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Kitchen staples you need for speedy, healthy meals

Woman looking in her kitchen cupboard

Having a small armoury of versatile ingredients, plus a good stash of dried herbs and spices, makes light work of speedy, healthy meals. Recipe consultant Phil Mundy shares his favourites…

Pantry staples

Pasta

Nothing beats pasta for a 15-minute simple supper. Leftovers make a great salad for lunch or can be frozen. Look out for varieties higher in protein or fibre, too, and stock a few different shapes to keep things interesting.

Buying tip… It’s good to have at least one pack with a rougher texture that will catch your favourite sauce.

Nut butter

Choose your favourite – peanut, almond or cashew – they all have multiple uses. You can thin them with water or citrus juice to make a speedy dressing for salads and roasted vegetables or use them as a marinade for fish and meat before roasting. Mix into a curry sauce to thicken and add creaminess.

Add a swirl to your morning porridge or spread on to rye crispbreads and top with sliced apple for an energising afternoon snack.

Buying tip… Go for nut butters that have no added salt or sugar.

Medium curry paste

You’ll never be without a flavour fixer… Mix a little with yoghurt, prawns or cooked meat and salad leaves for a quick wrap or sandwich filling, and use as a marinade for meat and fish. Try cooking gently with chopped onion, canned chickpeas, fresh or frozen spinach and a splash of stock to serve with rice, naan or a jacket spud.

Buying tip… For a rich flavour and nice balanced heat, look for a curry paste that doesn’t have too much sodium. Compare the labels and choose the product with the lowest amount.

Fresh inspiration

Lemons

There aren’t many dishes that won’t benefit from a fine grating of citrus zest or a squeeze of juice. Lemon adds a flavour lift to salads and cuts through the richness of soups, casseroles and sauces. A few slices in a mug of boiling water also makes an invigorating brew and quickly sees off any unused fruit.

Buying tip… Unwaxed lemons are vegan friendly and there’s no scrubbing required before you use them.

Tofu

You can buy regular or smoked varieties. Either way, tofu is full of protein and easy to cook, and a block stored in the fridge will keep much longer than fresh meat or fish. Cube or slice it, marinate with a little reduced-salt soy sauce, garlic purée, chilli or grated ginger (fresh or frozen) and fry until deep golden. If you’re only using half the pack, the remainder makes a great scramble for a hearty breakfast or light lunch.

Buying tip… For a great texture that works in most dishes choose an extra firm tofu.

Sweet potatoes/kumara

Packed with beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, these vibrant veg are among the most adaptable. Cut them into fingers or chunks and toss with a little oil and spices to roast for flavoursome chips or mini roasties. Microwave until soft and scoop out the filling to mix with canned tuna and a little cheese before stuffing and heating through.

Buying tip… Sweet potatoes can be very large, so choose smaller, evenly sized ones – you’ll be able to use them for jackets, mash or roasties without any waste.

For the freezer

Soffritto mix

Prepare your own finely chopped combo of celery, onion and carrot and freeze to use later or, in some areas, you can buy the mix. It saves loads of time and avoids any waste. Soften with a glug of oil and use as a base for a rich ragù, casserole or soup – or even for mixing into an omelette. Simply cook with canned lentils, chilli flakes and a splash of stock for a hearty warming side dish or light lunch with crusty bread.

One to try… If you’re freezing your own, portion the mix into ice cube containers so you can easily get the amount you need and save the rest.

Bread

Buy your favourite loaf and slice before freezing. You can toast slices straight from the freezer or thaw a couple in minutes for a sarnie. Whiz a slice with some herbs and garlic for a crunchy topping for roasted fish or chicken, or fry with a little oil until crispy to sprinkle over pasta dishes.

One to try… For good density and crunch, I freeze Vogel’s Original Mixed Grain bread.

Mixed vegetables

Maximum colour, minimum effort. Frozen vegetables can be steamed, sautéed or simmered with a sauce with no need to chop. For a speedy meal, simmer a few handfuls with a sachet of miso soup, some of your favourite noodles, a little Thai curry paste or chilli and a handful of shredded chicken, turkey, tofu or cooked meat.

Buying tip… I look for more interesting mixes with lots of flavour and texture.

First published: Sep 2021

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