Kitchen Pantry Cooking Challenge!
July 18, 2015 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Your fridge is [mostly] empty. You're too lazy to drive to the grocery store, but not too lazy to stay in and cook. You may even have an impossibly tiny food budget. What great meals do you whip up from the storage in your pantry?

Pantry ingredients can include not just pasta, grains, canned items, spices, oils and vinegars, but also potatoes, garlic, and onions.

- I'm not a picky eater, and I have no dietary restrictions.
- Recipe ideas can be as low-brow or high-brow as you like.
- Ethnic foods (as well as deceptively healthy, or not-too-unhealthy foods) are also a plus.
- Using up refrigerator food remnants (i.e. parmesan cheese rinds) is okay.
- Frozen veggies are okay in some situations, since (for example) frozen peas > canned peas.
- Crockpot recipes are cool, but I'd prefer recipes that can be made within an hour or two at most.
posted by nightrecordings to Food & Drink (52 answers total) 206 users marked this as a favorite
Are dried beans part of your panty? If they are, make black beans and rice. There are variations on it throughout Latin America (for example: gallo pinto in Costa Rica). Probably my favorite go-to ethnic protein-and-starch. Eat it by itself or as a side. It's twice as good the next day.
posted by jquinby at 7:36 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: jquinby: Yes, I definitely have dried beans of several varieties in my pantry, so bean recipes are great!

Note, and then I'll quit thread-sitting: The recipes can involve any type of pantry/shelf-stable items, even if they are not as common. I am willing (and want) to restock my pantry based on with what I can do the most magic.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:48 AM on July 18, 2015

  • I'll put some quinoa and a can of chickpeas in the rice cooker with some chicken broth and spices (e.g., cumin + chile powder, garam masala, various herbs, sometimes lemon). Healthy, quick, easy.
  • Cut those potatoes into small cubes, then make home fries with onions and garlic. Serve as a taco filling, along with a can of black beans. (I've always got tortillas in the fridge.)
  • Speaking of tortillas, quesadillas are insanely versatile. You can always make a quesadilla if you have a tortilla and a cheese. Throw in some leftovers or a can of something and bam.
  • The easiest and bestest pasta sauce ever is Marcella Hazan's tomato and butter sauce. It has three ingredients: Tomatoes, butter, and an onion -- all of which most people have most of the time. Takes about 45 minutes to cook, but it's unattended cooking time and oooohhhhh soooooo yummy.
  • Duarte's artichoke soup is to die for. Instead of using cream, I add some peeled potatoes to the soup while it's cooking. When the soup is pureed, the potatoes thicken it. (Seriously, it is sooooo good.)
  • See also: Wonder Pot meals.

posted by mudpuppie at 7:49 AM on July 18, 2015 [14 favorites]

Assuming that aromatic veggies such as carrots and celery are also part of your standard pantry (and in this recipe can even be the floppy old ones you find in the bottom of your crisper), make tomato soup by sautéing diced carrots, onions and celery, then add a large can of whole tomatoes and some broth (can be a bouillon cube, Better than Bouillon--my fave--or actual broth) and salt/pepper. Parsley if you've got it. Simmer, purée with immersion blender and splash some milk or cream if you like. Sooooooo much better than Campbell's.
posted by Liesl at 7:51 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lots of frozen spinach for nutritional value. Most of the food you list is rather beige and composed mainly of starches and carbohydrates; the beans will help, but frozen spinach is going to be your most nutritious long-term-storage food.

Even green beans and frozen peas are, while healthy, not nutritionally dense _enough_ to make up for a dinner composed primarily of pasta, grains, and potatoes.

Another component I sometimes keep in the freezer is vegetarian sausage; thawed, and cut in to half-moon slices, it's a fairly good addition to beans and rice.
posted by amtho at 7:56 AM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

posted by something something at 7:58 AM on July 18, 2015 [17 favorites]

This tuna/ lemon/ basil pasta is a staple for me, with the caveat that you have to have a lemon. I have a couple of basil plants on a windowsill, so I don't have to go out for the basil. I add capers. (Martha Stewart has a similar recipe that looks delicious, but a cup of basil is beyond the capacity of my windowsill.) Someday I need to fool around with it and see if I can make it work with vinegar, for days when I don't have a lemon.

My complete standby, which I assume is many other people's complete standby, is pasta with butter and Parmesan. You can also toss in many pantry/ windowsill items like herbs, capers, jarred artichoke hearts, etc. I always have a big hunk of Parmesan in my fridge. It lasts forever.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:00 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pasta with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and canned water-packed tuna is always good. Lightly sautéed garlic is a good addition.

Bacon freezes well -- and you can always cook just a couple of pieces and then fry up onions, peas, or whatever in the grease and add it to pasta or rice. If you've got eggs handy, spaghetti carbonara.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:03 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

My go to lazy dish is shakshouka. Recipes can get super complicated but I've made a damn good shak out of nothing but ingredients I found at a bodega - canned tomato, eggs, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes. Cumin if you wanna get fancy. You can even skip the eggs if your fridge is totally spent.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:08 AM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Serious Eats' cast-iron pub pizza. These are surprisingly good.

Small cans of plain tomato sauce, as well as both jarred and fresh garlic are things we always have on hand, like tortillas. Although the cheeses are perishable, we're rarely without them (and the hard cheeses last for a very long time indeed).
posted by crush-onastick at 8:21 AM on July 18, 2015

It's not a complete meal, but Smitten Kitchen's recipe for mustard-roasted potatoes is sooooo delicious, and pretty easy.

Frozen spinach in a skillet along with a tiny bit of red pepper flakes and shredded (unsweetened) coconut is surprisingly good, plus it's fast. I do a lazier version of this 101 Cookbooks recipe.

I eat roasted canned chickpeas a lot - it's super fast (drain, rinse, toss with oil & salt, put on a cooking sheet & throw in the oven), tasty and high-protein. You can combine with other stuff if you like.
posted by aka burlap at 8:23 AM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Misir Wat or Egyptian red lentil soup or dal (canned tomatoes, dried herbs instead of fresh, chile powder instead of dried chilies) all work very nicely as pantry meals.
posted by Jeanne at 8:23 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hummus from canned garbanzos, vinegar and whatever other spices, additions then simple home made crackers or pita. Mackrel patties from south american sardines in tomato sauce, stir into mashed mackrel, tomato sauce from the can, precooked corn cereal, cumin, salt, chopped celery, onion, lemon juice ( if you have it). Make into oval patties, sautee in garlic oil. These are really good, I had to come up with a recipe I like, because I wanted to keep canned protein items for storage, I didn't look but hoped the mackrel was lower in mercury than tuna.
posted by Oyéah at 8:28 AM on July 18, 2015

Ramen is pretty easy to doctor up into some sort of ersatz takeout-style peanut noodle thing. Add a dollop of creamy peanut butter, a glug of soy sauce or fish sauce, and something with a bit of heat: Thai curry paste is great but honestly sriracha or Tabasco works fine too, we're not trying to win any prizes for authenticity here. A bit of sesame oil on top is nice too but not necessary.

You can also add whatever protein or veggies you have around, but I find the peanut butter contributes enough protein and fat already to make it reasonably filling on its own.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:32 AM on July 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you tend to have eggs around, spaghetti with butter and an over-easy egg or two on top is also surprisingly good. The egg has to be cooked with the yolk still runny; toss it with the hot noodles and butter and it thickens partway and makes a sort of halfassed carbonara sauce. Make sure to salt the pasta water for this one — there's no other source of salt in the recipe and it will turn out shockingly bland if you don't. (And you can add bacon or parmesan or garlic or frozen peas or all of the above if you have them around.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:36 AM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do you have eggs? If no eggs, I bet you could sub out potatoes and this would be a great meal. This is a dish I had in Oaxaca, Mexico - Scrambled eggs and black beans in chicken broth. It's amazingly simple, fast, and quite filling. Something magical happens when everything is covered by a nice broth. I just use those ingredients, but a more complicated version is here - Scrambled Eggs with Black Beans, Broth, and Epazote.
posted by belau at 8:40 AM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

mix leftover veggies/grains/beans with a couple eggs and spices (herbs but also ketchup, bbq, soy sauce, whatever), shape into a burger and bake.... veggie burger! A round cookie cutter comes in handy here, they are like 50 cents.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:40 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

We often make curry with canned coconut milk, a bag of frozen stirfry vegetables, some curry paste, and onions. Add protein of your choice (chickpeas, chicken, etc.) Serve over rice.

Fried rice - leftover rice, leftover veggies (or frozen mixed veg), scrambled egg, onion, soy sauce
posted by belladonna at 8:43 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've been making a basic Thai curry with thai curry paste from the ethnic foods aisle at the grocery store (you have to refrigerate it after opening, but it lasts forever), a can of coconut milk and some frozen stir fry veggies and chicken breast. Super easy and absolutely no fresh ingredients required.
posted by MadamM at 8:46 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I make penne pasta with spinach. I keep a bag of frozen spinach that comes in a bag of little blocks just for this purpose. Heat some olive oil with a crapton of smashed garlic, and put several fozen spinach cubes in to simmer at very low heat. When it is all thawed and warmed, toss the pasta in the pan to mix the spinach and olive oil in. Grind pepper over the top and add more olive oil if the whole thing isn't wet enough. As a bonus this is a very cheap but very not crappy-broke-student meal.

Upgrades: You can sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top if you like. If you have a particularly posh pantry, you can also toast a handful of pine nuts to mix into this as well.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

My sister also does a pantry pasta dish: pasta with chickpeas. You can use dried or canned ones, it doesn't matter. She's like 3 leagues of functional human above me, so this is possible as an emergency dish for her because she freezes parsley from her deck or buys it on sale. Your level of adulthood may vary.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:55 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

One can of beans (or dried beans cooked as suits your fancy) simmered with garlic and onion, served in a bowl with a hardboiled egg or two, whole. Sounds totally weird; is totally delicious and filling and cheap as chips.

My brother's "fuuuuuck I dunno wtf to cook or eat" meal is to sweat a diced onion in butter and then add a can of chickpeas, a can of chopped tomatoes, and a bunch of diced kale, with Spices. Sometimes Indian-type spices, sometimes Morrocan-type spices, sometimes East African-type spices, sometimes Mediterranean-type spices, etc.
posted by KathrynT at 9:03 AM on July 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you have eggs and milk, you can make a quiche out of just about any cheese and veggie and/or protein. Easy but sophisticated cause it's French and all. I frequently make quiche with random leftovers that I want to use up. You can even throw leftover pasta in there.
posted by amro at 9:04 AM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

PS I make it in a store-bought pie crust, but I don't think that's necessary.
posted by amro at 9:05 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been keeping the ingredients for a quick spaghetti bolognese in my pantry and freezer lately. In the freezer I've got ground beef (bought in bulk and frozen in one sauce portions) and frozen veg, a spaghetti sauce mix that has onion, carrot, green pepper, and celery in it. If this were about ambition and freshness I'd chop and freeze my own veg, but it's not, so this is a mix from the frozen section. In the pantry I've got a jar of tomato sauce, the pasta (fettuccine and linguine also good), some dried basil, chili flakes, and garlic. Actually it's a jar of diced garlic so it's in the fridge. To cook, just microwave thaw the beef, brown it with the basil, garlic, chili, and salt and pepper, throw in the frozen veg and saute briefly, add to to sauce and simmer for 20 minutes or so while the pasta is cooking, and bam, dinner.

Chickpea curry is another recent favourite. Saute a couple of diced onions with some garlic, add a can of chickpeas, season with curry powder and whatever else you feel like, throw in a can of diced tomato and simmer. It's good with kale or swiss chard, but frozen spinach would work just as well. A dash of lemon or lime juice adds some zing. Serve with rice. The person I got the recipe from also eats it with an egg on top, which I don't usually do, but it's good.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I usually have at least one go to pasta for pantry meals. Aglio olio was it for a long time, and as long as you have olive oil, garlic, and parmesan, it's good. It also goes with pretty much anything you do have lying around. You can serve it with some chicken or vegetables or whatever, or just plain, when you are dismally low on groceries.

My current pantry dinner default is pasta puttanesca, and I keep anchovies, capers, and Kalamata olives around primarily for that. (I also often have half a bag of fresh spinach, which I'll add when I do.) That's a fair amount of stuff to keep around, but I love puttanesca.

Chana masala is pretty staple/pantry friendly, too, and dal can be little more than just lentils, but you can expand it with other vegetables you might have lying around.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do pasta agilo olio without cheese; instead, I use olive oil, garlic, anchovies, capers, and red pepper flakes.
posted by holborne at 9:45 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I posted this on the green a couple of months ago, and it is just as relevant to this question. The main ingredient is red lentils, and it's tasty, cheap (maybe 30 cents a serving for the no-frills version), and quick to make (under 20 minutes from start to actually eating it). It benefits from other pantry staples like olive oil, bouillon cubes, fresh or powdered garlic, fresh or powdered onion, red pepper flakes, ground black pepper, and cheap red wine. It's very adaptable to whatever random things you happen to have in your fridge/freezer/pantry that you want to use up (frozen veggies, sausage, bacon, chicken thighs or other scraps of meat, parmesan, different kinds of lentils other than red, etc.). It's also very nutritionally sound, with lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals, lots of protein for being something non-fresh and non-meat, etc. Everybody could do with a bit more lentils in their diet. I make it at least 1-2 times/week.
posted by ClaireBear at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2015

Potato gnocchi with brown butter is probably the most amazing $5 in the bank and a couple potatoes meal.
posted by sputzie at 9:54 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

My pantry go-to meals:
-Beans and rice. Start rice, then chop half an onion and several cloves of garlic. Saute garlic and onion in olive oil, then add two cans of mostly drained black beans and heat through. Grate some cheese and chop some green onions if you have any. Mix everything together in bowls and eat!
-Spaghetti with red sauce. We pretty much always have packages of ground turkey and/or pork in the freezer. Saute garlic and onions in olive oil, then add thawed ground meat. When meat is mostly cooked through, add a can of chopped Italian tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste. We also use a a dried herb blend (thyme, oregano, basil, a few other things) and add liberal helpings of that. If we're getting really fancy, we throw in some chopped mushrooms at the beginning with the onions too. Serve over cooked spaghetti.
-Rice with Campbells cream of mushroom soup. Saute chopped onions and garlic, then added thawed ground turkey, as above. Once it's mostly cooked through, add a can of Campbells cream of mushroom soup and about half a can of water. Stir thoroughly, add the dried herbs, then when it's heated through serve over rice.
-Rice and lentils, commonly called "glop" in my house for the sound it makes when you serve it. Throw some olive oil in a wide pan that has a lid. When it's hot, add 3/4 cup brown rice and let it start to brown. Then add 1 and 1/2 cups brown lentils and 5 and 1/4 cups water and 1 tsp salt. Stir, bring to a boil, then cover and turn to low and let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every once in a while. In the mean time, caramelize at least two onions. After 45 minutes, rice and lentils should be cooked through. Stir in caramelized onions and serve. It's really good with some dairy dolloped on top - we prefer grated cheddar, my parents like to put yogurt on it. This is one of my favorite comfort meals.
We make at least one of these at least once a week and they're all pretty cheap. We keep the pantry stocked with canned Italian chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, black beans, Campbells mushroom soup, rice and pasta, and lentils. There's always ground meat in the freezer and we always have onions and garlic.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:57 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

This recipe for a caramelized onion sauce with pasta has been one of my favorite pantry meals for at least a decade or so. It's nice if you have mushrooms to add to it too.
posted by tiger tiger at 10:08 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Put some pasta on to cook. Throw a bunch of veggies in a big skillet pan, add meat of your choice or not add some garlic & basil cook until tasty. I like to include bacon but make this with what ever. Grate up the Parmesan cheese say a cup, mix it with a couple or 3 eggs. Drain very al dente pasta saving a cup of cooking water, toss in pan with veg/meat to finish cooking then take off heat stir in mixed cheese & egg mix ad a little pasta water if needed to make creamy.
posted by wwax at 10:36 AM on July 18, 2015

Lookup potato recipes.

Potato soup.
Potato salad.
Fried or baked new potatoes, as a side for baked chicken (keep frozen chicken on hand) or a base for tossing in veggies, cheese, whatever.
Keep frozen hashbrowns and potatoes o'brien and fozen veggies on hand. Use as side dish or base for a meal.
Mashed potatoes.
Baked potatoes.

You can pan fry them and add whatever veggies and protein you like. If you cook meat in the pan first, you can toss in potatoes and water and other veggies for stew. If you want to go vegetarian, it can, instead, be thickened with a roué.

/potato fiend
posted by Michele in California at 10:38 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Rice vermicelli is my favourite shelf stable meal improvisation item. It takes literally five minutes to cook and can be served any number of ways. For example:

1. Boil and then cold-rinse the noodles, chop up whatever fresh vegetables you have (lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber) and throw them on top. Mix together some water, sugar, lime juice, and soy sauce and pour that mix on top. Done. (This is probably my single favourite meal on a hot summer's day.)

2. Soak the noodles for two minutes in warm water. Then fry them up with sesame oil, mushrooms, egg, and whatever else you like (I'm a vegetarian, but I hear shrimp and pork are good options). Throw in some chilies and any sort of Asian sauce you like (tamari, hoisin, oyster sauce, fish sauce). Done.

3. Make a very spicy soup broth, toss in some chopped tomatoes and vermicelli. Done. Optionally add mushrooms, bok choy, bean sprouts, etc.
posted by 256 at 11:01 AM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Oh, and I also use soba in much the same way. I tend to pair it with different veggies, but it is just as flexible. Only thing is that it does seem to go a little stale after 6+ months on the shelf, whereas rice vermicelli never does.
posted by 256 at 11:10 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like to make a peanut sauce (sauteed onions, curry-like spices, peanut butter, soy sauce, a splash of oj, coconut milk) and serve it over veggies and either rice or spaghetti. Add tofu/beans/meat as desired.
posted by belladonna at 12:11 PM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

West African peanut soup-- incredible flavor, incredibly warming and comforting, surprisingly pantry-friendly. (Tomato paste, broth, hot sauce, and peanut butter always seem to be lying around my cabinets.) The ginger is essential-- I don't know if that is a staple for you but I peel, cut into chunks and freeze so I always have it. I usually use fresh greens but I've used frozen collards and it was just as good.
posted by kapers at 12:13 PM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Shelf-stable and a good substitute for ground beef: textured vegetable protein (TVP). Will keep for a loooong time, then you just add water; it's pretty good in pasta sauces and soups.
posted by amtho at 12:25 PM on July 18, 2015

Here are three stanbys which are in our arsenal of wtf are we going to serve at the end of the week before shopping day. Usually we cook with fresh ingredients, but nearly everything in these we keep in stock.

1. Haricots verts Provençales - olive oil and smashed garlic into a pan to warm, add a serious big handful of fresh or frozen haricots verts (trader Joe has frozen). Stir. Add 1/4 C sliced black olives, salt, pepper, 1 T herbes de Provence, 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped. Cook till hot, stirring now and again. Oh, use the juice from the tomatoes to make a Spotting Mary.

2. Okra and tomatoes - 12 oz frozen okra, 1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, 2 T red wine or cider vinegar, pepper, dash of hot sauce. Heat in a pot. Personally, I don't mind okra mucous, but the acid cuts it down a bit.

3. Pinto beans - cook 3 slices of bacon not crisp, remove to drain then chop, keep 1T grease in the pan, add 1 can of drained pinto beans, juice of a lime (or a couple packets of True Lime), and the bacon. Heat over medium until hot.
posted by plinth at 1:39 PM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chicken broth
Rice or pasta
Beans or chickpeas
Carrots, onions, celery, garlic
Frozen peas
Frozen green beans
Dried Italian herbs, black pepper
Tomato paste or canned tomatoes

If you keep frozen chicken thighs or breasts on hand, you can throw those in as well. Frozen spinach or other greens would probably work too.

Beets and cabbage aren't usually considered pantry staples, but they last quite a while in the fridge if you store them right. So borscht works also.

Carrot-curry soup with a can of coconut milk.

If you keep ground beef in your freezer, meatloaf and chili with meat. If not, meatless chili.

You can make split pea soup with no added meat, just broth. Personally I prefer it this way: broth, split peas, carrots, onions, celery, black pepper and I like dried parsley with this.

All of these things can be frozen for later use, which is a big time saver.
posted by Cinnamon Bear at 2:06 PM on July 18, 2015

Pantry Manhattan Clam Chowder:

Canned clams
clam juice or chicken broth
onion, garlic, carrots, celery
tomato paste or canned tomatoes
dried bell pepper (optional)
black pepper
optional: dried parsley, celery seed, red wine vinegar

It's more expensive, but I like a mix of canned oysters and clams. I also add fish sauce.

You can also make a Tom Ka style soup with canned clams and optional oysters, if you have lemons or limes on hand. Coconut milk, chicken broth or clam juice, onions, carrots, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and lemon juice or lime juice. Not the real thing, but pretty good.

Citrus fruits last a long time in the fridge. Oranges and apples can be good staples for desserts or snacks.
posted by Cinnamon Bear at 3:37 PM on July 18, 2015

i am a pantry-cooking master. i keep the basics in stock, potato, carrot, turnip, garlic/onion, canned beans, frozen broccoli, frozen peas, some type of leafy green (preferably one that can double as salad green or cooked green) rice, pasta, milk, butter, plain yogurt, a couple kinds of vinegar. i live within walking distance of two amazing green grocers that each have different, extensive ethnic foods holdings (Korean, Eastern European/ Baltic, Italian, German) so i have an advantage when it comes to poverty cooking. i basically live paycheck to paycheck so i need more-bang-for-your-buck cooking options. i was vegan at one time but am not at all a vegetarian anymore, which means i had to learn about getting the most nutrition from non-animal sources. i tend to eat lots of vegetables and use meat mostly as a flavoring and try to follow the rule that a serving of meat is around the size of a credit card in length and width (though not in thickness obviously). so lots of prepared meats, sausage, ham, smoked meats (of which there are a startling array in my neighborhood). i also save left over meat from restaurant meals and if it's really good i'll keep the bones for sauces and soups. i'm super lazy as well so most of my meals are 20 min. or less in cook time and are usually one-pot meals or all-in-one-bowl meals.

my current go-to is a baked sweet potato (i just bought a really nice Breville toaster oven so most all my meals center around that), canned beans cooked in a pot that has maybe a bit of other vegetables sautéed with whatever meat i have handy plus garlic/onion. simmer for maybe ten minutes. break up the baked potato/sweet potato in a bowl and pour the simmered beans over it and top with greek yogurt, pickled beets, sauerkraut or kimchee. actually most of my meals are a variation of this. i switch out the baked/roasted vegetable now and then, turnips, carrot, kabocha squash etc. add more or less meat or none. sometimes put arugula on top, sometimes raw kale, sometimes cook the kale in with the beans, sometimes broccoli. if i'm feeling rich maybe i use goat or sheep cheese instead of plain yogurt.

i pretty much only use salt and pepper and vary flavor by cooking method i.e. start something on high heat to get some color on it then reduce heat and cover when it's mostly cooked so that the natural sweetness comes out, or steam veggies. i try to keep highly flavored foods on hand so that a little bit can go a long way on top of pasta or rice. sometimes i vary the cooking fat and use butter instead of olive oil, or schmaltz (clarified chicken fat) which can do wonders for pretty much anything you add it to. i also freeze steak or pork fat from restaurant meals and use that instead of or with whatever cooking oil.

my winter go-to was frozen ravioli tossed with sage butter i.e. almost-browned butter cooked with sage. i try to follow the serving size on the package so i would round it out with salad since i have access to cheap, quality greens on the regs. i also eat lots of things on toast (that Breville gets a work out). goat cheese and pickled beets with scallions on toast is a pretty bad-ass, breakfast accompaniment to fruit and coffee.

i know these are not recipes per se but these kinds of simple variations on basics can do a lot in terms of flavor. also, i can't say enough for gigantic salads. i eat beans daily so cold beans go in salad as well as pretty much every kind of vegetable along with anything that can combine to form a complete protein. my next big investment will be a slow cooker or crockpot so i can cook my own beans and save money as well as reduce my recycling.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 3:42 PM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Some things I've done on more occasions than I'd want to boast:

Canned beans, rice, salsa. If you have some frozen vegetables (doesn't matter which kinds), throw them on top of the rice for the last 7-10 minutes of cooking. If you have some cheese, that makes it even better.

Pasta + whatever soup you have handy. Penne with a clam chowder sauce is surprisingly wonderful.

I should also mention that I always have yeast in my refrigerator and flour in the cabinet. That means I can always make bread. Simple makeshift bread: 3 cups flour, 1.25 cup warm water, 2 t yeast, 1 t salt, a splash of either honey or sugar. Mix, knead 10 mins, rest for an hour, punch down, shape into a loaf (or put in loaf pan), rest for another hour. Bake at 400 for about 40 mins.
posted by General Malaise at 7:58 PM on July 18, 2015

Lentil tacos. 1 cup lentils, 2 cups water on a skillet on the stove - cool until the beans get to fill size and the water is mostly reduced, add a packet of taco seasoning and serve on your favorite corn tortilla. Optional: avocado, kimchi, or fajita style peppers.
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 3:23 AM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Canned tuna with penne, cream of chicken powdered soup, chicken stock, frozen peas and corn. Dice and fry an onion off first, if you have one.
posted by h00py at 5:41 AM on July 19, 2015

Pantry salad! Requires some frozen ingredients, but they're staples for me.

Combine the following (futzing with the ratios to get it where you want it, but the first three should be approximately equal parts):
* cooked/canned black beans, or chickpeas are nice too, or a combination
* frozen corn
* frozen edamame
* diced tomatoes
* chopped onion (red is nice)
* some kind of dressing - prepared salad dressing, yogurt, oil and vinegar, citrus juice, whatever
posted by mskyle at 6:28 AM on July 21, 2015

This works if you also have some frozen chopped kale and some shredded cheese -

Cook and mash up a potato. Stir some chopped cooked kale into that, then spread that in a small baking dish and sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Sling that under the broiler until the cheese melts.

You have colcannon. Your'e welcome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:50 PM on July 23, 2015

My recent go-tos for long days have been ramen with egg (add vegetables in the bowl with the ramen chunk; pour in hot water and cover with a plate; turn burner on low and set timer for four minutes; butter + egg in pan, add water so it steams and cover for ~30 seconds to a minute; move egg on top of ramen, slice open yolk section with a fork, and devour).

I'm also a huge fan of onion soup (fry onions and garlic until they caramelize, heat up broth, combine, nom) which can be dressed up with more vegetables, miso, wine, random extras, and even toasted bread and cheese if you're feeling fanceh.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:12 PM on July 23, 2015

Eggs last forever in the fridge. So, anything with eggs.

My only true pantry recipe is dhal. I'll often cook up a batch whilst I'm making something else, as it tastes better when it's boiled for awhile. Then freeze for future meals.
posted by kjs4 at 6:23 PM on July 23, 2015

I wouldn't eat it all the time, but if you're passing through somewhere with only a small general store, you can combine

- ramen
- tomato paste
- oil
- (garlic)

and it's just like spaghetti-Os.
posted by aniola at 6:38 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I make Lazy-Ass Chocolate Souffle For One in this situation.

This won't impress any fancy diners, but it for sure impresses me when I am feeling lazy but want dessert. I assume that your nearly empty fridge contains an egg and a small amount of milk.

1. Microwave maybe half a cup of milk and some squares of dark chocolate until it's all melted and you can stir it together to make chocolate milk.
2. Get a cereal bowl, and with a fork, whisk up an egg yolk with some sugar and maybe a tablespoon? of cornflour.
3. Very slowly pour the chocolate milk in the cereal bowl while whisking with the fork.
4. Put it back in the microwave on medium for about thirty seconds, and then for another thirty seconds but this time you open the microwave every ten seconds or so to stir the stuff vigorously with your fork. At some point it will have turned thick. Don't put it back in. If you are too lazy to continue, at this point you can call it chocolate custard and eat it.
5. Whisk the left over egg white with an actual whisk, and fold it super gently a bit at a time into your chocolate goo.
6. Stick it back in the microwave and watch until it achieves some height (which won't be long). Pull it out. Accept that it will fall down again pretty quick and then scoff the lot.
posted by emilyw at 6:10 AM on July 27, 2015

I thought this sounded familiar and eventually found the staple thread from a couple years back. Most of my staples are pantry food. I'm about to go home and make some nice pasta e fagioli, I think, unless I am lazy and do tofu/rice/nuked frozen veg. Frozen veg are a total lifesaver.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:54 AM on July 30, 2015

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