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9 pantry staples to add last-minute flavour to your meals

by Malou Herkes

published on 20 March 2020

Planning your pantry for the uncertain weeks ahead? So you've read our storecupboard recipes and resources and you've stocked up on just enough pasta, beans and grains, what next? Think about those flavour-packed ingredients that can sit on your shelf for weeks to transform plain noodles, beans or rice into a delicious, exciting last-minute meal. There's versatile peanut butter that works just as well as a nutty noodle sauce as it does spread on toast. There's soy and tamari to pep up an Asian broth and preserved lemons for pops of sunshine in an everyday stew.

Don't forget garlic and ginger – they can sit on your counter for a while. Freeze chillies to grate into your cooking from frozen and get yourself a decent bottle of olive oil. Here are some of our favourite flavour bombs to spruce up your meals whatever you have in the cupboard or freezer. 

peanut butter noodles cornershop cookbook

Peanut butter

Peanut butter (or any nut butter for that matter) is both nutritious and versatile. It can add quick nuttiness and flavour to noodles, stews and sauces. Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, chilli oil and lime juice and toss those these Peanut Butter Noodles (pictured) or try this Butternut, Sage & Cashew Pasta recipe, made extra creamy with homemade cashew butter. You can also make nut butter from plain nuts, blitzed up with water in a blender and squeezed with a muslin or tea towel. And if all else fails, make cookies.

how to make sweet thai chilli sauce the hot sauce cookbook heather thomas

Sweet or hot chilli sauce

The perfect balance of sweet, sharp and spicy, sweet or hot chilli sauce will brighten eggs, and works wonders in falafel or veg wraps, on crispy battered fish or these tofu skewers. Buy it ready-made or make your own sweet Thai chilli sauce from scratch.

jamie oliver 5 ingredient lamb kofte flatbreads

Rose harissa

Used by the likes of Ottolenghi and Jamie Oliver, rose harissa adds a fragrant, sweet and spicy hit to meat, fish and veg. Use it to spice up a roast chicken, to scrunch into Jamie's 5-Ingredient Lamb Kofte recipe (pictured) or tossed through roasted vegetables in Elly Pear's Aubergine, Tomato & Chickpea bake or Ottolenghi's spice-roasted carrots. Or swirl a dollop of harissa through plain yoghurt to serve in vegetable wraps or burritos, or to pep up day-old stew. The possibilities are endless!

storecupboard dinners nadiya hussain instant noodles

Soy sauce

Swap salt for deliciously umami-flavoured soy sauce to pep up noodle broths, to drizzle over baked salmon, or to jazz up stir-fried veggies and noodles. Right now, we're big fans of Nadiya's instant noodles (pictured).

tamarind roasted sprouts the green roasting tin rukmini iyer

Tamarind paste

Tamarind paste is made from a sour, dark, sticky fruit and is delicious mixed into into dips and dressings to add tangy sweet-sour flavour to fish and veggies. Make a tamarind dressing to toss through Melissa Hemsley's Tamarind Ginger Greens with mackerel. Or whisk tamarind with oil and a bit of sugar to add to chickpeas and sprouts in Rukmini's traybake. Nadiya is obsessed with her tamarind dip combined with honey and cinnamon which, she says “works really well with different textures and tastes” and especially halloumi skewers. 

cavolo nero with preserved lemons chorizo ottolenghi simple

Preserved lemons

Bright, fragrant and packing a punch, preserved lemons add depth to tagines and stews, brighten up salads and sides of bulgur wheat and couscous. Pair them with hearty dark green cavolo nero and chorizo in this Ottolenghi side dish, or in this storecupboard Three-bean Tagine with Lemony Couscous.

leftover roast chicken salad with olives tom aikens


Chopped into tagines, stews, pasta dishes and grains or thrown into salads, olives add tonnes of flavour and will last a good while on your shelf. Try them in this frugal one-pot Cauliflower, Olive & Lentil Tagine, this herby grain traybake or this leftover chicken salad.

comptoir hummus tony kitous


Tahini is a sesame paste that will add nuttiness and creaminess to dressings, houmous (pictured), dips and spreads, and even baked into these sweet breads. You can simply whisk tahini with water and a squeeze of lemon juice to serve up with bread or crunchy veg for a nutritious snack. Or do as Rachel Ama does, and combine a dollop of tahini with olive oil, maple syrup and Dijon mustard to drizzle over her hearty Roasted Beets & Squash Salad

puy lentil bolognese Eat Well For Less by Jo Scarratt-Jones

Balsamic vinegar 

This dark syrupy vinegar is not just for adding sweet-sour flavour to salad dressings. A splash of Balsamic in a veggie lentil Bolognese creates depth in place of meat, use it in this humble cabbage dish or Jamie's super-easy Hit n Run Chicken Traybake.




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