Nothing sparks wanderlust quite like not knowing when your next vacation will be. If you are feeling stuck, literally, in your home without any plans in sight – travel or otherwise – or simply don’t know what to make for dinner when the refrigerator starts to look bare, pantry meals are your getaway ticket.
For the times when you would rather be anywhere else than where you are, your kitchen can be your personal portal to the world. Whether it’s by creating flavors that take you back to a memory – like the saffron risotto you had in Milan or the pico de gallo you had on the beach in Mexico, or bringing you to a place you have never been, a brief escape is never too far.
Many signature dishes from around the world are pantry meals, and consequently comfort foods. Born from the need to create substantial plates to feed a crowd inexpensively, they use what’s readily available like rice, beans, eggs, potatoes and cheaper cuts of meat. So, even if you have limited ingredients and can’t make it to the store, you can whip up one of these recipes.
Where do you want to go?
Polenta is simply coarsely ground cornmeal. It’s filling, quick and easy to make, needing no more than water, butter, salt and pepper, and maybe a spoonful of grated parmesan to make it delicious. Spoonable like grits or cooled and cut into shapes, it could be a side dish or the base of a full meal.
Another staple of any Italian recipe collection is Pasta e Fagiole, or you might know it better as “pasta fazool.” It translates to pasta and beans and that’s exactly what it is. If you have a can of tomatoes, beans and any kind of pasta in your pantry, you have a meal.
Of course, pasta is the quintessential pantry meal. Get two meals out of one with leftover spaghetti pie.
Are you starting to sense a bean theme? Like so many pantry meals, cassoulet makes the most out of the cupboard staple. Traditionally made from rich duck confit gently simmered in its own fat and slow-cooked white beans, classic cassoulet requires several steps and several days to prepare completely from scratch. This simplified version cuts down on time but not taste.
The “poor man’s caviar,” lentils are also revered in French cooking for their versatility. Warm French lentils absorb any flavor that you put on them. Tossed in a light mustard-based vinaigrette, it makes for a healthy, substantial and surprisingly tasty meal.
For a hearty dinner that will feed a crowd, make beef bourguignon and get transported to Julia Child’s kitchen in Paris. A long, slow simmer reduces stew meat and red wine to fork-tender bliss. Take a cue from Julia and set aside some of that wine in a glass for yourself.
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From the land of tapas and paella, Spanish tortilla or tortilla de patatas, is the ultimate pantry meal. Got eggs? Got potatoes? Those two things, plus a little bit of finesse when it comes time to turn the whole thing over and cook the other side are all you need. Pair with a soup or salad.
Avgolemono, Greek egg, lemon and orzo soup, is chicken soup with a zing. Stick-to-your-bones enough for a sick day or a snow day, and bright enough for warmer days when you could picture yourself on the caldera in Santorini, it’s comfort food at its best, ready to be made at any time.
Transform the ramen from the packet that you know so well from college into the restaurant noodles that you love as an adult with these instant ramen upgrades.
The perfect pantry meal for when you have leftover white rice from takeout or a previous night’s dinner, fried rice turns the side dish into the main event. A hot pan/wok and cold rice is the secret to getting a crispy brown result. Add in chicken, beef or pineapple if you’d like.
Bibimbap is an all-in-one bowl meal, consisting of vegetables, meat, chili sauce, meat and an egg over warm rice. And it’s as fun to eat as it is to say. Here’s an easy version to try. Top it the traditional way with kimchi; for a rewarding kitchen project, make your own.
Shakshuka – poached eggs in tomato sauce – is a favorite Israeli breakfast, but it’s eaten any time of day. A one-pan wonder, it’s typically also served in the cast iron pan that it’s cooked in. Hooray for less dishes to wash! Sprinkle a little feta on top and serve with toasted bread or pita for dipping.
Tagine, a slow-cooked stew named for the ceramic vessel that it is made in, is a signature of Moroccan cuisine. While traditional recipes could take two to four hours, this one produces the depth the dish is known for in just one. You don’t need an actual tagine; any sturdy ceramic pot will do.
Perhaps Morocco’s most famous food, couscous is a super simple multi-tasker that is great to keep in your stockpile; it is an ideal base for any stew or tagine, or it can be a quick pantry meal made with whatever veggies and herbs you have.
Every Latin American country has their own take of Empanadas. Argentina’s version has a buttery, more pastry-like dough. These pockets of coziness can be stuffed with a variety of fillings, from beef or chicken to ham and cheese. Get the whole family involved with filling and folding the dough, then fry or bake and enjoy!
Inspiration From Home
During these times of self-quarantine and limited groceries, a few celebrity chefs have been sharing their favorite pantry meals and tips for cooking with what you have on hand. Check out their Instagram accounts for more ideas.
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I know so many of you are very anxious about what’s to come because I am, too. The one thing we CAN do, though, is cook for the people we love who are sheltered in place with us. Over the next days and weeks, I’ll post lots of ideas for delicious things to make from your pantry and fridge – along with substitutions if you only have granulated sugar and not brown sugar, or onions and not shallots! Please stay safe and we will take care of each other through this crisis. Tell me what’s in your pantry and I’ll think of recipes for you to make! ❤️❤️❤️
What have you been cooking lately? Do you have a favorite pantry meal? Share your ideas and recipes in the comments.
More ideas for keeping busy when you’re stuck at home.