Cooking with Pantry Staples – 6 Quick & Easy Ideas

You CAN have it all… A quick and easy dinner, full of flavor, without a special trip to the grocery store. Most pantry staples you likely ALWAYS have on hand. Pre-stocking your pantry with a couple more gives you so many options, so many opportunities.

These easy pantry meals keep it interesting, with only a few main ingredients. EVOO, salt, and pepper are “must haves” in the pantry. Staples ingredients also include pasta, rice and grains, beans and lentils, and jarred or canned veggies. See my article on Pantry Staples for a quick list. Of course a couple of dried herbs, spices, and vinegars will go a long way to infusing flavor, and with a couple more helper ingredients, including nuts, canned fish and jarred olives, NOW YOU’RE COOKING!!

My goal was to go REALLY minimalist with my ideas below- using only shelf stable pantry items to illustrate that you can make some GREAT grub on these alone. However, feel free to improvise should you want to toss in some chopped onion, garlic, butter or cheese, or other non-strictly pantry items. As a note, I also consider my freezer an extension of my pantry, and often reach in there for frozen peas, spinach, shrimp or other fish, extra butter, and loaves of bread.

Most of what I have for you below aren’t “recipe” recipes with exact measurements, detailed cooking instructions and serving sizes- but instead ideas and guidelines presented in a more informal way. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to help out! Just drop me a comment below or post on Facebook and I’ll get back to you lickety split.

A Warming Rice Dish

rice in baking dish with olives nuts and dried fruit

I got the inspiration for this dish from one of my faves, Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook. Baking rice is really genius, and I wish I had gotten there sooner! The topping is packed with olives, cranberries and walnuts, and comes together quickly while the rice is baking (his version also included fresh mint – which if you have access to is a nice addition!).

Preheat the oven to 350. Bring 3 ½ cups of water to a boil. Place 2 cups of Basmati rice in a deep casserole or baking dish. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and cut up two tablespoons of butter and scatter around the rice. Pour in the boiling water, then cover with foil tightly. Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up a handful of green pitted olives and toss together in a bowl with a handful of dried cranberries or golden raisins, a handful of chopped walnuts, a half-ish teaspoon of garlic powder and dried oregano, and a pinch of salt. Mix together, then stir in a splash of balsamic syrup or brown sugar and a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil.

When the rice comes out of the oven, sprinkle the topping mixture over the rice and serve warm.

Linguine and Clams

fettuccine pasta twirled around a fork

I had a hard time deciding on a pantry pasta meal. Italians are experts at making delicious pastas out of meager ingredients. Aglio e Olio (garlic and olive oil pasta), Pasta e Ceci (pasta with chickpeas), and pasta with anchovies and breadcrumbs are all super simple, classic and flavorful dishes. I decided to go with one that I often make when the fam goes camping. It’s my “emergency” dinner – the one that’s in our camping pantry box that we make if we decide we want to stay another night and need an extra meal. I’ve found a way to make it all in one pot! PS If you don’t like clams, try it with an olive oil packed tuna, or use chickpeas to make it vegetarian! Buon Appetito!

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the pasta and cook until just al dente – a good 3 minutes shy of being done. Strain out most of the water, leaving about ½ cup in the bottom per half pound of pasta. (When you strain the pasta, save some of the cooking water to add back to the pot if it needs more liquid).

Add a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil to the pot with the pasta, a splash of white wine (yes, wine is a VERY important “pantry item” ?), one or two crushed up garlic cloves, and a few pinches of dried thyme. Pour in a can of clams with about half of it’s liquid, and let it simmer together until the pasta is finished cooking. Taste for salt, add more if needed, and plenty of cracked black pepper. If you like spice, sprinkle some red pepper flakes. Divide among plates and serve warm.

Black Beans and Rice

Beans and rice – a complete protein and an ultimate comfort food combo. Here the black beans get a boost from jarred salsa. This is a great dish as is, but top with shredded cheese to make it ooey-gooey, or wrap in a large tortilla for a veggie burrito! This serves about 2.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 can of drained black beans, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and a cup of your favorite jarred salsa. Bring to a simmer and taste, adding salt if needed. Cover with a lid and keep warm. Make the rice according to package directions. When it’s done, scoop into bowls, top with the beans and a little extra salsa on top. Pickled jalapenos would be awesome here too!

Spiced Pumpkin and Pink Lentil Stew

spiced pumpkin and lentil soup in blue bowl with spoon

Serve this with a bit of rice and you have a hearty vegetarian dinner. This is a super straight forward and mildly spiced dish, so don’t be scared or feel nervous about cooking with curry. Lentils are the workhorse of my kitchen. They cook much more quickly than dried beans, meaning I can grab them off the shelf and they are cooked up in less than 30 minutes, sometimes shorter depending on the type of lentil. The coconut milk makes this luxurious and creamy, worthy of a stand alone dish. This will make enough to serve 4, if you serve it with rice or naan as well.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups of pink lentils, 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and 3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth. Throw in a cinnamon stick if you have it. Bring to a simmer and cook about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are soft. Pour in a can of pumpkin puree and about a cup and one half of canned coconut milk and return to a simmer. Cook until thick and creamy, about another 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt or curry powder if needed. If it’s too thick, add more broth or coconut milk.

All the Cans, Pantry Salad

Do you know how many good things come in cans or jars? Artichokes! Hearts of Palm! Roasted peppers! Beans, glorious beans! Toss them all together and you’ve got a quick and easy pantry salad full of good-for-you veggies and legumes.

In a salad bowl, add together 1 can drained chickpeas, 1 can drained artichoke hearts (cut up if whole), 1 jar of roasted bell peppers cut up, or piquillo peppers if you can find them, and a handful of jarred kalamata olives. If you like you can also add some good canned tuna (solid, not chunk light). Drizzle in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar, and a dollop of dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper, and a few pinches of dried oregano and a little garlic powder. Toss and serve.

In-a-pinch Gingerbread Bites

gingerbread cake cut in bite sizes with powdered sugar

Can’t forget about baking! Flours, sugar, chocolate chips! You’re halfway to cookies! Biscuits, scones, cornbread… all baking starts out with pantry staples. Sure, most recipes also have a good deal of butter, eggs, and sometimes milk. BUT! Not vegan recipes. The internet is full of recipes for baked goods that don’t require dairy or eggs, but I find many of them lacking.

Okay, I’m going to give you one REAL recipe in this article because it is one of my favorites. Don’t get me wrong, I love my butter, but I’ve been making this delicious vegan gingerbread cake for a couple of years now, and because it’s so healthy, often will even serve it to my kids for breakfast. Props go out to Thug Kitchen for their fantastic creation! I’ve adapted it slightly to simplify and reduce a bit of the sugar.

In-a-pinch Gingerbread Bites

(Adapted slightly from Thug Kitchen's Frosted Gingerbread Bites)
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Servings: 16 cake bites



  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar light or dark


  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 cup coconut milk


  • Preheat the oven to 350 and grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Line it with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.
  • In a small saucepan, warm together molasses and coconut.
  • Pour the warm molasses and milk into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. If desired, quickly stir in ½ cup chocolate chips (recommended!!!). Pour into the prepared pan, and bake 25 minutes. Let it cool at least 10 minutes, then remove from the pan. Enjoy warm, or let cool completely. Will keep about 3 days at room temperature.


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