Monday, August 26, 2013

Pantry Meals

Because we're buying a house and still renting for September, lately we've been trying to eat from what's already in our cupboards as much as possible. Especially since we live within walking distance of a grocery store, it's been really easy for us (okay, me) to fall into lazy habits when it comes to meal-planning and thus over-spending on food.

We've continued to buy fresh fruit two or three times a week, and we've been alternating between fresh produce and veggies from our freezer. (And this week we'll be getting a ton of fresh green beans from my dad's garden--yay!!) But it happens that pantry meals are rich in vegetarian sources of protein, so we've been spending much less on meat than usual the past week or two. Also, it's kind of crazy the food you find, forgotten, in the back of the cupboard when you force yourself to plan meals around what you already have. Like several pounds of lentils. (Why do I keep buying MORE lentils? My mother-in-law also bought a pound of them when she was here. So many lentils.) Luckily, since we are trying to eat that food, we won't have to move it all with us. :)

Here are some of our favorite pantry meals:

Mujadara. Oh so delicious. I discovered this recipe through Like Mother, Like Daughter and made it a few times during Lent. It is an amazing meal to make during the colder months, but it tastes good in summer too, and it only uses the stovetop so it's good hot weather cooking. It only has four ingredients but the flavor from the carmelized onions is just incredible. I can't recommend it enough. (I use brown rice for this and all other rice recipes, since it's what we keep in the house. I just added the rice in to pre-boil with the lentils and itcooked well and tasted great.)

It may not look like much, but trust me, it's delicious.

... and if you can't take my word for it, trust Michael.
Fried rice. I tried this for the first time two weeks ago and it turned out great! For the veggies I used a frozen bag of mixed (no scallions 'round here), and I used powdered ginger rather than fresh because that was what we had. If you want you can add chicken or shrimp, but you don't have to. I added an extra egg because it felt right.

Rice and beans. Unless we have tortillas, avocados, and salsa around for tacos, I think of this as more of a lunch meal, but with some shredded cheese and sour cream it is filling and tasty.

Quiche. I try to make this only on cooler days since it uses the oven, but it is tasty and easy to make. I use homemade pie crust which is cheaper than ready-made and, frankly, tastes a LOT better. (I was spoiled growing up by my mom's homemade pies; I actually don't like store-bought pies because the crust is so disgusting!) The recipe I linked to uses Swiss cheese, but I generally use cheddar. I add cream or half and half when I have it, but when I don't I just use whole milk.

Pizza. Actually, a friend brought us some homemade pizza a few days ago--I haven't made it lately myself. But pizza crust is easy to make, and it's easy to use whatever toppings you have on hand. Our friend used pepperoni, peppers, and broccoli, and it was delicious.

Pasta and meat sauce. We always have some sort of pasta in the cupboard and a jar or two of sauce, and it's easy to add a package of ground beef to the mix.

Vegetable Korma. This isn't necessarily the best summer food, because it involves standing over the stove and cooking. (In fact, when I think of this dish, I associate it strongly with autumn. But if you have the right spices stocked, it's a good dish to make with whatever vegetables you have on hand or that are on sale.

Meanwhile, this guy would be content to live on lemons.

Do you have any favorite recipes for pantry meals (or meals that are otherwise healthy but inexpensive)? I'm always looking for new ones!


  1. This is awesome and perfect timing for me! I'm trying to plan this weeks meals...hate that part of my week. A couple of simple staple meals around here are pasta with Bertolli vodka sauce. We brown italian sausage instead of hamburger and throw it all together and it's so, so good. Another thing we eat a lot are wraps - tortilla, frozen chicken tenders, and feta, lettuce, and italian dressing. We make buffalo too by substituting the italian dressing for ranch or bleu cheese, cheddar for the feta, and adding Frank's Red Hot. :)

  2. Goulash. You toss in whatever you have. It's like Hamburger Helper but with more stuff. Noodles, ground beef, red sauce, tomatoes, kidney beans, and whatever else you want (green peppers, zucchini, whatever). Michael made this last year in a giant soup pot and we had leftovers for over a week, even after eating it every day or every other day.

    Rice, black beans, salsa, an egg, shredded cheese, and any extra veggie like green peppers and diced onions. Made into a casserole. Toss sour cream on top, much like the recipe that you already mentioned but with more stuff.

    Michael once made an awesome vegetarian shepherd's pie. Whatever veggies you want (root and broccoli and the like) underneath sauteed with garlic and spices, mashed potatoes, cheese mixed in with the potatoes and put on top to form a crust.

    We also have a "Mexican Night" when we take tortillas and Michael mixes rice, mashed black beans and sometimes garbanzo beans/chick beans, diced veggies (tomato, onion, green peppers), garlic, tomato paste or fresh tomatoes in a skillet. Topped with sour cream, lettuce, taco sauce.

    A general stew.

    My grandmother used to mix macaroni with spaghetti sauce, ground beef, and a can of corn. It was really good.

    Chicken or tuna salad. Chicken salad: canned or boiled chicken, mayo, almonds, grapes, dried cranberries, red onion, (dijon) mustard. Tuna salad/melt: canned tuna, mayo, garlic powder, relish, toasted with cheese on top.

  3. Spaghetti and pizza are weekly staples here. We also have a lot of fried rice and quiche because for some reason Claire doesn't have a problem with veggies if they're hidden in those?

    I also really like lentil soup, split pea soup, and red beans and rice. Cheap, healthy, and Claire thinks it's the most fun in the world to feed herself with a spoon.

    Black bean quesadillas are another favorite! And these are more freezer meals, but I always like to keep a box of ravioli or pierogies in there for a super easy dinner.