I often get asked this question.  I didn’t learn this in school although I spent a lot of time in the pantry at school and this list is by no means exhaustive (anyone who has been to my house will verify this), but to me it’s the basics.  When I cook, except for fresh ingredients which should be purchased within a day or two of use, these are the items I can reach for with confidence.  Here’s my must-have list!.

In my pantry you will always find:
Dried Lentils, Peas, Barley
Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda (I’m always testing out recipes for the business so I have a variety of flours – unless you also bake a lot, All Purpose Flour is all you need)
Sugar – white, brown and icing
Pasta (for when – heaven forbid,  you should run out of flour and can’t make fresh pasta)
Canned Salmon and Tuna
Canned Red Kidney Beans, Chick Peas, Lima Beans – really any type of canned bean that you like
Canned whole Tomatoes – San Marzano (not San Marzano Like, but the real thing, almost always available in Italian grocery stores, sometimes Costco, a bit more expensive but so worth it), Tomato Paste
1 only – bottle of ready made Tomato sauce
Basmati Rice or any other brand of rice you like
Packaged Chicken Stock (only for emergency back up use)
I avoid other types of canned vegetables i.e. corn, peas (I love frozen peas though and always have this on hand), etc. never did like the flavour/texture of canned veggies, there are exceptions i.e. Rose’s Corn Casserole made wiht canned cream corn (I’ll post this recipe one day in the future) – a personal thing really..

As for seasonings (remember this is a Goan house), you will find:
Hot Chili Powder
Whole Cumin, Coriander, Peppercorns, Cinnamon, Cloves, Green and Black Cardamom, Nutmeg
Powdered Turmeric, Ginger, Cinnamon
Madras Hot Curry Powder
Paprika – sweet, smoky and hot
Olive Oil and Cooking Oil – either Corn or Canola
Fresh Garlic, Ginger, Coriander
Dried Thyme, Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Dried Bay Leaves
Varieties of Salt.

I try out many recipes so I go through a lot of spices. But except for the hot chili powder, I really never buy large quantities of any spice as it has a limited shelf life. So again, it’s not a bargain if I throw it out.

The thing with all of these types of products is freshness dates. Something is only a bargain/deal if you have a use for it in the quantity you buy. When we first started cooking I would by large quantities (just in case someone were to drop by unexpectedly, I’d have something to cook). But I soon found myself throwing much of it out due to expiry dates or freezer burn. So I wasn’t saving anything by buying in bulk.

So let me know what else you consider a staple and I’ll add it to this list.