fresh sauces, dressings and infusions. Real extra-virgin olive oil will burn slightly at the back of your throat, and will be smooth—not viscous or sticky—on the tongue:

Tortillas

Taco Tuesday is over and you have leftover tortillas. Yes, you could use them to wrap up a burrito or some sliced turkey. But did you consider a macaroni and cheese quesadilla? Or that you could fry them up and make your own chips? Go forth and tortilla:

Chicken Stock

Every kitchen should include some good stock, especially since it can replace water in almost any savory recipe and add a ton of flavor (ever tried boiling pasta in it?). It's also ideal for soups and stews, and can turn any pan drippings into a sauce in no time:

Peanut Butter

Yes, you can slather some peanut butter and jelly on bread and call it a day. But why not try your hand at Chinese-takeout-style peanut butter noodles or sweet-and-savory desserts? So many nutty options:

Rice

You'll find rice on the plates of the majority of human beings around the world. Whether you boil it, steam it, simmer it or fry it, rice is a staple food worth experimenting with:

Milk

If the gallon is on its last few days, don't toss it! You can use the last of it in sauces and gravies, as well as to make fresh mozzarella and milkshakes. Plus, late night cereal... duh.

Lemons

You should have lemons on hand for both a beautiful kitchen centerpiece and to brighten up dishes like fish and chicken. Try them in this Greek lemon soup, rice or any yellow baked good:

Eggs

Having eggs in the fridge is a no-brainer. They're essential if you're baking or making breakfast at home, but can also be utilized for easy sandwiches, quiche and more:

Tomato Sauce & Paste

You might look at a can of tomato sauce and only see pasta, but don't sell its potential short! Sure, it's necessary for staples like chicken parm and pizza, but what about as a topping for stuffed vegetables or as a base for your sloppy Joes?

Soy Sauce

Sure, soy sauce is an obvious choice on top of your Chinese takeout, but what about as part of a sweet and salty glaze for chicken? Keep it in the pantry to use in any number of sauces, or just to flavor steamed rice whenever you forget to order fried:

Brown Sugar

Plain granulated ain't got nothing on brown. An essential for baked goods, you can also sprinkle it on bacon for a sweet-savory-bacony twist on breakfast or dessert. Your box is hard as a rock? Microwave to soften it up:

Parmesan Cheese

It's salty, it's nutty, it's cheese—a trifecta of deliciousness! Consider keeping extra in the fridge so you can transform almost protein into a parm. Plus, if you don't have it, what are you putting on top of your pasta?

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs provide an unreal softness and lightness when mixed into meatballs, and Japanese-style panko is best for adding a crispy crunch to baked or fried foods:

Onions

Keep your onions in a dry, cool and dark place (away from the potatoes!) and they'll last for months. Months during which you can caramelize them, fry them or serve them fresh:

Honey

Great for sauces or as a sweetener for tea, oatmeal, yogurt, lemonade and more, this buzz-worthy liquid is the bee's knees. Almost literally. Try a lavender infusion for honey with floral flavor:

Vanilla Extract

There's no knowing why vanilla became synonymous with bland. The extract from this ancient Mesoamerican bean is complex and fragrant, and is perfect when baked into creme brulee or broiled on grapefruits:

Balsamic Vinegar

If you've ever made your own salad dressing, you're probably familiar with this Italian condiment. Balsamic vinegar is a perfect complement to fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, works magic in marinades and can be reduced to a syrup and used as a garnish:

Lentils

Is that box of lentils languishing in the back of your cabinet? Time to pull it out. Lentils are the perfect legumes for making protein-rich soups, salads and—get this—cookies:

Barbecue Sauce

In addition to being the one condiment you must have for grilling season, barbecue sauce is an easy out when you need lots of flavor without lots of work. Some of our favorite things to slather it on include pizza, chicken wings and even savory muffins:

Greek Yogurt

Besides being a healthy staple for breakfast or a snack, Greek yogurt can also be used up in a marinade for chicken, as a creamy addition in soup or even in pancake batter. And don't forget about tzatziki!

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder might be the perfect chocolate boost for brownies and cakes, but try it in Mexican food to bring it back to its roots. Mole sauces and spicy Mexican hot chocolate are some traditional options:

Maple Syrup

Don't have a maple tree tapped in your backyard? Good thing you've got Canada (and Vermont) to pick up the slack. Use this sweet nectar to flavor everything from scones to French fries to roasted meats:

Potatoes

This humble Peruvian tuber is a staple in most all of the world's cuisines. It can be prepared in every way imaginable, and will last for months if stored in a dark, cool place (away from the onions!):

Curry Paste & Powder

Whether you're using paste or powder, curry is a great flavoring agent for sauces, soups and marinades. Looking for the ultimate quick fix? Curry + coconut milk = instant awesome:

Frozen Peas

Finish off almost any pasta with frozen peas, add them into a pot pie, or toss them into a salad. Any way you slice it, your freezer should definitely have a few bags of these at all times:

Canned Salsa

Unlock the potential of salsa by piling it on top of your burgers, adding it in with slow-cooker meats and even mixing it into your rice. Bonus: it doesn't take up fridge space until you've opened it:

Worcestershire Sauce

Not many ingredients are as versatile as Worcestershire. It adds a salty, garlicky flavor to meat, so it's ideal for marinades and sauces. It's also a must-have if you're cooling off with a round of Micheladas:

Frozen Shrimp

Shrimp is one of the quickest-cooking proteins out there, so when you're short on time, tap into its amazingness by sauteeing it and serving over rice. And don't forget about shrimp when you're entertaining—they're often at their best when served cold:

Pizza Dough

Pizza dough is just for pizza, right? Wrong. You can use it to make cinnamon rolls, one-bite appetizers or just some cheesy breadsticks. Plus, it keeps in the freezer for at least a few months:

Jam & Preserves

Supplies for emergency PB&Js should always be in your pantry, but the buck doesn't stop there when it comes to jams, jellies and preserves. You can easily amp-up any dessert with them, or even use them in a sweet and savory sauce for meatballs:

Grains

We all love our rices and our pastas, but sometimes we like to move into uncharted territory with starches. Have an adventure with farro, couscous and quinoa in these grain salads:

Mustard

If you haven't explored the mustard world lately, you're really missing out. There are tons of different varieties and you can use them to add a tanginess to almost any meat, not to mention roasted veggie and sandwich possibilities:

Dried Fruit

Sucking the water out of fruit not only makes for highly concentrated flavors, it also renders fruits shelf-stable. Store them in the cupboard and use to sweeten baked goods, veggie dishes, grain salads and stews:

Canned Tomatoes

Odds are you've got your own ideas about what to do with a can of tomatoes. When it comes to using this pantry essential the options may be endless, but here are some of our favorites:

Cornbread Mix

Did you think cornbread mix was just for making cornbread? Silly goose. You've been missing out on some revelatory casseroles and biscuits! Oh, and don't forget about the hot dogs and sausages you could have been dipping:

Bacon

It's a proven fact that bacon makes everything better (we've studied it), so you should definitely keep some in the fridge for testing that thesis. You can even add it to desserts for a salty twist, like this bacon brittle:

Canned Artichoke Hearts

Didn't make as much artichoke dip as you expected? Try baking artichoke hearts into a casserole, spreading them over bread with some cheese or just sauteing them with chicken:

Mayo

Mayo is the base of so many delicious things that it's almost impossible to not have some in the fridge. What would the world be without chipotle mayo or chicken salad?

Pickles

Still have the same jar of pickles from last summer's barbecue season in the back of your fridge? Pull them out and get to work on some party snacks, dips or even just fried pickle chips:

Hot Sauce

Firstly, if you can keep a bottle of hot sauce for more than a month without using it, congrats—you're stronger than we are. But if you do find that bottle lingering, fear not, because you can buffalo just about anything (chicken, pizza, fries, your whole life):

Coconut Milk

You want to whip-up a boxed cake but you want it to taste homemade—good thing you've got coconut milk in the pantry. Use it in place of the liquids to give any baked good extra flavor, or to amp-up stir-fries and seafood:

Frozen Berries

It's impossible to keep yourself stocked with fresh berries all the time, so head for the frozen variety. Did you know freezing the fruit actually locks in its nutrients? Use berries for frozen drinks, pies and even homemade sorbet:

Popcorn

Goodbye, movie theater butter, you're old news. Spice up your life with spiced popcorn or try something crazy and bake those fluffy popped kernels into cookies:

Nuts

Protein-packed and ready to eat, nuts are a staple in any pantry. If you're not into them as a snack on their own, try crusting fish with them (like this mahi mahi), or trying your hand at making peanut butter:

Oats

Rich with essential nutrients, versatile in their uses and easy to prepare, oats make for an ideal breakfast. Eat them as a porridge, cooked into pancakes or blended into a smoothie:

Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is like the blank canvas of foods—you can transform it completely with the addition of almost anything. Wrap it around chicken and asparagus for a new take on the chicken roll, or use it as a base for inventive pastries:

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