Creating The Lockdown Pantry

Chef Sabyasachi Gorai on how to create a pantry that would help you wade through the three-week quarantine time, trick to replenish it and even help work with the present one.

By Madhulika Dash

Yes, we are on a lockdown for 21-days, which not only means that no ordering in, but also stocking and planning for three to four meals a day, along with a few treats, snacks and varieties. 
In other words, it is a Sunday, twenty one times repeated. So how do you plan for such an event? Do you over stock, do you buy more convenient food given that sooner or later boredom is likely to set, or do you take a week’s stock at a time, eat frugally and survive?

Happily, we do not have to do most of the things above except for stocking – and stocking right.

After all, since the time it was announced till the day you read it (hopefully soon), there would be a structure to this don’t move out madness. Where do we start? Here:

First, go weekly on your vegetable purchases: There is no point hoarding on vegetables. So eat as long as you can get fresh produce in the market – and at reasonable price. Few things can be repurposed and stored, like tomatoes and onions, do that. But I guess you already know of it.

Take love to regional masalas: When you talk about long period, the one masala that works beautifully are not in the kitchen kings and garam masala, which would have more taste if you made at home – just like the roasted cumin and dry chilly powder to add aroma and taste. If you want to store, go for a list of artisanal mixes like the Mangalorean Chicken 65, Gunpowder, Goan Vindalo and the Maharastrian coconut- garlic mix. They can be excellent tastemakers to a regular dal or chawal.

Trick to replenish add a new segment next time you visit the store.

Befriend the millets: This is a key essential in my pantry, and I have at least two or more of this – be it of foxtail millet, Sorghum, finger millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet and a quinoa. This mix allows me to stock less, have more variety and have a nutritional meal as well. In fact, since millet have a low glycemic index they keep satiated for a long time.

You need that milk, tea, coffee and chocolate: Nothing rejuvenates you like a cup of good coffee, tea or even a small square of chocolate. They have this interesting ‘tazaa’ effect. And hence are part of the essentials in my pantry. But having said that I also know how easy it is to get addicted to having quite a few cups. One way out: get the best of coffee or tea. For me, it is the good arabica from Coorg that does the work. Make your first cuppa a treat. For the rest, munch into a small bar of chocolate or try dates and walnuts.

Dry fruits and nuts: The three things that no pantry can do without is dates, walnuts and almonds. If you cannot find almonds, cashew nut too is a good idea. This trio is the best form of work munch – you know the want to keep your mouth in motion while working or in front of the TV- the fill you up a lot faster than popcorn, and excellent ingredients for butter and cream when the need arises. The one dry fruit to nuts ratio works the best as it limits your sugar and calorie too. If you want to have variety, add popped rice, puffed rice or popped lotus seed (makhana). They are great fillers. 

Gur not sugar, unrefined salt not table salt: We all known processed sugar is akin to white poison. So avoid it as much as possible, at least in your tea, coffee and wherever possible. Pick the dark colour gud, which can add an interesting twist to your dishes, especially where you want to play the tanginess. Likewise, for salt. The unrefined salt has more character and can add the punch of taste and mineral to the dishes. If you don’t find, choose rock salt or pink salt, which are better flavorants to the table salt. They are worth replenishing too.

Stave off sauces, invest in an oil and ghee definitely: Ketchup, soy and a lot of bottled sauce may look like a fascinating idea to stock, which they are. But when you are looking at a home kitchen, the few things that I have seen work well are oil ( try opting for one good neutral cooking – not palm oil) and ghee. Nothing, and I mean nothing, adds flavour to a dish like a dash of ghee. It is the only fat that is instantly soluble, can coat your tongue to make food tasty and help in digestion. For other sauces, try besara- the mustard base sauce of East India and the likes.

Overstocked, now what? First, have a cup of coffee. Rearrange the goods by the date of purchase and the expiry date on the packet. And then use them in the following order: older stock first for dry ingredients and sauces but in case of perishable, re-purpose freshest first if there is more and then consume the rest. Remember, it isn’t just about surviving or being healthy, it is sustaining through.