I have always loved articles that tell me what I should keep in my pantry/larder/fridge. I learned to value these lists because I was lazy and the thought of going to the store in 1) a storm 2)high heels and a suit or 3)a state of intense hunger was about as appealing as a trip to the laundromat. My husband did because he grew up in a family where someone would routinely bring home between one and a dozen uninvited guests for dinner and his mom had to quickly adjust to make them feel welcome.
When feeling lazy or faced with unannounced guests I find that the difference between viewing cooking as a pleasure or a curse depends on how well you’ve stocked up. Thus, to throw together mideast/west cooking on a moment’s notice, here’s what I keep on hand (most of which you can buy in bulk at Costco or pick up at your local grocery store):
In the fridge/freezer:
Whole chickens (organic, Halal or Kosher are preferred)
80% lean ground beef
feta and parmesan cheese, plus some hard cheese to munch on
lots of lemons, whole fresh ones
lots of whole fresh tomatoes. Romas in the summer; on the vine in the winter
red and white onions (if you keep them in the fridge it won’t make you cry when you chop them)
greek or middle eastern yogurt (In Chicago we could get middle eastern brands. Now we get the Greek Gods brand at any grocery store)
frozen peas and carrots
slivered almonds, pistachios and pine nuts
English or Persian cucumbers (the thin-skinned kind)
pita bread (only if I can get it fresh. Where I live now I make my own.)
Naan (I keep it in the freezer)
In the pantry:
canned or packaged chicken stock (when I make my own I keep it in the freezer)
reconstituted lemon juice (for soups, stews and roasts, never for salads)
canned or dry chick peas and northern beans
large cans of pureed and whole tomatoes
salted snacking nuts (almonds for me, cashews for hubby)
Extra virgin olive oil
pasta (orzo, angel hair, couscous)
In the spice rack:
a good curry powder
a biryani spice mix
cumin (ground and seeds)
cardamom (pods and ground)
a smoky paprika
oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, mint and flat leaf parsley (fresh when we can get it, dried when we can’t)
sea or kosher salt (it just tastes better, y’all)
chicken bouillon (when used in place of salt, it adds a greater depth of flavor)
Stuff we get when a Middle Eastern grocer can be found:
Kubba Krass – These little footballs of deliciousness are great on their own and float in your shorbat nicely too. They include spiced ground beef and pine nuts enrobed in bulghar wheat.
Potato Chop – imagine spicy meatloaf, surrounded by mashed potatoes and fried into bite-sized snacks.
Torchi – A hot pink pickle made out of a turnip. You have to try them.
Amba – This is also available in the Indian stores. It’s a curry spiced pickled mango. Toss some with tomatoes for a great salad or serve them as a salsa with salmon. Yummy!
Torchi amba – mixed veggies pickled in the same kind of curried sauce as the mango.
Loobia – these are small, black, dehydrated limes that add a sour note to soups when fresh lemon juice isn’t available
Basterma – a lovely, magenta-colored beef sausage for snacking
HP Sauce – this fabulous concoction which we owe to the English is similar to Heinz 57 steak sauce. Dip your potato chops in this and swoon.
Pomegranate Molasses – a sweet and sour sauce basically. Great for glazing
Rosewater – good for washing up, also for baking if used very sparingly. It’s like rosemary or lavender. Use too much and everything just tastes soapy.