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Coronavirus: Stock up on these foods for your pantry

Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.
Some key items for a pantry. [SCOTT KEELER | Times (2016)]

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A well-stocked kitchen is a crucial part of cooking. It’s also a crucial part of maintaining peace of mind when life gets hectic and unpredictable. As Florida and the world confronts coronavirus, social distancing and quarantines, here are some staples to consider stocking up on.

Rice

This versatile grain has a long shelf life. If stored in a sealed package in a dark, cool place, rice can last for years. Brown rice is a bit different, in that it has more oil, which can cause it to spoil quicker. Stock up on bags of different varieties, like brown or basmati or arborio.

If you have rice that has been in your cupboard for longer than you can recall, check for bugs before consuming it. A good way to do this is to pour the rice into a strainer (one with small enough holes that it won’t slip through) and comb through it with your fingers.

Beans

Beans are a must. Go the canned route. While cooking dried beans from scratch is a fun project, canned beans are easier to prepare and taste just fine when worked into the right recipe. Garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas) are among the most versatile. You can roast them in the oven until crispy, lightly mash them to add texture to a dish, or whiz them in a food processor to make something like falafel.

Almost any canned bean can do the following: be worked into a delicious dip, act as the base for a cold bean salad and add heft to soups. To mask that canned flavor, start any canned bean in a skillet with a little bit of oil, some salt and pepper, and some minced garlic clove. Cook until the beans are just warmed through.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk can do it all. It’s at once a great dairy-free alternative to regular milk, a shelf-stable milk option and a flavor booster in many dishes. It can act as the base for soups or stews, or pair with spices to braise or marinate meats.

Related: Curry is an easy go-to meal

Stock or broth

Chicken, vegetable or beef broth or stock can be used in myriad ways. If you have a surplus in your pantry, pay attention to the use-by date and try to use it by then. It won’t last forever. If you have some in an opened container in your fridge, make sure you use it up within 10 days.

Related: Recipe: chicken and wild rice soup

Stock or broth can add flavor to almost any savory dish (cook your rice in stock!), but most importantly, it makes homemade soup that much easier. It’s a good vehicle for using lots of other pantry ingredients.

Tahini (and nut butters)

Long a staple in Middle Eastern cooking, tahini has been a trendy addition to American pantries the past couple of years. And with good reason. The puree made from toasted, ground sesame seeds is probably most commonly known as one of three ingredients in hummus, but it can be used like a nut butter, spread on toast or dolloped atop baked goods or yogurt. It can also be mixed with spices and things like vinegar or citrus to create a new condiment.

Nut butters are similarly versatile and essential. Stock up on different kinds — peanut, almond, cashew — so you don’t get bored.

Related: Tahini brings new flavor to baked goods

Alliums

Basically: onion, garlic, scallions, leeks, shallots and chives. They all belong to the same food family, and they all pack a ton of flavor. Even better, they’ll last awhile if stored properly. Unpeeled onions, shallots and garlic cloves can sit out on the counter for a couple of weeks.

Scallions, leeks and chives can be stored in the fridge. My trick: Place them in a zip-top bag with a damp paper towel and seal the bag. The moisture will prevent them from shriveling up, lengthening their shelf life substantially. (This is also a good tip for storing herbs in the fridge.)

Canned tomatoes

Canned vegetables get a bad rap for being less nutritious than their fresh counterparts, but that’s not always true. Tomatoes are one of the most useful canned vegetables, able to be turned into sauce in a pinch, or used in a variety of soups or even dips.

If you’re not keen on canned veggies because of their muted and sometimes tinny flavor, work them into a casserole or soup like ribollita, a Tuscan-inspired soup made with vegetables and beans, then topped with bread and cheese. This recipe also is a good way to put your broth or stock to good use.

Other pantry staples to stock up on

Olive oil

Vinegar (like red wine or apple cider)

Whole citrus (lemons, oranges, limes)

Salt (always have extra salt)

Black pepper (whole peppercorns in a grinder will last the longest)

A block of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Dried fruits (apricots, cherries and raisins; add them to savory dishes)

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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