Christina's Pantry

Essential Pantry

Chocolate

Dark chocolate has come into fashion as a healthful ingredient. Rich in antioxidants, iron, and magnesium, chocolate releases “feel good” hormones in the brain, creating a relaxed warm condition in the body. Calorically dense, chocolate is not an everyday staple, but dark chocolate can be a valuable addition to any healthy diet.

Corn

Native to South America, corn has been used for over ten thousand years. It has become the staple grain for the entire North American continent. Today, corn is cultivated worldwide and is one of the most popular grains used in cooking. I recommend organic fresh or frozen corn to avoid genetically modified varieties.

Corn requires hot summer sun and rain to flourish and grows quickly. Often eaten by itself, the popular corn on the cob has practically limitless other culinary uses—flour, meal, grits, tortillas, corn syrup, corn oil, bourbon, and popcorn (from one variety of the grain).

Corn grits

A cracked form of dried corn. Corn grits make a great polenta, creamy breakfast cereal, or texturizer for soups.

Cornmeal

Dried field corn ground into a coarse flour. Used to make creamier polentas, this flour is most commonly used in cornbreads, tortillas, and corn chips.

Couscous

A staple of North Africa, this rolled durum wheat product has been stripped of its bran and germ, made into a thick paste, steamed, and then dried in the form of small granules of pasta. It cooks quite quickly and its starchy texture makes it a great ingredient for loaves, patties, and soups.

Daikon

A long, white radish root with a refreshingly clean, peppery taste. Commonly used in salads and side dishes, soups, and stews. Frequently served in Asian restaurants with fish or oily dishes, since it is reputed to aid in the digestion of fat and protein as well as to help the body to assimilate oil and cleanse organ tissue. Also available in dried, shredded form to be used in various stews and hearty vegetable dishes.

Garlic

A member of the allium family that also includes onion, leeks, chives, and green onions. Used to flavor foods, garlic’s strong nature lends itself to being used cooked or raw. Originating in southern Europe, each head of garlic breaks into sixteen to eighteen bulbs and is used to flavor sauces, dressings, soups, stir-fry dishes, tapenades, or rubs. Do not keep garlic in the refrigerator as it compromises the flavor.Garlic has been shown to have antibacterial, anti-fungal and immune boosting properties as well as being a strong cancer fighter.

Ginger

A golden-colored, spicy root vegetable with a variety of uses in cooking. It imparts a mild, peppery taste to cooking and is commonly used in stir-fries, sautés, sauces, and dressings. Shaped like the fingers of a hand, ginger has the reputation of stimulating circulation with its hot taste. It is a very popular remedy in Oriental medicine for helping with everything from joint pain to stomach aches and acid indigestion. Do not store it in the refrigerator as it causes it to rot more easily.

Great Northern beans

Medium-size white beans, they hold their shape very well in cooking, making them ideal ingredients in bean salads as well as in heartier bean dishes that complement their subtle flavor.

Herbs

Simply defined, herbs are the leaves and stems of certain plants used in cooking because of their unique, aromatic flavors. Herbs not only add flavor, but have been used for thousands of years for health and wellness. Available fresh or dried, herbs add rich, full-bodied taste to soups, stews, and salad dressings among other things. When using fresh herbs, remember to use three to four times the amount of dried, as drying concentrates their natural flavor. Try to buy your herbs in their organic form, since you can be assured that these herbs are not irradiated, as most commercial brands are. Herbs have been used since ancient times as medicine and have powerful compounds that influence our well-being. Basil, for instance is a blood purifier, rosemary stabilizes the spleen; parsley freshens breath by fighting bacteria.

Hiziki (Hijiki)

Sold in its dry form, hiziki resembles black angel hair pasta. It is one of the strongest-tasting of all sea plants, so soaking it for several minutes before cooking can gentle its briny flavor. It is one of the richest sources of usable calcium in the plant kingdom with a whopping 1350 milligrams of calcium per one-half cup uncooked hiziki, with no saturated fat. So it is worth getting used to. . . .

Kidney beans

Available in a variety of shapes and colors, kidney beans are most commonly recognized in their deep-red All-American shape. Full-flavored and hearty, kidney beans hold up incredibly well in chilies, stews, soups, salads, and casseroles. Their deep color indicates that they are rich sources of magnesium and potassium as well as other minerals.

Kombu (kelp)

A sea vegetable packaged in wide, dark, dehydrated strips that will double in size upon soaking and cooking. Kombu is a great source of glutamic acid, a natural flavor enhancer, so adding a small piece to soups and stews deepens flavor. Kombu’s glutamic acid also improves the digestibility of grains and beans when added to these foods in small amounts. Kombu is also reputed to help the body break down cellulite. It’s used in spas to smooth orange-peel skin, but it’s most effective when eaten.

Lentils

An ancient legume that comes in many varieties, from common brown-green lentils to red lentils to yellow lentils to lentils le puys (a tiny sweet French variety that is great in salads). Very high in protein and minerals and with a full-bodied, peppery taste, lentils are good in everything from stews and soups to salads and side dishes. Studies show that eating lentils once a week can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Maitake Mushrooms

Also known as ‘hen of the woods,’ here is what WebMD says about maitake:

“Maitake mushroom is a fungus that has been eaten as food in Asia for thousands of years. People also use it to make medicine.

Maitake mushroom is used to treat cancer and also to relieve some of the side effects of chemical treatment (chemotherapy) for cancer. It is also used for HIV/AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), hepatitis, hay fever, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight loss or control, and infertility due to a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome.

Maitake mushroom contains chemicals which might help fight tumors and stimulate the immune system. There is some evidence that it can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce weight in rats, but this has not been shown for humans yet.”

Millet

Native to Asia, millet is a tiny grain that once equaled barley as the chief staple of Europe. It was very popular in Japan before the cultivation of rice and is still the staple grain of China, India, and Ethiopia. An effective alkalizing agent, millet is the only whole grain that does not produce stomach acids, so it aids spleen and pancreas function as well as stomach upset. It is also the highest in protein of all whole grains.

Millet is very versatile, making delicious grain dishes, creamy soups, stews and porridges, stuffings and loaves. With its sweet, nutty taste and beautiful yellow color, millet complements most foods well, but goes best with sweet vegetables like squash and corn.

Mirin

A Japanese rice wine with a sweet taste and very low alcohol content. Made by fermenting sweet brown rice with water and koji (a cultured rice), mirin adds depth and dimension to sauces, glazes and various other dishes and can be used as we would use sherry in cooking.

Miso

A fermented soybean paste used traditionally to flavor soups but prized in the Orient for its ability to strengthen the digestive system. Traditionally aged miso is a great source of high-quality protein. Available in a wide variety of flavors and strengths, the most nutritious miso is made from barley and soybeans, and is aged for at least two years—this is the miso used most extensively in daily cooking. Other varieties of miso are used to supplement and to create different tastes in different dishes.

Miso is rich in digestive enzymes, but these enzymes are quite delicate and should not be boiled. Just lightly simmering miso activates and releases their strengthening qualities into food.

Mustard

Mustard in a jar is made by blending dried mustard seeds with vinegar and various spices. The best-quality mustards are Dijon or those that have been stone ground; these are made from coarse seeds and have a rougher texture.

Noodles

Pasta, macaroni, or noodles are made by combining flour, salt, and water into limitless shapes and sizes. Try to choose pastas made from organic flours, preferably whole-grain. These are made from the endosperm of the wheat and contain protein and carbohydrates as well as essential fiber, minerals, and B vitamins. However, even refined semolina pastas have a place in a whole-foods diet, lending light taste and texture when desired.

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