Ten pantry staples on a budget to stock up on during self-isolation
With panic buying clearing supermarket shelves, we all need pantry staples on a budget. We’ve all seen the news and it’s scary. Covid-19, or coronavirus, has spread. We don’t fully know what we’re dealing with and the world seems to have changed in a heartbeat. Most of us are self-isolating, or at least social distancing.
That’s the reason for this impromptu post. I actually wrote it at 3am last night (couldn’t sleep). There’s been a lot of hysteria on the news and social media about coronavirus. People are posting about the panic buying / stockpiling taking place, as shoppers bulk buy hand sanitizer and fight over toilet roll. The incessant reporting of this creates a vicious cycle as others reading think: ‘oh crap, I better go out and buy some extra items…’ and it goes on.
I’m scared too. I’m worried about an impending nappy shortage (will 2020 see the rise of cloth nappies?), and even whether we’ll get fresh milk. It’s times like this I wish we were self-sufficient, or even lived on a farm. Alas, we’re urban dwellers.
However, courtesy of being brown and Bengali, one thing I’m learning through being quarantined is to be more efficient with my pantry and freezer. The thing is, curries go a long way, they’re perfect for bulk cooking and freezing and a lot of the base ingredients are dry goods that you don’t need to stockpile by the bucket load. So I’m sharing ten foods to stock up on during self-isolation, so you don’t need to panic buy.
The tips below aren’t restricted to curry, so feel free to experiment.
10 pantry staples on a budget
1. Dried pulses
Growing up, there was always a pack of dry chickpeas in the cupboard, especially during Ramadan. Though it was an effort. Mum would soak the chickpeas overnight; boil them to oblivion (for about 40 mins), before using in cooking.
Then we discovered tinned chickpeas and never looked back. First, they felt too soft and mushy, but after using canned chickpeas for years they became the new normal. However, for Hannah I bought some organic dried chickpeas. It was a tiny bag (about 300g) that sat in my cupboard for nearly a year. I’ve only recently got it out at her request (she discovered it while snooping).
The result? After following mum’s soak-then-boil method, the humble tiny bag produced the equivalent of about six tins of chickpeas. I’ve used some and frozen the rest in bags.
Chickpeas work great because in dry form they last forever (though check the label for the expiry date). Once they encounter water, they grow like gizmo in the Gremlins. Gen Z people, if you’ve not watched the Gremlins, now is the time to do so.
2. Load up on lentils
Similar to my point above about dried chickpeas vs. canned chickpeas, at times like this, lentils are your friend. Dried red split lentils have the same crazy growing capabilities as chickpeas. A small handful of daal goes a long way. I mention dried split red lentils as they’re a Bengali staple, but the good news is there’s a whole rainbow of different lentils available so you needn’t get bored. I can post up a daal recipe if needed.
3. Freeze fresh ginger and garlic
Again, going back to basics. In recent times, I’ve only ever used fresh garlic and ginger in cooking. But being heavily pregnant has changed all that. I’m now all for an easy life, so if there’s a cheat / shortcut that doesn’t compromise on flavour, I’m all over it.
But wait, you can buy minced garlic and ginger in jars… why bother freezing fresh?
Yes, you can buy minced garlic and ginger in jars. In fact, I’ve got some in my fridge for a rainy day. A very rainy day. However, jars of minced garlic and ginger aren’t really my bag. They seem to have a smell (is it the preservatives?) that I can’t shake off. I’m a bit of a purist. So when I had the inclination I would chop fresh garlic, peel then grate ginger before adding it to my curries. However, this was a time suck, and as I don’t make curry that often, I’d find that the stems of garlic and bulbs of fresh ginger would sometimes rot before I had a chance to get through it.
Just the other day, I got out my blender, chipped garlic and grated ginger. Threw them in with a little water and blitzed. I then poured into an ice cube tray, froze, before popping into a bag and back in the freezer. The result? 12 cubes of frozen ginger/garlic mince for a dozen curries. If that’s not winning in self-isolation, I don’t know what is
4. Make veg-free keema and lamb to freeze
- Curry freezes really well.
- It’s perfect for batch cooking.
My favourite to freeze is keema curry. The cooked mincemeat is as good as new once defrosted and can be repurposed as lasagne, shepherd’s pie or Bolognaise. So damn versatile. My pro tip would be to freeze a batch of keema before you add any vegetables. So if you’re making keema with peas, separate a cooked portion to freeze, before adding the peas to the keema you’ll be eating fresh. That way the keema will freeze for longer.
Another great curry dish to freeze is lamb curry. Again, I’d omit any vegetables if you’re freezing. If you want an authentic Bangladesh lamb curry recipe, click here.
Does chicken curry freeze well?
I’m not so keen on freezing chicken curry. It goes a bit watery and stringy when defrosted and reheated. That’s just my personal opinion.
5. Make your own bone broth
Bone broth is a bit love/hate in my family. I really like it for its nutritional value. I’ve really gotten Hannah into it, but hubby won’t even taste it for love or money. My mum’s also a bit grossed out by boiling bones.
But I love bone broth. And the way I make it, it tastes good enough to drink! I’ll post up a full recipe, but the basic 101 is that you boil up some bones with garlic, ginger, one sliced onion, 1/3 tsp each turmeric, Vitamin C powder (this draws out the minerals) curry powder, a bay leaf and whatever veg you’ve got going spare. ALL of the above can be adapted, except for the Vitamin C powder, which I’d argue is essential.
Simmer this for 6 hours (yes, that’s a lot, but at least you’ll be indoors). Then drain the broth into a bowl through s sieve and discard the bones and veg. Pop the broth in the fridge overnight. This will let the fat rise to the top and solidify. You can then spoon off the fat in the morning and Voila, nutritious and tasty bone broth!
The humble bone broth is also great during times of self-isolation as it can be consumed for up to five days and frozen in ice cubes like the ginger garlic. While I just drink the stuff, you can use it to add a meaty flavour to daal or pep up some pasta. It’s also great for soups, and I have two recipes here and here. Apparently every Michelin restaurant has a pot of broth on the boil to add to dishes. Since you’re not going out, you might as well bring the fine dining experience home.
The best bones for bone broth? Chicken and lamb.
6. Tinned tomatoes
I don’t need to overwork this one… tinned tomatoes are your friend. They add colour and flavour to a curry, and work as an excellent base for pasta (side whisper – you don’t always need to buy a jar of sauce). I would opt for the peeled plum tomatoes tins. You get more tomato for your buck than you do with tinned chopped tomatoes.
7. Tinned sardines
Yeah, yeah, sardines are smelly. They’re also a powerhouse of nutrition. Plus, when added to fried onions with spices, chopped garlic and chopped coriander, they’re actually delicious. So get over yourself. The sardines in tomato sauce version is my favourite. With tinned sardines you can eat the bones, so you get extra minerals for your bones. All you need to do is rub off the scales. If you’re really in doubt, check out my easy curried sardines recipe.
8. Tinned mackerel
As above, get over yourself. Mackerel, as the less smelly relative of sardines, can also be enjoyed without cooking as you can empty the tin into chopped onions, coriander, chopped green chillies and salt. It makes for a great zingy dish that goes really well with rice. It’s every Bangladeshi household’s secret weapon. If you do try this, make sure you go for the tinned mackerel in oil or brine.
9. Basmati rice
And the glue that connects all of the above dishes? Rice. No, I don’t mean Uncle Ben’s microwave rice that will see you through one meal. I mean proper, dried basmati rice that is sold by the kilo, not gram. Every Bengali household has a bag of basmati rice. It’s not bulk buying, it’s life.
10. Dried garlic powder and onion powder are your friends
Can’t be bothered with any of the above? I don’t blame you. Just get some dried garlic and dried onion powder. That should see you through for a little while.
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About the Author
I’m not a makeup artist, chef, lifestyle guru or stylist. I’m just me. And like you, I’m trying to make the best of most things, only I’m sharing my warts-and-all thoughts along the way.