My Pantry Essentials: Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil, Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce

When I first started thinking about this list of pantry essentials, my mind turned towards building blocks like grains, beans, and greens – all of which I keep in abundance. But then I considered what I would need to enhance those ingredients. What are the flavors that make me savor a meal? Here are five…

Emily's 5 Pantry Essentials

1. Garlic: Some of my earliest memories involve watching my father swiftly chopping garlic with his Chinese cleaver, so this ingredient is central to my ideas about cooking. In my own kitchen, I use this pungent allium in all forms: raw, cooked, roasted, fermented, and fried – which I recently discovered makes a fantastic soup topper.

2. Onions: Onions are the foundation of so many dishes that I start to feel antsy if there are only one or two bulbs left in the pantry. I most frequently use all-purpose yellow onions, but I like to have one red and one white on hand, too. For quick flavor boosting, I keep batches of caramelized onions and onion jam in the freezer.

3. Olive Oil: I highly recommend spending the time to really taste olive oils (it's a fun activity to do with friends!). There are so many varietals and flavors, from bitter to fruity to buttery, that it makes sense to have a few bottles for different dishes. For general, everyday use, however, I like the extra virgin olive oil from California Olive Ranch.

4. Sesame Oil: Between my Chinese-Vietnamese heritage and my partner's Korean background, we use a lot of sesame oil in our kitchen. This robust oil makes its way into stir fries, salad and noodle dressings, dipping sauces, marinades, and more. Tip: when cooking East Asian dishes, always use dark, toasted/roasted sesame oil, which has a richer flavor.

5. Soy Sauce: I cook with soy sauce not just to add saltiness but also depth and complexity. Even if I'm lacking time, ingredients, or inspiration, I can almost always whip up a quick bowl of vegetables, tofu, or noodles with the simple trio of soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. For general cooking, I usually prefer darker, richer varieties of soy sauce.

To see more of my pantry essentials, check out my posts on vegetarian and vegan and freezer staples.

Related: How To Stock a Vegetarian (or Vegan) Pantry

(Image: Emily Ho)

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