My staples change from time to time, but there are several that always stay the same versus some that also come back very very frequently no matter what time of the year it is. For the most part, it’s crucial that all of these be in my fridge and pantry as often as possible because while I do enjoy my healthy junk-food trips to Whole Foods or crazy fruit and vegetable explorations in foreign supermarkets, I always have a palette of at least twenty foods to turn to when I’m in need of a meal.
There might even be a second part to this post because there are just so many things that I love to have on hand, so stay tuned for that if possible, but for now, these are twenty of my kitchen staples that I always make sure to have on hand, their health benefits, and what I do with them!
- Sweet potatoes/yams. Should come no surprise to you that I am addicted to sweet potatoes! It would practically be true to say that I have at least one sweet potato every single day, if not more, unless if I’m on vacation where I can’t cook at home. I might as well write a whole glossary on them and call myself the Sweet Potato Babe! It goes to say that I eat so much that I’ve already started reversing my aging. I’m serious. One of the vendors at the Natural Products Expo West that I attended last month said that I look twelve. TWELVE. Okay, moving on from that–the reasons why I love sweet potatoes and yams so much are that they’re packed with nutrients, satiating, versatile but also really good on their own, and they come in multiple varieties, whether that be Japanese yams, purple sweet potatoes, Hannah sweet potatoes, red garnet yams, jewel yams, Okinawan sweet potatoes, etc. I won’t go into depth as to what you can do with them because that would be a whole ‘nother post in itself, but there are so many amazing healthy recipes out there that use sweet potatoes and yams, so I highly recommend that you research them if you’re looking to incorporate more sweet potatoes into your diet. Lastly, I prefer sweet potatoes and yams over regular potatoes–as a disclaimer–because I like the taste of yams and sweet potatoes more, and regular potatoes–white, red, gold, whatever–don’t like my skin. However, if you can tolerate white potatoes and if you prefer them, then you can definitely enjoy them as a staple so as long as you don’t deep fry them or coat them in batter and sour cream. I still highly recommend sweet potatoes themselves for their unique reasons, but you don’t have to discriminate potatoes.
- Eggs. Whether egg whites in a carton or whole eggs in a dozen, I try to keep them stashed in my fridge as often as possible. I eat an omelet almost every single school day, which is pretty much most of my present life right now. You can pretty much do anything with eggs, from boiling them, poaching them, scrambling them, making a frittata or an omelet, baking them, frying them sunny-side up, or being an absolute nutcase and chugging them raw. Whenever I eat whole eggs, I generally like the yolks very runny and soft to the touch, otherwise my omelets are usually made of egg whites only since I prefer to eat the yolk as it is rather than just whisked away in the whites.
- Leafy greens. If there’s one tip that you practically see being thrown everywhere in the health and fitness industry, it’s to eat more greens, and it could not be any more right. They are so full of positive health benefits, from anti-inflammation and anti-aging properties to clearing up your skin and fulfilling all of your micronutrient RDAs. Leafy greens are actually a lot easier to incorporate into your diet if you do it correctly. Jam a cup or two of spinach in a smoothie for breakfast, stir-fry some kale in an omelet, have a spring arugula salad for lunch, swap the tortilla for a collard green or make Romaine lettuce “tacos” for dinner.
- Kabocha. Guess who got the family into kabocha?! Well, that’s only half-true. My mother has an amazing soup recipe for it, but I’m generally the one that uses kabocha the majority of the time because I have this obsession with sweet potato kabocha pudding. Anyways, if you’re wondering what the heck a kabocha is, it is basically a Japanese pumpkin that tastes like a crossbreed of a golden nugget “Halloween” pumpkin and a sweet potato. Doesn’t that sound like the best thing in the world and make you want to try it? Well you definitely should! You may recognize them as those pumpkin pieces in Thai curries or those giant circular slices at Shabu Shabu restaurants–that’s kabocha! While enjoyed savory for the majority of the time, there are also ways you can have kabocha as a dessert. It can be found in most grocery stores, including Ralphs, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, but Asian supermarkets have the best deals because they have more access to them.
- (Pea)nut butters. Something else I eat every single day? Peanut butter. I know that peanuts are technically a legume, but I interchange peanut butter and other nut butters so often that I’ve broken then down into the same category. A lot of people are really afraid of nut butters when they shouldn’t be, because nut butters are packed full of healthy fats and protein, as well as a bunch of various nutrients depending on the type of nut or legume. They are also as versatile as eff: you can spread them on toast, dip them in fruit, dollop on a sweet potato, blend in a salad dressing, and even mix into a marinade for tofu or salmon in Asian dishes. If you are allergic to nuts and peanuts, then I recommend swapping them for sunflower seed butter, pumpkin seed butter, tahini and more.
- Quinoa. The superfood of 2013, I am still in love with this grain-like seed because of its flavor, health benefits and versatility. What’s amazing is that my family loves quinoa as much as I do now too, and we’ve incorporated it as one of our favorite grains and substitutes for white rice. We mostly have white quinoa because it is the softest. Red quinoa and tricolor quinoa are also very tasty but they do have a nuttier flavor and texture that not everybody would like. The majority of the time, I eat quinoa in my favorite salads, which comprises of arugula or kale with avocado and a lemon juice dressing. However, there are a billion ways to have quinoa, from having them in a breakfast parfait or oatmeal replacement to making quinoa “fried rice” or a quinoa casserole!
- Seafood. Having some kind of fish at lunch and/or dinner is a great way to add in omega-3s, protein, iodine, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D in your diet. Nowadays I get the majority of my fish protein from salmon and cod, which are two of my favorites, but I also really enjoy other types of seafood such as shrimp, tuna, sole, calamari, scallops and occasionally tilapia. There is some controversy about seafood because of mercury poisoning, so I do recommend researching which fishes not to buy and always getting them wild caught. As for what you can do with seafood, you can broil them, saute them, add them in a stir-fry, make homemade sushi, stuff them in an omelet, salad, soup or curry, pretty much anything savory! I love adding seafood blends in a soup, baking salmon with balsamic vinaigrette or teriyaki sauce, and broiling cod with a caper mushroom sauce. Recipes with more seafood coming your way!
- Avocados. Avocado salads. Avocado toast. Baked eggs in an avocado. Guacamole. Avocado pudding. Avocado fries. Is there anything you CAN’T do with an avocado? I think NOT. To top its versatility, the avocado is loaded with fiber, potassium, monounsaturated fats, vitamin B6 and folate, vitamin K and so many properties aiding in lowering cholesterol, nutrient absorption, arthritis and cancer prevention, skin repair and eye prevention. People often prejudice against the brown avocados, and here’s why that is terrible besides food waste: you can use it for avocado desserts, avocado face masks, guacamole and avocado hair masks as well! Besides, nobody is going to know that your chocolate pudding was made from a brown avocado or a green one.
- Brown rice. While I do not eat any rice that often, my family enjoys brown rice daily at lunch and dinner time along with our main dishes. It tastes absolutely amazing with curries and teriyaki recipes since it really absorbs the sauces well! The reason why brown rice is supposedly more ideal than white rice is because each grain of brown rice still has its bran layer reserved. The brain layer contains all of the essential fiber and nutrients that you need for optimal health, plus it is a lot less processed than its white counterpart. However, there is so much controversy as to which one is healthier nowadays because brown rice contains more arsenic and phytic acid, which makes it really hard for some to absorb other nutrients and is more commonly found in brown rice and in white rice. I generally stay away from white rice because it has this underlying hatred towards my skin, giving me acne and making my complexion really dull.
- Tomatoes. Whether heirloom or cherry, I use tomatoes for so many things: omelets, salads , stir-fries, and of course, salsa and pico de gallo! I personally prefer tomatoes cooked just because they’re less sour and easier to chew if having them whole. You all know that tomatoes contain a ton of vitamins, minerals, healthy heart properties, antioxidants and blah blah blah, but a fun fact is that tomatoes contain lycopene, which can help prevent asthma and increase bone health. And one last thing: you need to have the actual tomato fruit in order to reap its benefits. NONE of that store-bought canned tomato or ketchup ish.
- Any cruciferous vegetable. Vegetables all in themselves are really important, but cruciferous vegetables are particularly special because they have been linked to lowering cancer and cardiovascular disease while boosting detoxification properties. There are so many types of cruciferous vegetables, but I would have to say the top four in my fridge (plus my personal favorites) are broccoli for its convenience, kale for its antioxidant composition, cauliflower for its versatility and Brussel sprouts for its freaking awesome taste when roasted. That being said, cruciferous vegetables smell awful when overcooked and are some of the most difficult vegetables to digest. If eaten in excess, the buildup of thiocyanates will prevent your body from absorbing iodine, resulting in hypothyroidism.
- Tofu. Even though everyone in the family has their own particular way as to how they like their tofu, the important part is that we all love it! I personally like tofu in any shape or form, but my all-time favorite is having it pan-fried like in this recipe or baked in the oven so that its edges become really firm and crispy. There are several basic varieties: silken, firm and extra firm. Silken is mainly used in mapo tofu, desserts or as egg/butter replacements, whereas the last two are mainly used in tofu scrambled and stir-fries. We generally have firm tofu because it isn’t too dense like extra firm tofu is, but it’s also not slurpable like silken. But whether you like your tofu super soft or super hard, make sure to get organic, non-GMO tofu because soy is one of the most heavily processed food products out there along with corn and wheat.
- Pure sea salt. Ideally, I would always purchase pink Himalayan sea salt because it does contain more nutrients than conventional table salt or sea salt. However, if I do not have Himalayan sea salt, I just have pure sea salt. It’s mostly used in cooking stir-fries, soups, or baking vegetables, chicken and fish. Do not be afraid of the sodium content either! You really only need a dash of it to just make your dish taste ten times better! It is only when you use heaping spoonfuls of salt and add it to EVERY single thing when it becomes a problem. If you don’t have a salt shaker or grinder, I suggest either using a pinch of salt if sprinkling it on something or using around half a teaspoon in cooking.
- Garlic. I have to say that garlic is the most powerful vegetable there ever is, and NOT because it will make your breath smell as foul as Satan. Anyways, garlic comes with so many detoxifying and healing/medicinal properties that make it so essential for health, but it is also an absolute must for cooking because it will always add that special something to any savory dish. My family buys garlic in bulk, then peels around 10 or more bulbs and breaks up the cloves in a food processor so that we can use them anytime for cooking, and it’s much easier than manually peeling every bulb and clove and smashing them individually.
- Poultry. We rarely ever eat red meat in the house, with the exception of steak that my mother cooks. I personally do not eat any red meat, but I do eat poultry as a convenient and complete source of protein. Our staples include organic chicken and turkey. They are a very versatile protein that tastes wonderful in curries, stir-fries, salads, soups, frittatas, skewers, and many more. Do make sure that it’s cooked completely because undercooked meats, with the exception of some types of fish, can be deathly.
- Mushrooms. Like tomatoes, I use mushrooms for all of my stir-fries, egg dishes, curries, some of my salads, and soups. However, I cannot stand raw mushrooms so I always make sure to steam them if they are not cooked already. I generally like the white mushrooms with brown tops that you can find at Trader Joe’s, but portobellos are also amazing when you grill them with a little seasoning. They are such an incredible source of B vitamins, vitamin D, minerals, immunity boosting properties and compounds that aid cancer prevention.
- Broth. It’s a great substitute for oil, butter or cream in a soup or curry dish, plus it lends a lot of flavor, volume and water content. My mom prefers to cook with chicken broth, but we generally also keep vegetable broth in the house just in case a recipe calls for it or what not. Make sure that your broth is low sodium and unsalted by checking the label and the ingredients on the package.
- Onions. Basically onions are to garlic as jelly is to peanut butter. When you use garlic a lot, you probably use onions too. Again, onions may make your breath smell awful after eating them, but they are useful so many reasons. Besides being anti-inflammatory and helpful for cancer prevention, they can be incorporated into many different dishes but also enjoyed by themselves. You can put them in stews, curries, soups, salads, stir-fries and sandwiches, or cut them in half and grill or roast them until blackened around the edges. Some people cannot easily digest onions and cause gas and bloating, so they are not for everyone.
- Extra virgin olive oil. Considered to be one of the healthiest foods ever discovered on the planet, olive oil contains a lot of monounsaturated fats and has been connected to preventing heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Many people believe that it’s very damaging to cook with olive oil on a very high heat, while other studies have shown the opposite. The way I enjoy olive oil is by using them to cook savory dishes on the stovetop or in marinades to cook our poultry and seafood.
- Sriracha. We went without Sriracha in the house for four to five days. We basically went through an empty fridge and pantry for four to five days.
There you have it, twenty of my personal favorite food staples that you should definitely try to have more often if you don’t already. If I missed any way to have some of these staples or if you have any of your own food staples that aren’t in the list above, comment them down below and let me know if you enjoy them as well!