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A couple of weeks ago the fish market offered fresh Albacore tuna at $12.95 a pound. Its glistening dark pink flesh and charcoal strip next to the skin made me taste seared tuna with a ginger soy dressing over crisp winter greens; I couldn’t wait to get home and start lunch.

Thanks primarily to a fastidious fish market and secondarily to a well-stocked larder, the salad was delicious and took only 15 minutes to prepare. After lunch our guest suggested that I write a posting about how I manage to put together such distinctive sauces without lots of pre planning, last minute trips to the grocery store and from a refrigerator that looks relatively empty. “Any really tasty or sophisticated sauce seems to take me hours that I don’t have,” she said. “Would you be willing to write about 3 or 4 quick “go to” sauces or marinades that you use a lot?”

Of course I will, and here they are…with the caveat that the convenience part is dependent upon a mindset that builds and maintains a well-stocked larder. Last weekend I came home with the fresh tuna knowing that I had all of the ingredients necessary to make a marinade, a quick sauce and a vinaigrette, as well as fresh greens in the refrigerator.

Stocking a larder can seem daunting and awfully expensive, particularly if you try it first at 5PM after a day’s work with two or three kids shuffling behind you begging for snacks and pinching each other. One look at Newman’s Own Marinara and you grab it and head for the laundry soap, milk and dog food departments. Who wouldn’t?

The problem is that most of those ready to eat foods are expensive, portioned and therefore consumed in one meal. No leftovers, no ingredients in the pantry, no throw together soups with the rest of the meatballs and the extra onions, celery and herbs used to make them. Instead the “cook” has to go to the store day after day after day for every meal he or she heats and serves. Time saver? Probably not.

The following recipe links to marinades and sauces that can be a start toward building a larder. They can be used on fish, meat and poultry or on pastas or grains and like most American food they reflect to but are not authentic representations of foreign cultures in Asia, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East.

Before the recipe links is a list by culinary region of items that I keep in my pantry regularly.

Asian Ingredients

Ginger Root

Soy Sauce
Teriyaki Sauce
Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
Vietnamese Hot Chili Sauce
Fermented Black Bean Sauce
Unseasoned Rice Vinegar
Grated Ginger (preserved with juice)
Toasted Sesame Oil
Chinese Five Spice (star anise, clove, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper)

Mexican Ingredients

Cumin Seeds

Powdered Mexican Spice/Herb Combination:

  • 3 tbs. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. powdered cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 3 tsp. oregano leaves

Green Tabasco
Green Tomatilla Sauce
Red Hot Sauce

European Ingredients

Wild Mushrooms

Balsamic Vinegar (10 year aged)
Balsamic Vinegar Glaze
Balsamic Vinegar (30 year aged)
White Wine Vinegar
Herbs de Provence
Hungarian Paprika (Hot)
Fine Herbs
Fennel Seeds
Italian Herbs
Dehydrated Wild Mushrooms

Middle East Ingredients

Spice Market

Tandoori Spice (paprika, chili, mace, coriander, cumin, saffron sometimes)
Ground Turmeric
Garam Masala
Curry Powder
Curry Paste
Ground Cardamom
Pomegranate Molasses (Mine is 2 years old; a little goes a long way)

Always On Hand General Ingredients

Italian Parsley

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Garlic
Yellow Onion
Green Onion (or early shallots or baby leeks)
Tomato Paste in a tube
Canned Diced Tomato
Dijon Mustard
Homemade Mayonnaise
Good Sea Salt
Kosher Salt
Black Peppercorns
Fresh Lemons
Lime Juice (Most often fresh limes but bottled for pinches)
Flat Leaf Parsley*

*I have a year round fresh herb garden, but these two herbs and fresh basil are available in almost all grocery stores all year.

If you go out and buy all of those, even in the smallest of quantities you could spend way over $100+. Way too big an investment for a starter.

Consider starting with Asian and Mexican and take 20 minutes in the bulk section of a store like PCC getting very small quantities of spices (most dry spices and spice combinations lose most of their flavors after 6-8 months). There also are some ready-made mixtures in most bulk spice departments.

For the very best deal in Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar, try the Whole Foods private label 365. It wins multi brand competitions regularly and is very economically priced (I’m not kidding).

If you add one or two ingredients every week you will be surprised how fast you build a great larder.

I have a 15 year old, small Krups coffee grinder that I use for spices. Seeds (cumin, fennel, cardamom, allspice etc.) last almost indefinitely, and you can grind them as you use them (5 minutes start to finish) in a small grinder. They will taste much better and you don’t have to throw out what was an expensive purchase.

Here are some simple, quick recipes you can make if you have your pantry well-stocked: Soy Ginger Marinade, Soy Ginger Sauce, Lemon Soy Vinaigrette, Mexican Sauce, Lemon Olive Oil Vinaigrette, Dijon Vinaigrette, Quick Provencal Sauce and Tandoori Marinade.

I hope these recipes and the pantry list inspire you to stock your larder. After a month or so of building an inventory, your grocery costs will shrink and you will discover lots of quick creative flavor combinations that are a cupboard or refrigerator away.

In the coming weeks I will post more easy, quick recipes for sauces, marinades and entrees cooked right out of the pantry.

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