quarantine meals

Cooking with Pantry Staples

Since supply shortages are still keeping shelves empty,  it’s time to prepare for cooking with pantry staples. What is pantry cooking? It’s cooking with beans, lentils, and the sorts of vegetables that last a long time.

Whole sections of the supermarket are still bare.  There are spot shortages, and prices have skyrocketed. But the beans, lentils, and rice are still reasonable. And they will last a long time too.

empty shelves

Everyone is suddenly focused  on pantry staples. But, now it’s time to figure out how to cook with ingredients you may not be accustomed to using.

Supply Shortage Cooking and Shopping

First, if you didn’t do so already, limit your shopping to items that are shelf stable or last a long time. That spinach may look good, but don’t buy a lot of it. It will spoil quickly. And, get a variety of foods. Don’t just hit the beans, pasta, and peanut butter. You’ll get bored! Quarantine cooking doesn’t have to be dull or monotonous.

If you have access to food delivery, the slots are filling up really fast. I tried to order for my mom earlier this week and the best I could do was a delivery slot 10 days from now. There are likely to be delays even then, and some services will now only leave the food at your door. So make sure to add an e-tip if you can.

You may not be able to find everything you normally do. Or, be faced with having to substitute one ingredient for another you’ve run out of. If you need help with that, read this post on quarantine recipe substitutions.

Shelf Stable Pantry Staples

  • pasta – this is an easy one, it keeps for a long time and it’s familiar
  • beans – if the canned beans are gone, get dried beans, such as black beans, cranberry beans, pinto beans, or navy/white beans
  • lentils – generally red or brown
  • split peas – either green or yellow
  • rice – whatever kind you like, white, brown, jasmine, basmati
  • canned fish, such as tuna, sardines, or salmon
  • herbs and spices – cumin, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, basil, tarragon, oregano, bay leaves, rosemary

Long-Lasting Vegetables

  • root vegetables – carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, turnips, parsnips
  • alliums – onions, garlic, shallots
  • cruciferous vegetables – cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and bok choy

Long-Lasting Fridge Foods

  • eggs (these will keep in the fridge for about 4 or 5 weeks)
  • hard cheeses, such as parmesan, swiss, cheddar, and romano
  • sausage, bacon, ham hocks, kielbasa (these can also be frozen)
  • condiments: ketchup, mustard, chili garlic sauce, hot sauce, worchestershire sauce

Freezer Foods

  • milk (yes milk), you can freeze it
  • butter (same as milk), buy extra and freeze it
  • meat – buy a larger package, make chili or soup and freeze it in individual portions
  • chicken – same as meat, either make a larger portion and freeze it individually or freeze individual parts in separate bags, and put it all together in a large freezer bag
  • frozen veggies, such as peas, broccoli, or mixed vegetables
  • frozen fruit, such as blueberries, strawberries, or mango

If you’re having trouble just getting the food (because you don’t want to go out, can’t stay up all night to grab a delivery slot, or are unable to navigate the “Hunger Games” version of Instacart, try these quarantine grocery shopping solutions.

Cooking with Pantry Staples Recipes and Tips


Pasta, is of course, a staple nearly all over the world. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and needs little introduction. These quarantine cooking recipes rely on pantry ingredients (the artichokes are in a jar), the tomatoes are canned, and olives are brined so they stay good for weeks.

white ragu papardelleWhite Ragu Pappardelle Pasta for One

Earthy porcini mushrooms, rich sausage and beef, white wine, and a touch of cream simmered gently and served with hearty pasta. Ultra-pasteurized cream will keep longer, and you can get dried porcini mushrooms.

Pasta with Tomato Artichoke Sauce Recipe

Combine pasta, a jar of marinated artichokes, canned tomatoes and a touch of red pepper flakes for bite, and you’ve got yourself a pantry staple meal.  Don’t have artichokes? Mushrooms and some Italian dressing will work too.

smoked salmon pasta with tomato cream sauceSmoked Salmon Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce

A silky smooth sauce, with just a touch of cream, layered over pasta. Feels like over-indulgence, but it’s not. Look (or ask) for odds and ends of the smoked salmon. You don’t need perfect slices for this.

pasta olives tomatoes capersPasta with Olives Tomatoes and Capers Puttanesca

Sure this dish has a racy name, but it’s perfectly proper for dinner or lunch. It’s made entirely with pantry staples, like pasta, olives, capers, and canned tomatoes. And it’s quick too. Just cook the pasta and then the sauce comes together in a few minutes.

Dried Beans and Split Peas

Dried beans must be soaked and cooked before you can eat them. Usually, you let them soak overnight, then drain them, and finally cook them in whatever dish you are making, for about 2 hours. If you don’t want to wait overnight, there is a quick soak method that takes an hour.

black beans and rice recipe one personBlack Beans and Rice Recipe for One Person

This versatile recipe is both a meal and a soup. Just adjust the amount of liquid. I got it straight from a Cuban-Colombian friend. And, beans and rice together are a complete protein.

pasta e fagioli soupPasta e Fagioli Soup (Small Batch)

Another way to get your protein: beans and pasta. It starts with aromatics and builds up flavor with salty pancetta, slowly cooked sweet onions, and rosemary, until your whole home smells wonderful.

white bean salad sun dried tomatoesWhite Bean Salad with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Make the fancy store salad at a fraction of the cost.  Dried tomatoes have an intensely sweet tart flavor that bursts in your mouth and pairs well in taste and texture with the beans.

tuna cannellini bean salad

Tuna Cannellini Bean Salad Recipe for One

Open two cans, add a few basic staples, and you have a lovely lunch. This can also be made with dried beans (soak them and cook them first) if you have them.


moroccan bean and chicken soupMoroccan Chicken and Bean Soup

Filling and satisfying, with rich flavor from tomatoes, chicken, and warm, peppery turmeric. Also called harira, this is a dish that’s popular in Morocco either as a light meal or a starter. It’s usually made with lamb and lentils, but chicken and beans work just fine.

split pea soup recipe with ham hockSplit Pea Soup Recipe with Ham Hock

A whole meal in a bowl. This soup is rich with salty smoky ham and creamy, sweet split peas. You can use either green or yellow. The green ones are sweeter and less starchy.  Some sources say soak the split peas, and some say it’s not needed. My cookbook says soak, so I’m going with Craig Claiborne (former NYT food columnist) here.


The supermarket shelf gaps, mean we can’t always get every ingredient we’re used to buying.  It can seem a bit daunting.  Especially if you are new to cooking. Don’t worry, you can swap families of ingredients for each other. And still have something delicious to eat. Here’s how to substitute ingredients.


Americans tend to focus on meat, but lentils have just as much protein and are full of vitamins. Plus, they’re better for quarantine cooking, since they don’t spoil like meat does. They do need a starch to get all the amino acids in one meal.

Lentils cook similarly to rice, but with a lentil to water ratio of one to three, instead of one to two. They come in multiple varieties, but red and brown are the most common. The red ones cook more rapidly.  Get the split lentils, not the whole ones. The other nice thing about lentils is that they cook in minutes, rather than hours. And you don’t have to soak them. Just rinse them off and cook them.

easy lentils and rice recipeEasy Lentils and Rice Recipe

A great way to get a tasty meal with pantry staples.  Lentils and rice are filling and cook quickly.  It’s simple, but still flavorful, with garlic, turmeric, and a “secret” ingredient.


ham and lentil soupEasy Ham and Lentil Soup for One Person

A shelf stable and long-lasting vegetable favorite. And, it’s delicious.  The ham hocks will keep in your fridge for a few days, or freeze as long as you like (but the taste will be best if you use them in a month or two).

red lentil carrot soupRed Lentil Carrot Soup

This soup has ginger and cumin for warm spiciness, and carrots for sweetness, punched up with red pepper flakes for a bit of heat. Only one pot! So you can cook, and then go back to Netflix and chill.



Ggarlic ginger turmeric ricearlic Ginger Turmeric Rice

Packed with garlic, ginger, green cardamon pods, and a pinch of turmeric for that beautiful yellow color. And, it’s two meals in one! As is, it’s a side dish. Add some pre-cooked chicken, or slide a sunny side egg on top, and it’s now a full meal.

lamb merguez sausage with rice and vegetablesLamb Merguez Sausage with Rice and Vegetables

Go to Morocco without leaving home. The lamb sausage packs a kick, but the rice and carrots mellow it all out.


Bibimbap Rice Bowlbibimbap rice bowl

A lively, colorful meal in a single bowl. It’s layers of flavor, starting with rice, then ground beef, vibrant veggies, and a spicy sauce. Then the entire thing is topped with a freshly fried egg.  Sort of a Korean spin on cleaning out the fridge.


Root Vegetables (Potatoes, Turnips, Squash, Carrots)


rosemary potato roasted garlic pizzaRosemary Potato Roasted Garlic Pizza

Or, as I like to call it: potato chip pizza! A variation on a classic Roman dish with crispy potatoes, mellow roasted garlic, and two kinds of cheese, Make your own pizza crust, or buy one. Hint: making it yourself is easy.

curried butternut squash soup with applesCurried Butternut Squash Soup with Apples

The apples add sweetness, while the curry adds a hint of spiciness. Warm and comforting, like cuddling inside a soft blanket.


roasted root vegetable medleyRoasted Root Vegetable Medley

A colorful combination of fragrant, sweet, spicy, and tender veggies. All in one pan. Mixed with cayenne, paprika, and chili powder. Clears your head too.

Long-Lasting Vegetables (Cabbage, Broccoli)

oven roasted lemon garlic broccoliOven Roasted Lemon Garlic Broccoli

Roasting transforms broccoli into something sweet, tender, and almost nutty. If you aren’t a fan, this may change your mind.


creole cabbage and sausageQuick Creole Cabbage and Sausage

Dinner in 15 minutes! This creole cabbage and sausage recipe is quick and easy to put together.  Just the thing when you think you’ll faint if you don’t eat soon. The creole seasonings are easy to make from ingredients you already have.

Polish sausage with cabbage and potatoesOne Pot Polish Sausage and Cabbage with Potatoes

A few basic ingredients gets you an entire meal in a single bowl. Packed with flavor from spicy sausage, buttery potatoes, braised cabbage, and sweet carrots. Cabbage and potatoes keep for months, and sausage will last either in the fridge or the freezer.

pasta with broccoli, mushrooms, and chicken sausagePasta with Broccoli, Mushrooms, and Chicken Sausage

Pasta tossed with chicken sausage and whatever veggies you have. I originally used peppers, broccoli, and mushrooms, but peas, carrots, cauliflower or whatever frozen veggies you like are just as good.  The chicken sausage can be frozen in separate packages.


Eggs will keep longer than you might think—up to four or five weeks in the fridge. They are a complete protein and really versatile. You can use them to make breads, omelettes, frittatas, spaetzle, and even treat yourself to a coffee cake.

egg and tomato gratinEgg and Tomato Gratin for One Person

Redolent with thyme, garlic, and onion, then topped with cheese.  It’s easy, quick, and the only “fresh” thing you need is the egg. The cheese is Swiss, which will keep.


frittata recipe for one personFrittata Recipe for One Person

This “omelette” starts with a layer of golden potatoes, topped with eggs, veggies, and ham if you like.  It’s a full meal, all on one plate.


egg and pasta gratinEgg and Pasta Gratin with Chives

Quick, what’s gooey, melty, cheesy, and great comfort food?  This egg and pasta gratin has crispy eggs and tender noodles, topped with plenty of cheese. And, it’s got two of the major comfort food groups: pasta and cheese!