I have some food staples that I can’t live without. These are ingredients you want to always have on hand; some of them I use almost every day.
This is the best oil for cooking. It has numerous health properties, including healing the digestive system, increasing vitamin and mineral absorption, and aiding weight loss, and has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Coconut oil is stable at high heat and imparts a delicious but mild flavor.
My favorite coconut oil is Nutiva, which can be found at a great price in bulk on Amazon.com (approximately $26 for 54 ounces, which will last 2–3 months). It is certified organic and non-GMO, cold-pressed, and of the highest quality. If you’re not sure if you like coconut oil, try a smaller container from your local grocery store and then decide if you want to order a bigger container to save money.
Sea salt contains many beneficial nutrients in bioavailable form (meaning that your body can absorb them). It is vastly superior to regular table salt, which is heavily processed and bleached, has been stripped of most of its nutrients, and is difficult for the body to process. I order this kind, and you can find sea salt in bulk at stores like Whole Foods and local health-food stores. Experiment with different colors as your budget allows!
Good-quality olive oil can be expensive, but because it’s a less stable fat it’s also best not to cook with it or buy it in bulk, so you can save money by buying smaller containers and using it only as a condiment. I primarily use olive oil to make my own salad dressing, as it is extremely difficult to find dressings that contain only olive oil instead of a blend of olive and other vegetable oils, and they are usually expensive. Making your own dressing is not only healthier but is one of the ways cooking saves you money. Always buy cold-pressed, extra-virgin, organic olive oil.
Organic, Non-Irradiated Spices
Irradiation is a preservation process by which certain foods are exposed to radiation. Spices are irradiated at a much higher dose than other foods because they are used in smaller quantities and must last longer, but this also damages their quality. In addition, they are contaminated with pesticide residues from conventional farming.
Therefore it’s important to avoid irradiated conventional spices and buy organic. I use spices so often that spoilage is not a problem—and you will too!
Black pepper, minced onion, and powdered garlic are the basis of your spice collection. I recommend that you grind black pepper fresh, and although I include measurement recommendations in my recipes, I almost never measure black pepper, just grind it out to taste.
Minced onion and powdered garlic will save you a lot of time chopping fresh onion and garlic when you’re in a hurry, though they can always be substituted with fresh. Be sure to check the ingredients to make sure they don’t have any fillers or preservatives added.
In order to make the meals in these plans, you will need the following spices:
- chili powder
If you like spicy food, I highly recommend that you also get cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes. They will always be marked optional in the recipes.
The spices below aren’t essential to the meal plans, but they add a lot in terms of health benefit and flavor. I’ll include these as optional ingredients in some recipes:
- bay leaf
- fennel seed
- cloves or allspice
- ras al hanout
- garam masala
As for parsley and basil, I recommend that you buy these fresh as you need them; they are readily available at most supermarkets and the flavor is vastly superior. However, if you’d like to have dried versions on hand, they work well in soups and coconut-milk curries.
I also recommend using fresh ginger. You can grate it all at once and freeze it for easy use.
If you haven’t done a lot of baking, don’t worry: it requires too much accurate measuring for me to do it regularly, so it’s at a minimum in the meal plans. However, keeping these baking staples on hand will ensure you don’t get caught without an essential ingredient in the middle of a recipe.
- organic, unbleached whole-wheat flour (if you aren’t gluten free)
- gluten-free flour blend (if you are gluten free). I recommend Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose baking flour
- organic turbinado or raw sugar and organic brown sugar
- real vanilla extract (not imitation)
- organic baking soda and baking powder
- arrowroot flour or organic cornstarch. I recommend Bob’s Red Mill brand
It’s likely you already have one or more of these stocked, but these are things you can always add one at a time, as you use them in recipes.
- organic honey and/or real maple syrup
- organic balsamic vinegar
- organic red wine vinegar
- raw, unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar
- whole-grain mustard
- organic tamari (fermented, wheat-free soy sauce)
- organic toasted sesame oil
- organic Worcestershire sauce