The season of the spring clean is well and truly upon us. Wardrobes up and down the country are having their doors flung open and their contents scrutinised. Hallway closets, cupboards under the stairs, airing cupboards, garages – there are few places to hide when it comes to our obsession with ‘out with the old, in with the new’.
Except, perhaps, for your kitchen cupboards. Often overlooked during ‘The Purge’, your kitchen cupboards are probably chock full of out of date dried goods, oils on the turn or bottled sauces that you used one teaspoon of in a long-forgotten exotic dinner.
While we’re all busy stocking our fridges with kale and skinless salmon fillets, our cupboards tend to remain essentially as they ever-were. But this is the perfect time to get everything out and sort the stale wheat from the chaff, and the power of a clean and ordered kitchen is not to be underestimated.
And so, dear reader, herewith, a guide to spring cleaning and restocking your kitchen cupboards, along with a recipe for homemade bouillon paste that I promise you will change your life…
First things first, arm yourself with some ziplock bags, glass storage jars, masking tape and a Sharpie.
Flour, Pasta, Grains & Pulses
All of the above will have ‘best before’ dates, so have a gander and see what’s in and what’s out. Best before dates are only a guide to when quality starts to deteriorate, so not everything needs to go, but it’s worth noting that ingredients such as baking powder can deteriorate to the point of uselessness. Similarly, items like oats contain a high level of natural oils and these can start to turn rancid when left for too long. Give everything a sniff, and a good eyeball (look for teeny black mites, you’d be surprised what they can get into), and chuck whatever doesn’t pass muster. Store the rest in glass storage jars. Le Parfait Super Terrine Jars are perfect for dried goods as the wide neck makes it easy to get large spoons or measuring cups in, and they easily stack on themselves. Label with the contents and best before date using masking tape and a marker.
If you’re looking to restock and get yourself prepared for some upcoming ALL recipe posts, my dried store cupboard essentials are:
- Flours: Plain flour, bread flour, chickpea (chana) flour, rice flour, cornmeal (yellow or white)
- Pulses: Puy lentils, yellow lentils, dried chickpeas, dried cannellini and borlotti beans
- Pasta: Spaghetti, paparedelle, fregola, israeli cous cous
- Rice & grains: Short grain brown rice, carnaroli or arborio rice, oats, quinoa
- Other dried goods: Bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, cocoa powder, dried yeast, dark chocolate
I’m also a big fan of ready cooked grains and rices in pouches. Most supermarkets do their own brand versions of these, as well as Jamie Oliver and Merchant gourmet. They’re perfect for quick salads, or adding to soups and stews and tend to have very little in the way of additional or unnecessary ingredients. I always have half a dozen of these in the cupboard for quick, tasty and nutritious meals.
Cans & Jars
Again, check the best before dates on all your cans and beans and decide what stays and what goes. Check for any rust spots on cans, and make sure that the seal is still tight on all jars by trying to depress the button on the top of the lid. Any open jars should be kept in the fridge.
Restock with tins of:
- Fish: Anchovies, tuna, soft cods roe, sardines in oil
- Beans: Black beans, cannellini beans, borlotti beans, chickpeas
- Chopped tomatoes, sweetcorn
- Coconut milk
- Good old baked beans!
And jars of:
- Olives in brine, capers, roasted peppers in oil, artichoke hearts in oil
- Crystalised ginger
- Marmite or Bovril
- White miso paste
- Mango chutney
- Peanut butter
- Tomato paste
Oils, Vinegars & Condiments
Check dates, give everything a whiff, you know the drill by now. Plain cooking oils such as olive, sunflower and groundnut have a long shelf life, but any flavoured or nut oils (groundnuts/peanuts are legumes, not nuts) will go rancid much quicker.
I decant my most frequently used oils into glass bottles with stoppers (the kinds you get elderflower soda in at M&S) and use these stainless steel pourers in the tops.
- Oils: Olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, groundnut oil, sesame oil
- Vinegars: Apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar
- Condiments: Wholegrain and Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, hot sauce, sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce
Herbs & Spices
Dried herbs and ground spices have a relatively short shelf life. They don’t necessarily go off, but they lose their flavour. And since flavour is their very raisin d’etre, it would be a bit pointless to keep them past their best. Where possible, buy spices in their whole form and toast and grind when needed. Store in airtight containers, if you buy in bulk packets, transfer to glass jars to keep fresh.
I use very little in the way of dried herbs, save for oregano (used widely in Mexican cooking), bay leaves, and a Herbs de Provence mix. Fresh is almost always best when it comes to herbs, and I’m lucky enough to have the room to grow my own.
When it comes to restocking spices, the list would be too long to put everything here, but my most frequently used spices are:
- Cumin seeds
- Corriander seeds
- Ground ginger
- Ground Cinnamon
- Fennel seeds
- Dried chilli flakes
- Garam masala
- Smoked paprika
- Vanilla beans or paste
Nuts & Seeds
These can very quickly go bad if not stored correctly. Once bags are opened, the contents should be transferred to an airtight container and always check for freshness before using after being stored for any length of time. Alternatively keep whole nuts in the freezer in ziplock bags.
Great for adding crunch to salads and crumble toppings, incorporating into homemade granola and muesli, adding to cookies and shortbread etc. Nuts and seeds and indispensable in a well-stocked kitchen.
- Seeds: Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame (black and white)
- Nuts: Hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, roasted salted peanuts
And last, but by no means least, the one thing your fridge shouldn’t be without…
Homemade Bouillon Paste
This is hands down one of the most useful things you can add to your store cupboard/fridge essentials. I make batch upon batch, and my sister and various friends come for visits with empty jars in hand, hoping to get their fill for their own fridges.
Essentially a blend of vegetables, herbs and salt, this paste is a kitchen work horse. At it’s most simple, it can be stirred into a mug of boiling water for a quick veggie broth shot. Add it to soups, risottos, sauces, gravy, bolognese, or the cooking water of beans, lentils and rice, and it adds depth of flavour and an umami hit.
Of course, you cold use good old fashioned stock cubes or bouillon powder, but wouldn’t you rather use somethiag you made yourself, something where you know exactly what’s in it?
The basic ratio for making the paste is 4 parts veggies to 1 part salt. So 1kg of cleaned, trimmed and chopped veggies needs 250g of salt. Beyond that, the combination of what you use is absolutely up to you. The first time I made it I kept it very simple with the basics, leeks, shallots, carrots, fennel and parsley. My most recent batch contained the basics plus a multitude of herbs from my garden, a few spoonfuls of white miso paste, dulse flakes and porcini mushrooms. It’s a seriously savoury paste.
- 250g trimmed leeks
- 175g celery
- 175g carrots
- 175g shallots
- 175g fennel
- 50g sun dried tomatoes
- Large bunch flat leaf parsely
- 250 g salt (I use Maldon as I buy it in bulk, but any fine sea salt will do. Do not use rock salt)
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons organic white miso paste
- 2 tablespoons dulse/seaweed flakes
- 30g dried porcini mushrooms (rehydrated in boiling water)
- 2 tablespoons each of any chopped fresh herbs – rosemary, sage, thyme, corriander are all good.
Place all of the chopped vegetables in the bowl of a food processor and blitz until as fine as possible. Add the herbs and any additional flavourings and blitz again until well combined and chopped as fine as possible. Finally add the salt and pulse until well combined.
If you can’t fit everything into your food processor at the beginning, start with some of the veg and pulse until chopped, then add more and keep going untl everything is incorporated.
Store in sterilised jars in the fridge. Keeps for up to 6 months.
Mix 1 heaped teaspoon of paste with 500ml of boiling water to make a veggie stock.
Stir into pasta sauces, stews, gravies etc.
Add to the cooking water for rice, lentils or beans.
Smear under the skin of a chicken before roasting.
Wrap a fish fillet in parchment that’s been smeared with a little soft butter and bouillon paste, before wrapping and baking. Add finely sliced fennel, a slice or two of lemon and a splash of white wine if you want to go the extra mile. Tasty and quick!
Happy cooking! KT x
Photos by Kate Taylor, and Markus Spiske on Unsplash