Top 10 Kitchen Ingredients

The ingredients I find myself using the most and keeping well stocked in our kitchen.  What are yours?

Fleur de Sal & Fresh Ground Black Pepper

I keep a small sack of fleur de sal by the stove for garnishing food. It has a lovely texture, less “chunky” than other sea salt. This Portuguese-harvested salt is a great substitute for the more expensive fleur de sel (from France). I don’t use it to season food while it’s cooking, but garnishing with this salt treats you to a textured and layered flavor that cannot be beat. As for pepper, I am pretty simple. I prefer freshly ground black pepper – I usually buy the Trader Joe’s brand with the built-in grinder. I have yet to invest in proper grinders for salt or pepper.

Fresh Italian Parsley

The fresh herb I use most often, after rosemary and sage. I buy it because it’s cheap and I tend to use it all before having to toss it. It can also be frozen and added to fresh chicken stock for flavor. It’s a simple garnish and has a subtle flavor that I enjoy.


If I could, I’d put garlic in everything. I think its flavor is so beautiful and delicious, and I love how it changes depending on how it is prepared. You can roast whole garlic cloves to spread on crackers or bread with cheese, shove cloves into meat for depth of flavor, infuse oils, add minced garlic to sautéed vegetables or simply toss a few cloves into a roasted dish. Garlic tastes delicious in every savory dish. I move through it like it’s no-body’s business.

Whole Dried Red Pepper & Flakes

Highly underestimated for their ability to add heat to a variety of dishes. I use dried red pepper in the form of flakes, powder or whole dried (which I will customarily toss into a dish while cooking and then remove – like a bay leaf).


Delicious! I buy lemons and/or limes on just about every other shopping trip. It’s weird, because I love citrus, but I don’t eat oranges. Lemon juice or zest, however, end up in a boat-load of my dishes. Sometimes I will squeeze the juice into the dish, but more often I will toss a few slices in for flavor. Zest adds a subtler flavor. Limes are, for the most part, used in cocktails, Pellegrino and Mexican food (grilled meats/vegetables and guacamole).


The pinnacle of hard, Italian cheeses. I buy it whenever I can afford it. Rinds are always saved for tossing into soups, which infuses them with a deep, rich flavor.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I recently read that unless you buy the right EVOO, you might as well be using vegetable oil insofar as the health benefits.  But, even though I can’t afford good quality EVOO, I still use it as I enjoy the flavor.  I buy a large bottle of the Trader Joe’s brand for general cooking and I love buying DeCecco oil as a bit of a splurge.


I use vinegars a lot, mostly for dressing salads.  Balsamic and rice vinegars are what I most commonly use, although my friend K was just telling me how much she loves Bittman-recommended sherry vinegar, so I might be giving that a try next.  Buying high-quality balsamic makes a HUGE difference, although I rarely do so.


I will throw nuts in any dish given the chance.  It drives David…..well, nuts.  I find that almonds are the most versatile, but I love using walnuts in salads and cashews in stir fries.  Slightly toasting nuts brings out their flavor, no need to buy flavored or candied nuts – they just add sugar.


Pasta is not my favorite starch but I do think it’s the most versatile of the non-perishables (rices, polenta, bulgar, etc etc).  I buy Barilla pasta when I find it on sale, penne is my favorite.  I avoid long pastas like fettuccine, as I think they are better when homemade (ditto with ravioli).

All Photos: Veer


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17 Responses to “Top 10 Kitchen Ingredients”

  1. Dione (TakeADeepBreath) Says:

    I agree with you on quite a few: garlic, EVOO, limes and vingars.

    I’ll replace your nuts with sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

  2. Melissa (Athertonmerriweather) Says:

    I would say oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and Mrs. Dash are my staples. I want to try cooking with EVOO, but have heard the same thing about having to use very high quality. I have no idea what brands are high quality and healthy though so I don’t bother.

  3. Claudia (Bluebears) Says:

    Sadly, I would have to say Mrs. Grass noodle soup. I don’t really cook…

  4. elizabeth Says:

    Couscous! We can buy it in bulk at our local hippie market, so instead of spending $5 a pound, we end up only spending a little more than 2 bucks a pound and it’s so versatile as a last-minute side to sop up a sauce. Also frozen edamame–it’s an easy and more healthy alternative to fries when we make turkey burgers, and our supermarket has its own brand of the microwave steamer bags which make them so convenient to make.

  5. JDRegent Says:

    BUTTER. I absolutely despise margarine and butter substitutes (except for spreadable soy garden which I use on toast) and add butter to almost every recipe. I realize it’s the first thing people try to get rid of to lose weight, but I’ve never tried to lose weight and in any case follow the Julia Child school of cookery. It’s hard to fuck up a meal when you use enough butter. I use it instead of oil whenever possible. Also fresh basil, by far my most used herb, followed by mint. Sage is lovely too but I don’t reach for it as often.

  6. pennyplastic Says:

    I LOVE butter, JD. My theory is, it’s natural, just don’t eat a ton of it. Crusty bread and butter is my favorite indulgence. Well, one of them…..

    I use a combination of oil and butter when cooking certain ingredients – most commonly sautéed mushrooms. YUM.

  7. JDRegent Says:

    In my opinion the secret to perfect eggs is to cook them in a ton of butter instead of oil, and add lots of fresh basil or herb of choice (mushrooms would be good too!). I like to pretend I live on a rustic french countryside when i do it.

  8. Neighbor Nancy Says:

    JD, that’s wonderful!
    I, too, like to imagine I am in the whimsical places that have inspired my cooking adventures.
    It is good to know I am not alone.

  9. JDRegent Says:

    Neighbor Nancy, it’s recession tourism. Try not to get too depressed.

  10. PurplePeopleEater Says:

    Now we just need your 10 favorite recipes, Penny. Please?!!!

  11. pennyplastic Says:

    Wow, that’ll be a tough one, but a great idea – I will let that simmer…..

  12. Jess Says:

    My list would be pretty much the same. My new ingredient obsession though is feta cheese and marinated artichoke hearts. I need more recipes besides salads that I can throw them into.

    So I am taking a Prehistoric Food Production class and we have been talking about all of the health problems that have come along with agriculture specially the vitamin deficiencies. My professor noted that one of the foods that people began to eat to regain vitamins was garlic because its is very high in Vitamin C. And no one like scurvy. But it totally makes sense as to why garlic is consumed in so many cultures.

  13. La Sooz Says:

    Yes!! Your 5 Fave “Go To” Recipes. Even if they are more mixing ingredients and simple stuff–I like your style in other stuff, food can’t be far behind! I love your blog. It is such a breath of fresh air. I am seriously tiring of the Big Ladyblog That Starts with J.

  14. Jessica Says:

    I also use an extraordinary amount of garlic, it’s almost ridiculous. I would have to add eggs to the list, and substitute walnuts for the almonds…and I, too, love butter.

  15. pennyplastic Says:

    Jess, I just saw this recipe and thought of you!

  16. Jess Says:

    Thanks! I am definitely going to try this. It looks really good.

  17. encnyc Says:

    I had just been perusing your site, when, voila, I saw this story.

    I use pretty much the same basics you do, and I cooked in restaurants for years before I got my law degree. Kudos for you to being on the right track without having to cook in all those restaurants and without all those drunken after-cooking nights with hot, but distant, restaurant staff!

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