There is some version of a pantry in every Indian kitchen. You could be a Paying Guest, and your pantry would be a shelf in your closet that houses a half-eaten box of Chocos and a jar of Kissan Jam. You could be a finicky gourmet, whose refrigerator plays host to blue cheese salad dressing and Madagascar-not-Tahitian Vanilla. Or you could be my sensible mum, who makes sure we don't run low on Maggi 2-minute noodles and Marie biscuits.
What I'd wager was just enough to permit decent cooking would be the following. This list has been prepared in mind, assuming you'd already have vegetable oil, salt, pepper, sugar, rice and flour. Even TopChef never counts them as ingredients in their "Five-Ingredients-Only!" Challenges.
Note: The ones in Green have to be fresh. The ones in Purple keep well for a while.
1) Olive Oil. Preferably extra-virgin. You know what those words do to a person of Indian origin.
|Buy in small quantities... you'll have to finish it up in 6-8 months for best flavour|
and health benefits!
2) Herbs. Dried herbs are a boon to those of us who nag the people at Pazhamudir Chozhai and the like in vain for fresh parsley and basil. And spices. Saffron, fresh black peppercorns, dried chilli, so on.
3) Dairy. Cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, cream cheese. Anything except Amul Processed cubes gets through. Mozzerella, Feta, Cheddar, even decent Paneer costs way less than those foil-wrapper plastic blocks. As for butter, any decent unsalted butter (Note to self: Uthukuli butter CANNOT be used in baking).
|Any one of the following, at any given time, should suffice for a fantastic dessert!|
4)Cocoa powder/Chocolate syrup/Bars of Chocolate. Enough said.
|Baking and dessert supplies!|
5)Condiments: Mustard/Mayo/Ketchup/Jalapenos/Capers/Olives/Green Chilli Sauce: You can stash them for a long time and dress up any recipe! Just remember to call it Aioli or Spiked Honey Mustard dressing or Thai-style Maggi or something.
|A panini machine/hot plate and you'll be the celebrity of your dorm.|
6)Bread. Atkins diet = Fatkins diet. The founder died of a heart attack; or so says my Spam. If I had to live without bread, pasta, potatoes and bananas... I'd choose being Vegan or Early-less-painful-Death.
|Oatmeal = Awesomeness. Clubbed it with bread, because both are big breakfast items for me!|
Textured bread like Rye, Multi-Grain for the posh recipes. Nilgris/French Loaf make the best bread. Never, ever store bread in the refrigerator unless it's for Microbio lab, it makes a good culture media for a plethora of fungi. Invest in a bread box, and keep it out of the refrigerator.
7)Pasta-good quality fettucine, spaghetti, penne for simple, classy recipes. If you're going to be making Mac-and-cheese or lasagne that gets hidden in an avalanche of cheese and bechamel (the classic French white sauce that goes in gratins), Bambino macaroni should do.
8)Fresh produce: Do not buy fancy ingredients such as zucchini (unless it was grown in a sustainable farm) or spinach or red cabbage or anything that looks like it spent its long afterlife in a plastic packet. Read tired, wilted, spoilt. You could do great things with local produce as long as its fresh. Buy only the amount you require, from a sustainable greengrocer.
If your veggies turn on you by wilting, turn them into delicious soup!
9) Measuring cups! Those red plastic cups/spoons are crucial to the novice cook.
10) Burnol: Unless you have your own X-Men Origins movie, Burnol is a must. And keep it somewhere close to your oven. I've burnt myself enough times. Also, a nicely padded (again, person of Indian Origin) glove is a big boon to the Clumsily-Abled.
11)Beans: You can make everything from hummus to chili to cookie dough to rajma-chawal. Yes, YOU CAN.
12)Protein: Since electricity isn't predictable in India, I'm wary of freezing meat. But if your electricity is your friend and not foe, or if you have a back-up power generator, you can make breaded chicken nuggets, chicken parmesan, fish fingers and stash for a while in the freezer. Buy flavoured sausages (N recommends Jalapeno and Cheese sausages) and eggs and you have fancy brunch.
13)Nutella. Duh. Although for me, it's Nutella, not Nutella.
This post has been in the works for six months. Kept postponing it due to the unavailability of the featured ingredients for the photography, and because it was near-impossible to narrow down to 13 categories. It might seem pricey, but investing in ingredients is better for your wallet and health/tastebuds in the long run.
Except for Nutella. Don't compromise on Nutella. It's the stuff of which dreams are made of.