No matter how much fresh food you use in your cooking, you will always rely on a well-stocked store cupboard (pantry) for a ready supply of dry and canned ingredients. In addition to the staples of flour, sugar, jams and pickles, a stock of nutritious ingredients such as pulses and whole grains will ensure you always have sufficient resources with which to produce wholesome dishes.
Storing Canned and Dry Foods
Full cupboard shelves are a boon for a busy cook, but canned and dry foods can deteriorate if not stored properly or if left too long on the shelf. Kitchen cupboards should be cool (no more than I8°C./65°F) and dry. Staples such as flour, salt, sugar, pasta and grains are best stored in moisture-proof containers. If necessary, remove them from their wrappings and decant them into canisters or jars. Whole-grain products (wholemeal flour and pasta, brown rice, etc.) cannot be kept as long as refined ones.
Whole wheat or whole grain are the best choice for fiber, preferably those that are also low in fat and sugar. Try using whole wheat cereals when making homemade bakes and breads; for crumble toppings and cheese cake bases; for coating foods; in meatloaf or burgers.
There are many varieties of brown rice available including long grain, basmati, and jasmine, as well as canned brown rice and boil-in-the bag brown rice for convenience.
The flavor of brown rice is quite nutty and because the rice undergoes only minor milling, the bran layer is retained, making it higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals than white rice. Rice is also low in fat. Cooking time for brown rice is approximately 35 minutes, during which time it expands by up to three times the volume. Allow at least 50 g/2oz per cup uncooked rice per person.
Beans and Other Pulses
These are good sources of protein, starch carbohydrates, fibre, B vitamins and minerals and are low in fat. When buying dried pulses choose ones that are plump, bright and clear in color and avoid broken, shriveled or dusty beans. Pulses should be stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container and used within one year.
Many dried pulses need soaking in water prior to cooking and to be boiled for a period, until tender. The older the beans are, the longer they will take to cook, and salt should be added at the end of the cooking time. Some beans, such as red kidney beans, contain a harmful, toxic substance known as haemaglutinin which can lead to acute gastroenteritis if it is not destroyed by adequate cooking. These beans need to be boiled vigorously for at least 10 minutes to destroy the haemaglutinin, then simmered until they are tender.
High-fiber foods include, split peas, green and red lentils, whole grain rice, pinto beans, red kidney beans and nuts.
If you don’t have time to soak dried pulses, canned varieties are just as good. Add beans and pulses to soups, stews and salads, and experiment. with dishes based on beans, lentils and tofu (soy bean curd). Try recipes from around the world for authentic traditional ways with beans and pulses.
A good selection of dried fruit and ready-to-eat dried fruit is available including apples, apricots, bananas, currants, figs, kiwi fruit, lychees, mangoes, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapple, prunes, raisins and sultanas (golden raisins). They are very versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Dried fruit is low in fat, so it makes a delicious healthy snack. Add dried fruit to your breakfast cereals, muesli or porridge and use it in cake, scones, biscuits, desserts and whole meal muffin recipes.
Nuts have many uses in a wide selection of sweet and savory dishes. They also make a tasty snack, but as they are high in fat and calories, eat them only in small quantities. Add nuts to salads, cakes and bakes, biscuits, desserts, stuffings, coatings and stir-fries.
Oats and Oatmeal
Oats and oatmeal are valuable sources of soluble fiber which is absorbed into the body and is thought to help reduce high levels of blood cholesterol. Oats and oatmeal come in a variety of types including porridge oats, quick-cook oats, jumbo oats, fine and medium oatmeal. Use them in muesli, oatcakes, mixed with flour for breads and rolls, cakes and bakes such as gingerbread and flapjacks, and crumble toppings. Fine oatmeal also makes a good thickener for soups and sauces.
Very versatile, seeds, such as sesame, sunflower and pumpkin can be eaten on their own as a snack or added to recipes such as salads, stir-fries, stuffings, cakes and bakes, coatings, muesli, biscuits and crackers. Seeds also contain vitamins and minerals but are high in fat and calories, so should be eaten in small quantities.
Sugars and Honey
There is no caloric difference between white (refined) and brown (unrefined) sugar but the flavors do vary.
Honey can be used in sweet and savory dishes. It is a little sweeter than sugar so often a smaller amount is needed in a recipe.
Natural wheat bran is the hard outer layer or casing that surrounds the wheat grain and it is therefore high in fiber. It is a useful ingredient and can be added to many recipes to enrich breads, muffins, cakes, puddings, bakes and cereals.
Whole Wheat Biscuits and Crackers
Whole wheat or whole meal biscuits and high fiber crackers make good store cupboard standbys for a healthy, high fibre snack. When crushed, sweet whole meal biscuits are good for cheesecake bases and crunchy toppings for fruity desserts. Whole meal (whole wheat) flour: `Whole’ means that the grain has not had the bran, vitamins and minerals refined out, so it contains all the nutrients. Whole meal flour is coarser than white flour and is available in several types including plain, self-rising and strong.
Flour can be used in many dishes that traditionally specify white flour, including cakes, bakes, breads, pastry and biscuits. It makes a good thickener for sauces and can be used to coat foods. A mixture of half whole meal and half white flour can he used for a lighter mix.
Whole Wheat Pasta
Dried whole wheat or whole meal pasta is a good source of dietary fiber, is low in far and contains some B vitamins. It can he used in many dishes including salads, pasta bakes and filled pasta which can be topped with low fat sauces. Allow 115-225 g/4-8 oz/1-2 cups pasta per serving for a main course and 50-115 oz/1/2-1 cup per person for a starter. Dried whole wheat pasta takes about 12 minutes to cook.