A woman peeks into a food pantry.

Image: Shutterstock

Everyone knows the basic things an up-and-coming kitchen needs: olive oil, salt and pepper, flour, garlic, onions, maybe a few spices here and there. But to really make great food that your guests (or just you—I’m not judging) will love, keep these delicious weapons in your pantry. They’ll make food delicious, memorable, and unique.


I love this stuff. Tahini, paste made from sesame seeds, is rich, creamy, and flavorful. It’s the secret ingredient in hummus (ever tried just blending garbanzo beans and ended up with some sad not-quite hummus?), salad dressing, and dipping sauces. One of my favorite ways to use it is to blend some tahini with some miso paste, ginger, and garlic for one of the best salad dressings ever conceived.

Anchovy paste

You don’t have to like anchovies to like anchovy paste. In fact, even if you think you don’t like it, chances are you’ve consumed anchovy paste in your life in some form or other. Ever ordered a Caesar salad at a restaurant? It’s in the dressing. How about a stir fry? Anchovy fillets were probably cooked down into the sauce. Yum! Salty and savory, anchovy paste cooks down really easily—no bones or crunch left—and a little goes a long way when making pasta sauces or roasted chicken. It’s good stuff.


I’m very sensitive to spicy foods, so I almost never use hot sauce. That said, I love just a tiny dollop of Sriracha mixed into other things like sour scream or hummus (!). Sriracha has such good garlicky, tasty flavor. It’s still very spicy to me, but because the sauce doesn’t skimp on flavor, I find it’s worth keeping a bottle around to add little drops to dishes to enhance them. Enchiladas, macaroni and cheese, and rice. Nobody is safe.

Jarred olives

I LOVE OLIVES. I would put them in anything if I could. They’re so salty and briny—I just can’t get enough. I put them in pasta, tacos, beef and chicken dishes. For me, there’s nowhere an olive doesn’t belong (except maybe sweet baked goods). Try putting some green olives and smoked paprika in a meatloaf for an added twist.

Eat up!