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More gourmet sauces, dried fruits are becoming pantry staples today

Our pantry staples have become much more interesting in the '90s.

Where there once was only ketchup and jam, a raft of salsas, chutneys, gourmet barbecue sauces, marinades, pesto, hot sauces, flavored mustards and kettle-cooked preserves have appeared on our shelves.Where once Worcestershire sauce and Kitchen Bouquet gravy-maker bottles stood, a glass forest of red-capped bottles have crowded the cupboard with oyster sauce, hoisin, brewed soy sauces, nam pla, pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar and fruit vinegars.

Where raisins once reigned as the only dried fruit, have come dried blueberries, cranberries, cherries, even dried tomatoes.

The occasional bag of brown rice and box of Minute Rice have been joined by fragrant pecan, popcorn, basmati and jasmine rice grains. Oats begat multi-grain cereals and bulgur. Cornmeal became coarsely ground polenta. Spaghetti has been joined by angel hair pasta, couscous, rice-shaped orzo pasta, soba and udon noodles.

Earlier this year, the Pork Information Bureau asked top food professionals what ingredients they can't do without:

Andy Schloss, author of "Cooking With Three Ingredients" - "Premade salad dressings, like an Italian or sun-dried tomato, for creating marinades. Add mild, green jalapeno sauce to the sun-dried tomato dressing and top any meat cut for a spicy, tangy kick."

Melanie Barnard, cookbook author and Bon Appetit columnist - "Olive oil is something I could not cook without. It is the oil of the '90s, providing great flavor . . ."

Susan Dosier, food trend consultant - "Never underestimate the power of soy sauce; it has been in my pantry for a long while because it has so many unconventional uses. Try mixing soy sauce with molasses for a sweet marinade for chops, or adding to a broth."

Kathleen Perry, the "Everyday Gourmet" - "Dried fruits, such as cranberries and sun-dried tomatoes, are becoming more mainstream. They not only add color and texture to dishes, but offer great flavor with little fat."

Neither could I do without sesame oil and a canister of sesame seeds in the cupboard.

Perhaps fresh asparagus spears, cut an inch long, are my favorite vegetable to cook quickly with the sesame twosome.

Soy sauce is also dashed into dishes of mixed vegetables, meat sauces and gravies. It's a supreme salty ingredient for marinades.

If the refrigerator counts as an extension of the pantry, I nominate feta cheese and fresh ginger as other staples with '90s pizzazz. Finely crumbled feta, like soy sauce and grated Parmesan, stands in for salt in all manner of recipes from cool salads to hot pasta. Toss it with hot, drained pasta and crumbles of feta nearly melt.

A small piece of fresh ginger can be wrapped in plastic wrap, then foil, and stashed in the freezer until needed. Just grate off what you need, directly into the cooking pot.

Here are three recipes that demonstrate the new '90s bolder flavors with my current favorite pantry staples.

Feta figures largely in this streamlined version of a Greek salad, of course. And it is folded into plain yogurt with chili-flavored ground cumin as a great sauce for dressed-up din-ner-time hamburgers.

The quick pork recipe, for which the thin slices of meat are sauteed in minutes, has a caramelized sauce of onion, ginger and mushrooms, with a handful of dried cranberries tossed in, plus a tablespoon of orange marmalade.


Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 20 minutes

4 ounces (about 1 cup) feta cheese, crumbled

8 ounces plain yogurt

1 tablespoon black olives, sliced

1/4 cup diced tomato

1 tablespoon Marsala wine

1 teaspoon Italian dressing mix

3 pepperoncini peppers

1 pound romaine lettuce, leaves cut crosswise

Make dressing by crumbling the feta into the yogurt in a medium bowl. Stir in the black olives, tomato, Marsala and Italian dressing mix. Stir well. Discard the stems and seeds of the pep-per-on-ci-ni; rinse and finely chop the peppers. Mix into dressing. Refrigerate about 1 hour, if desired.

Place romaine in a large salad bowl and toss with the dressing mix-ture.


Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 20 minutes

1 ounce (1/4 cup) crumbled feta cheese

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 pound ground beef or lean ground lamb

1/4 cup minced green onions with tops

1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated

garlic salt

hot sauce

thin slices of peeled cucumber

lettuce leaves, such as Little Gem

whole wheat pita bread, 2 rounds

Combine feta, yogurt and cumin. Blend with fork until the cheese is finely crumbled. Set aside or cover and chill about 1 hour.

Combine ground beef or lamb with the green onions, cilantro, ginger, garlic salt and hot sauce as desired. Shape into 4 patties, each about 1/2-inch thick. Grill, broil or cook in a nonstick skillet for 6 minutes to 7 minutes on each side or until done throughout.

Place some lettuce and five cucumber slices in each pita-bread half. Slip in a meat patty and top with 2 tablespoons of the yogurt-feta mixture.


Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 20 minutes

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch slices

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

1 medium yellow onion (2 cups), thinly sliced

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

2 cups fresh mushrooms, cut in half

1/3 cup dried cranberries, such as Craisins

1 tablespoon orange marmalade or apricot preserves

In a 10-inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add pork slices, salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown on all sides, 5 minutes to 7 minutes. Remove to serving plate and keep warm.

To drippings in the skillet, add sliced onions and chopped ginger. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and caramelized, 4 minutes to 5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to low. Stir in dried (or fresh) cranberries and orange marmalade. Continue cooking until heated through, 1 minute. Serve onion mixture over pork medallions.