Last year I cooked all the time, partially because nothing was convenient as a person without a driver’s license in Los Angeles and partially because I was very bored. But now that I’m back in New York and life feels somewhat normal, the last thing I want to do is fold another dumpling or attempt Chinese bakery-style pineapple buns. I might have taken things a little too far though, because eating out all the time is taking its toll on my budget. So in the spirit of balance, I’m trying to cook more and have it actually be interesting without spending two hours attempting a cabbage roll recipe.
The trick to successfully cooking dinner most nights, instead of tapping on my Seamless app, is to stock my kitchen with shortcuts. Simmer sauces, fragrant spice mixes, and fancy salts along with some convenient microwave-friendly cookware or a nonstick frying pan make it really easy to whip something up in less than 30 minutes. By mixing and matching, I never get bored and eat the same thing two nights in a row. All of this is to say, I’ve reduced any temptation to lay on my couch and order delivery by adding these 22 items to my pantry. Read on to see what they are.
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The Sauce I Recommend to Everyone
Omsom got me through some hard times but the brand is also my go-to when I want a quick, delicious meal in under 30 minutes. I’m partial to their collab with Pepper Teigen, which is spicy, sweet, and funky (you can definitely smell the oyster sauce as it cooks) but if you’re looking to go more plant-based, their Sisig is another surefire hit.
A Spice Mix for Beginner Cooks
With Occo’s little spice pods, I don’t have to think about dinner. I just choose a recipe card that sound good and dump the spices onto whatever I feel like cooking (usually chicken, fish, or beef) before throwing it on a pan or into an oven. While you might be hesitant to be as experimental as I am, don’t worry: it’s almost impossible to mess it up.
Our Favorite Spice Set
We’re big fans of Diaspora Co. and it’s not hyperbole when we say that they make some of the best spices. Every choice from chili peppers to cumin are sound but whatever you do, make sure to include turmeric. It’s hands down my favorite and when you add it to coconut milk, salmon, and kale, it makes for the easiest microwave-friendly dinner.
A Fancy Pasta Sauce
Alex Flowers, our Senior Manager for E-commerce and Business Development, is a big fan of Truff’s tomato sauces. They’re spicy without being overwhelming and have a hint of truffle so you feel like you’re eating dinner in Europe.
When You're Bored of Salads
Salads are boring. I know this is a controversial opinion but eating a bunch of raw veggies is just not my preferred way of ending the night. That said, I’ll still make them and force myself to eat one at least a few nights a week for health reasons. This olive oil and balsamic fig duo make doing so infinitely more tolerable. The grassy flavor of the oil and the tart sweetness of the vinegar combine into a light dressing that jazzes up my arugula mix.
Another Solid Oil and Vinegar Set
Staff writer Anne Cruz prefers Brightland’s olive oils and vinegars for her peach caprese salad. The combination of creamy mozzarella, bright stone fruit, and herbaceous basil go well with grassy olive oil and tart balsamic vinegar and make for an easy side dish or light dinner.
A Spice Mix Made for Popcorn or Stir Frys
Yes, everyone loves Fly by Jing’s chili crisp but let me turn you onto another item that dare I say might be...better? The Mala spice mix is savory, spicy, slightly sweet, and has a slight numbing effect courtesy of Sichuan peppercorn. My favorite late night snack (or even dinner substitute) is to shake a bunch into popcorn but if you want something more substantial, it’s also a delicious sprinkled into a beef or chicken stir fry.
Luxurious Yuzu-Infused Salt
Sprinkle a little of this on your salmon and then pop it in the oven. You’ll thank me later when you’re enjoying your savory, citrus-y dinner.
For Spicy Food Lovers
There’s really no food in the world that wouldn’t be improved by a dollop of spicy sambal. Eggs, veggies, and even spaghetti with tomato sauce (yes I’ve put some into my marinara) are just better with this savory condiment. My favorite two minute dinner? A bowl of rice, two Persian cucumbers, and a few tablespoons of this stuff.
The Chili Oil That Keeps Selling Out
This is the chili oil that has triggered about 40 different DMs on my Instagram from various friends and acquaintances alike who all say it’s truly the best. The condiment usually sells out super fast, which is to say you should order it now.
A Fragrant Secret Ingredient
Saffron threads is one of the most expensive spices out there due to the painstaking work required to harvest it. Moonflowers Co. sources theirs from a small family farm in Herat, Afghanistan and features premium threads, for a more fragrant product. You can use it in everything from roast chicken to tahdig to paella to pasta, for a memorable dinner.
Trendy Tinned Fish
Writer David Neimanis is a fan of José Gourmet brand tinned fish and for good reason: their selection of smoked sardines, stuffed baby squids, and more are delicious. All you need is some bread or crackers and you have the easiest yet fanciest dinner to come out of a can.
Some Pasta, to Go Along With Your Sauce
I have yet to find a place that delivers pasta that doesn’t come overcooked and soggy so instead of ordering linguine with a side of regret, I’d rather spring for a fancy dried pasta. This subscription from the Brooklyn-based brand features both a signature style and a seasonal variety, so you’ll never be bored.
A Very Fancy Soy Sauce
Lee Kum Kee and Kikkoman will forever have a place in my pantry but a trip to Japan showed me the wonders of premium soy sauce. A few drops of the fancy stuff into fried rice or if you’re feeling ambitious, at home sashimi, and your life will be forever changed.
The Secret to Better Sauces
You can use these concentrates as a base for everything from salad dressing to marinades to simple sauces. The first, Liquid Sunshine, features lemons, chili, and spices mixed with kosher salt and is ideal with veggies or drizzled over chicken or fish. The other jar is called The Deep, which is like a mole without the chocolate. The band recommends you use it to add depth to soups, stews, or marinades.
The Best Fish Sauce, Ever
Red Boat is hands down one of the best fish sauces out there. It’s made with black anchovies that are immediately salted after they’re caught, and it’s fermented longer, to bring out its natural savory flavors. If you want to really take it up a notch, this version is bourbon barrel aged, for an extra smoky sweet touch.
Because Fancy Mushrooms Make Everything Better
Rehydrated these mushrooms in liquid and you have an umami-filled base for any stock, stew, or pasta sauce. And if you’re looking to add an extra kick to any dish, a sprinkle of the porcini powder will do.
An Indian Simmering Sauce Set
Whether you’re vegetarian or you eat meat, these simmering sauces are an easy way to make dinner quickly. The pack comes with three varieties: spicy vindaloo, fragrant coconut curry, and rich tikka masala. All you need to do is add your protein of choice along with some potatoes, carrots, or other hardy veggies that can handle being stewed.
Another Secret Weapon for Marinade
Yuzu kosho is a spicy and tart condiment that I used to bring back as a gift, whenever I visited Japan. Made with chili peppers that are fermented with salt along with yuzu zest and juice, a little goes a long way. It’s especially delicious with scallops or chicken but you can also mix it with some mayo, as an easy dipping sauce for potatoes.
A Spice That Goes With Anything
Made with onion, garlic, chili flakes, and more, this spice mix is sweet, savory, and just a touch spicy. I’ll mix it with mayo and tuna for a spin on a tuna salad sandwich or I’ll mix it with olive oil as a marinade. And just like the Fly By Jing powder, it’s also perfect when sprinkled in popcorn.
A Savory, Slightly Sweet Relish
Writer Ryan Walker-Hartshorn turned me on to Egunsi Foods. They make some ready to eat soups that are vegan and gluten-friendly but it’s this Ata Din Din sauce that really captured my attention. Made with red peppers, tomato, garlic, and more, it’s a savory, tart, and slightly sweet relish that’s equally as good for dipping veggies and potatoes in as it is for simmering proteins.