Christina's Pantry

Essential Pantry

Nori (sea laver)

Usually sold in paper-thin sheets, nori is a great source of protein and minerals like calcium and iron. Most well-known as a principal ingredient in sushi, nori has a mild, sweet flavor, just slightly reminiscent of the ocean. Great for garnishing grain and noodle dishes or floating in soup.

Nut butters

Thick pastes made from grinding nuts. While rich in fiber and protein, nut butters are also great sources of good-quality fat. Nut butters have intense, rich flavors and are great in sauces, dressings, and baked goods.


Nuts are true powerhouses of energy. Bear in mind that, in most cases, nuts have the strength to grow entire trees, so imagine what impact they have on us, giving us great strength and vitality. They are wonderful in small amounts for taste and richness (they are calorically dense) and for a lift of energy. Choose from almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, or whatever you like.


Native to Central Europe and used since Neolithic times, oats are rich in B vitamins and contain one of the highest amounts of protein of any grain in addition to iron and calcium. Reputed to have a high fat content (which they do), oats contain soluble gums, which bind cholesterol in the intestines, preventing its absorption by the body, making it a heart-healthy grain.

Most commonly used in modern cultures as oatmeal, a process by which the oat groats are rolled or steel cut, oats are the most delicious when used in their whole state. I use oatmeal flakes mostly to cream soups and thicken sauces as well as in breads, cookies and croquettes.

Olive Oil

Obtained from pressing olives, olive oil is a monounsaturated fat used in cooking, salad dressings, and baking. With production in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, America, and other countries, there is a variety of quality and flavor profiles to enjoy.

Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest of olive oils, loaded with antioxidants. Extra virgin means the oil was pressed with no chemicals added and has an acidity of less than 0.8 percent. It has the most superior quality. Virgin oil is also pressed with no chemicals added, but is higher in acidity. Lesser grades of olive oil are made from various blends of refined and virgin oils and sometimes have other oils added as well. I use only extra virgin oil.


Olives are native to semitropical climates and are used in Mediterranean cooking to add an appealing punch to grain, vegetable, and bean salads. There are almost limitless varieties available, so you can satisfy your taste by choosing anything from the intensely flavored, oil-cured ripe olives, to purple Greek Kalamata olives, to green Spanish olives. Rich in monounsaturated fats and minerals, pantothenic acid and niacin, olives are a nutritious treat.


The edible bulbs of the lily family, most onions are strongly flavored and are the basis of many recipes from soups to stews to stir-fry dishes. Used cooked or raw, onions are a staple of cooking. Do not refrigerate onions as it compromises their flavor.


Although considered a nut, peanuts are in fact legumes and are a good source of protein. Unlike other legumes, peanuts are very high in fat. Since peanuts are one of the most chemically treated of all crops, try to choose organic peanuts for use. Peanuts are also prone to a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin, especially if they are stored under humid conditions, so choose peanuts from the arid climate of the Southwest, like Valencia peanuts, to minimize this risk.

Pignoli (pine nuts)

Incredibly luscious nuts that are quite expensive, due to the labor-intensive process involved in their harvesting from pinecones. High in oil and rich in taste, pine nuts add great depth to pasta and grain pilafs. Roasting them enhances their rich taste, making them delightful in any dish.

Pinto beans

The most famous Southwestern bean, pintos were actually named by the Spanish, who used the word meaning “painted” for them, because of the red-brown markings on their beige surface. Their nutty taste holds up well in stews, chilies, and baked bean dishes.


A tiny seedlike grain native to the Andes mountains. Pronounced “keen-wah,” this small grain
packs a powerhouse of complete protein and numerous amino acids not normally found in large amounts in most whole grains, particularly lysine, which aids digestion. Quinoa grains are quite delicate, so nature has coated them with an oily substance called saponin. If the grain isn’t rinsed well, it can have a bitter taste. Quinoa has a lovely, nutty taste and cooks quickly, qualities that make it a great whole-grain addition to your menus.

Red wine vinegar

An acidic liquid-processed red wine, it possesses a wide range of qualities, because of how long it might be aged. It’s always best to choose an organic version of this vinegar as the acidity is slightly lower and the grapes from which the wine was made were organic, so the quality is superior.

Rice syrup (brown rice syrup, rice malt)

Rice syrup is a thick, amber syrup made by combining sprouted barley (or other fermentation starter, like enzymes) with cooked brown rice and storing it in a warm place. Fermentation begins and the starches in the rice convert to maltose and some other complex sugars, making this syrup a wonderfully healthy sweetener. Complex sugars release slowly into the bloodstream, providing fuel for the body rather than wreaking havoc on the blood sugar.

Rice syrup’s wonderful, delicate sweetness makes it ideal for baked goods and other desserts. While sugar is sugar in the end, there are differing qualities of sugars we can use to create healthy treats for our families. Rice syrup falls into the category of a healthy sweetener when it is traditionally produced as is the product line in our marketplace, Suzanne’s Specialties.


The staple grain of many cultures, rice is low in fat and rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals, like calcium, protein, iron, and B vitamins. Rice as we know it was reportedly cultivated in India, spreading from there to Asia and the Middle East.

In its whole form, rice is a near perfect food. High in moisture, rice acts as a gentle diuretic, balancing the moisture content of the body and encouraging the elimination of any excess. Polished or white rice, while delicious on occasion, is pretty much devoid of nutrition and should be enjoyed occasionally, with brown rice as the staple grain.

The most common strains of rice include short grain, medium grain, and long grain. Short grain, the hardest and most compact variety, is best suited to cooler, temperate climates, while medium- and long-grain rice are used in warmer climates and during the summer months. Other gourmet varieties of rice have become popular in today’s cooking. These include arborio, basmati, texmati, wehani, black japonica, and red rice. Sweet brown rice, a glutinous variety of brown rice, is commonly used not only as a grain dish but also in mochi, a cake formed by pounding and drying cooked sweet rice.

There are limitless uses for rice in daily cooking: it can be pressure cooked, steamed, boiled, fried, baked, roasted, sautéed, and used in breads, sushi, casseroles, sautés, pilafs, or stuffings.


We love salt. It makes food taste better by bringing out all of its characteristics. But is it healthy for us? And which salt should we use?

Just about all table salt is put through the refinery ringer, ground up, stripped of its nutrients, and imparted with a "non-caking" additive to prevent it from clumping. Sea salt, on the other hand, tends to undergo very little processing, leaving behind potentially healthful trace minerals and elements, since it is simply salt left behind after evaporating sea water.

While nutritionally similar, table salt is much finer than sea salt so by weight it has more sodium chloride which has an impact on health.

When choosing a salt for daily use, always go for the more natural version, sea salt and keep usage to the recommended daily amount-under 2300 mg daily. And in my book, only use sea salt in cooking; never add it once a dish is finished. It has a more dramatic impact on blood chemistry when it’s not cooked into food.


In a word, seeds are powerhouses. (Remember that they are the source of entire plants, even trees in some cases.) That’s a lot of energy in a little seed. They are good sources of protein and calcium, but because of their high oil content, seeds perish relatively quickly and keep best refrigerated. The most popular seeds in natural foods cooking include pumpkin seeds (pepitas), poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.

Seitan (wheat gluten)

Most commonly called “wheat meat,” seitan is made from wheat gluten. Made by kneading the bran and starch out of flour, raw seitan is rather bland, so most commercial brands are simmered in savory broth before sale. A wonderful source of protein, it is low in calories and fat and is very popular in Oriental “mock meat” dishes as well as in hearty stews and casseroles.

Sesame tahini

A thick, creamy paste made from ground hulled sesame seeds that is used for flavoring everything from sauces to salad dressings to dips, spreads, and baked goods. Available in natural foods stores and Middle Eastern markets, this spread has a delicate nutty flavor that adds luxurious taste to any recipe.

Shiitake mushrooms

Gaining popularity over the last several years for their power to lower cholesterol and cleanse blood, shiitake mushrooms can be found in just about any natural foods store and gourmet shop. They have an intensely earthy taste, so a few go a long way. It is necessary to soak them until tender, about fifteen to twenty minutes before cooking, and I usually trim off the stem to avoid bitter flavor. They are wonderful in soups, stews, gravies, and sauces and as bouillon flavoring.


A confusing term because it is the generic term for Japanese soy sauce as well as the term for a specific type of traditionally made soy sauce, the distinguishing characteristic of which is the use of cracked wheat as the fermenting starter, along with soybeans. The best shoyu is aged for at least two years. A lighter seasoning than tamari

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