8 Magic Ingredients: Refrigerator Staples with the Longest Shelf Lives

Doesn’t it always seem like the cupboard is bare? You can drop $200 at Whole Foods and turn around 4 days later to find nothing with which to create a full meal. Well, let me share a little secret with you: There’s a way to prevent this perpetual travesty just by tweaking your grocery shopping habits a bit.

There are 16 refrigerator and pantry staples that, if always kept on hand, will eliminate the need to tear open a bag of salty, greasy chips just to get a bite. Not simply condiments, these healthy ingredients have substantially-extended shelf lives when compared with most common healthy foods, with the potential to stick around for 5 weeks to over a year! They’re each useful as either the foundation or the finishing touch, playing off each other to make quick, delicious, nutritional meals possible, even when you haven’t been to the grocer in a while. Stock up on these and prepare to get creative.

Parmesan Cheese
Always buy Parmesan by the hunk (not in the green shaker), and look for the premium aged kind….typically marketed in irregular shapes. Nothing can kill this savory staple, and shaving it into anything from pastas to soups to salads will add a serious layer of flavor dimension.

Lemons
A lot of useful flavor can be extracted from the lemon long before you squeeze it. Shaving the zest from the outside of the lemon (or lime) with a fine cheese grater will accent the simplest of salads, fish or chicken with a lively, acidic citrus pop. Remember to wash your lemons before zesting.

Garlic
It goes without saying that any sauce, sauté, soup, or dip is not itself without garlic. The cloves won’t begin to sprout until several weeks after purchase, giving you an extended window within which to utilize your garlic bounty. Find a quick recipe here.

EVOO
Some say it’s the most important food in the world. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, particularly with origins in Spain, Italy or Greece, has a 1-2 year shelf life, has magical antioxidant properties, and provides that satisfying finishing touch to a dish when a sauce or gravy is not in the cards. Treat your body and palate to some of the “good fats”.

CIMG3402Dried Pasta
A box of pasta is the long-lived component that brings all other ingredients together in minutes. I prefer the whole wheat version, as it tends to have higher fiber than conventional pasta. The meal ideas are countless, and the investment (other than storage space) is miniscule.

A Butternut Squash (or Acorn Squash)
You can keep a squash rolling around your refrige for months before even the slightest evidence of decomposition occurs. Finally, one hungry day, it will come in handy for a lovely and quick vegetarian recipe.

A Jar of Roasted Red Peppers
Long-lived, even once opened, roasted red peppers will provide color, flavor, texture and further inspiration with respect to your quick meal creations. Sometimes I take it a step further by slicing and marinating the peppers in garlic and oil, adding flavor depth and further preserving this simple delicacy.

Kale
I seldom go for a day without a supplement of leafy greens. While most examples are not known for their longevity in the crisper, kale remains one pleasant exception, proving tough, durable and unstoppable. Try tearing your kale into salad-sized leaves, massaging them with EVO, and topping with grated parmesan cheese and lemon zest for a delightful snack.

Check back in late January for 8 more Magic Ingredients, and even a few recipe ideas.

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