I like to keep a wide variety of ingredients on hand so I can pull together a meal quickly and efficiently. You’ll find a comprehensive list in my new cookbook Fast Food, Good Food, but here are some of the ones I consider basic to food preparation:
- Beans: Canned beans allow you to make bean dishes quickly. Look for organic brands packed in water and salt only, with no additives.
- Black pepper:Buy whole black peppercorns and grind them as needed in a pepper grinder. Some grinders allow you to adjust the particle size of the grains.
- Dijon mustard: This strong condiment should be a light yellow-brown with pungent aroma. The best brands come from France. Once opened, a jar will keep in the refrigerator for a long time.
- Garlic: Choose heads of garlic with large, firm cloves. The recipes in Fast Food, Good Food that call for garlic instruct you to mash peeled cloves with a garlic press and let them sit, exposed to air, for at least 10 minutes before adding them to a dish. This allows for the formation of allicin, the compound responsible for garlic’s many health benefits. Store garlic at room temperature in an open container (a mesh basket is good), preferably in a dark place away from other foods.
- Ginger: Choose plump and firm roots and peel what you need with a vegetable peeler. Then grate the root lengthwise with a Microplane grater or rasp. Store unpeeled ginger in a zip-top bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
- Maple syrup: This is my preferred sweetener for its flavor and low fructose content. The best type for cooking is grade B maple syrup. When used in small amounts, the maple flavor isn’t discernible. Store it in the refrigerator after opening. I recommend Grade A maple syrup, produced earlier in the season, for the flavored syrup recipes in Fast Food, Good Food. It is lighter in color with a more delicate flavor.
- Olive oil: This is the best general-purpose oil for sautéing, dressing salads and vegetables and most cooking. Buy only extra-virgin olive oil with a rich flavor. And buy only oil packed in dark bottles or cans to prevent oxidation. Use it up quickly or store it in the refrigerator. (It will slowly congeal, but you can easily liquefy it by placing the container in warm water.) Heat your pan first before adding olive oil to it.
- Vinegar: I keep several types of vinegar – red and white wine vinegars, sherry vinegar, rice vinegar (seasoned and unseasoned), and good balsamic vinegar.
Fast Food, Good Food will tell you much more than I have space for here. The book is suitable for novice cooks as well as experts and, especially, for busy people who want to feed their families well but don’t have a lot of time to prepare meals.
Andrew Weil, M.D.