Every week, I answer the same email again and again and again – and I keep meaning to do a blog post about it but just haven’t got around to it. So what better time than a 3 hour drive through Tanzania?
Now before we start, I’m not suggesting that you rush out and buy everything on this list all at once – because I know that for a lot of my readers, that’s not possible to do – and anyway, you might not like everything on the list. That’s the thing about your kitchen cupboard, it’s YOURS.
I built mine up a spice a week – in the weeks that I could afford to do so. I already had herb plants on my window ledge from “the better days”, so I didn’t have to buy them, but I found a 30p jar of mixed herbs an invaluable alternative to any woody herb, like thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, etc, and great to sprinkle into a carton of chopped tomatoes for a quick and simple pasta sauce.
When I was eating on a budget of around £10 a week for myself and my young son, I bought ‘a carb a week’. So, one week I bought a bag of rice, the next week pasta, the next week would be flour, and the week after would be ‘fancy carbs’ – pearl barley, or red lentils, or something like that. So sure, week one was rice with everything, but by week two I could alternate rice with pasta, by week three I could throw my own bread into the mix, make white sauces, batter stuff, and by week four I was practically haute cuisine. Sort of. Of course, if you have a larger family, you’ll go through things more quickly than a small woman and a small boy, but use it as a guide – you don’t have to buy everything at once.
Beans, beans, beans. If you’ve read more than five recipes on my blog, you’ll probably have worked out that I am fanatical about beans. Red kidney beans are the cheapest you can buy in a can, and require little cooking time, and cheap baked beans are quite versatile if you rinse the sauce off – they can pad out a casserole quite nicely, for example, for around a third of the price of a can of ‘clean’ cannelloni or haricot beans.
So, the following are things I use in my recipes *a lot*, because they’re very versatile and can be used across a wide range of dishes, unlike some ‘rareified’ ingredients. (Smoked water? Heston, I’m looking at you. Oh and juniper berries. FFS Nigella, what’s wrong with rosemary?!)
Mixed herbs, 30p
A mint or basil plant, £1.49 each
Natural yoghurt, 45p/500g
Powdered milk, £1.01
Plain flour, 65p/1.5kg
Baking soda, £1 – if you’re going to bake bread or cakes. If not, don’t worry.
Pasta, 39p/500g or spaghetti , 39p/500g
Tinned potatoes, 13p/540g
Red lentils, £1.09/500g – good for daal and soups and curries and padding out casseroles.
Chopped tomatoes, 35p/500g
Frozen spinach, £1.49/kg or frozen green beans, £1.49/kg
Tinned kidney beans, 21p/400g
Tinned chickpeas (dried take FOREVER to cook), 69p/400g
Tinned baked beans, 22p/454g
Tinned peaches, 32p
Tinned broken mandarin segments, 23p
Lemon or lime juice, 55p/250ml
A bag of carrots, 89p/1.5kg
A bag of onions, £1
Garlic bulbs, 50p/2 (cheaper in bulk, which I do sometimes and preserve them in white wine vinegar)
Red wine, £3.50/750ml, or 4 pack of bitter, 99p
Chicken or vegetable stock cubes, 20p/10
Dark chocolate, 31p/100g
I’ve put the prices in from memory – I’m in a Land Cruiser in the middle of Morogoro with very sketchy internet access – so I’ll double check them later – so price pedants, please don’t chew my ear off if I’m a few grams or pence out here or there!
I hope this helps – as I said, you don’t need to buy it all at once, and have a nose in your cupboard to see what you already have kicking about. But having some easy essentials on hand makes ‘rustling up dinner’ much less of a mission – and means that the weeks when wallets are really quite empty, you don’t have to get very much at all to be able to make some great meals for yourself and your family.
Also – think about donating any of the ‘ambient’ products above to your local food bank if you can. They’re inundated with cans of beans and soup – but spices and tinned fruit wouldn’t go amiss. Find your local food bank on Google and give them a ring and see if there’s anything in particular that they’re short of.
I hope this helps! What are your storecupboard essentials? Anything you think I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
Jack. Twitter; @MsJackMonroe