A Chef's List Of Essential Ingredients To Have At Home

Chef Paul Lillakas is showing you the pantry must-haves to have at home.

I’m going to take you through some of absolute favourite staples that I keep on hand all the time for cooking in this social distancing situation or any situation!

Sweet Potatoes

I always keep these on hand! Sweet potatoes are very versatile, they’re nutrient dense and they last a long time! They’re great for mashes, I like to throw a little something spicy in there if I’m making a mash with sweet potatoes. You can also wash them really well, cut them into half-inch thick rounds, roast them up and top them with whatever you like! You can top each one with a mixture of toppings such as sautéed onions, some walnuts, maybe a little bit of goats cheese. You can also top them like nachos! Sometimes I’ll do some grated cheese, some pickled chili peppers, some bell peppers and then everyone gets to scoop themselves a nice serving!


I always keep a few jars of sauerkraut on hand. This is a little nod to my European roots but this is a really great ingredient! Not only is it fermented so it’s great for your gut health, it’s got so much flavour! You can throw it into stir fries with some fried rice. You can sauté your favourite vegetables and add this in and flavour it to be a bed for any kind of meat such as pork or chicken. It’s a really great versatile ingredient. Think of this as the kimchi of Europe!

Tomato Sauce

Another thing that I cannot live with out is large jars of really good quality tomato sauce. Find a sauce that you really love the flavour of and then just stick with that sauce! Stock the shelves with it! This is not just for pasta with red sauce. There is so much more you can do with a marinara sauce! Although it’s flavoured with basil and garlic but you can take that flavour in any other direction. I will make my homemade butter chicken starting with a jar of this. I’ll add toasted spices, a splash of cream, then I’ll simmer chicken in it and you wouldn’t even know that it started with marinara sauce. It’s a very versatile ingredient and I always have this on hand!

Oven-Ready Lasagna Noodles

These are one of my favourite things! They are a lifesaver, partially because you don’t have to parboil them before you cook but also because they’re great to use in leftovers. You know me, I love to switch things up! If I make pulled pork today, I’ll probably be making a pulled pork lasagna with the leftovers tomorrow! I’ll swap the pulled pork leftovers in for the ground beef and I’ll jazz up the tomato sauce with a little bit of barbecue sauce, throw in some onions and you got a twist on a southern barbecue lasagna! You can take this philosophy in any number of ways so these noodles are a great thing to have.

Soy Sauce

One thing I’m never without is sodium reduced soy sauce. This ingredient brings so much more than just saltiness. It brings umami and depth of flavour! It’s fermented and great in marinades and sauces. You can even bring it into salad dressing! There are a million recipes for how to use this. Sometimes if I’m in the mood for sushi but all I have is beets and carrots, I will slice them thin, roast them up and I will dip them in some soy sauce with a little bit of wasabi. It totally fulfills that craving! This is one of my absolute favourite ingredients of all time.

Multigrain, Gluten-Free Cracker

Another thing I love to keep on hand is a big box of a multigrain, gluten-free cracker. I have been known to pause a movie, disappear for 20 minutes and return with an easy hot cheese dip. This way you have a nice cracker to serve on the side.

Whipping Cream

Believe it or not I always keep 35% whipping cream on hand. Now this is not something that I eat everyday but it does last a long time so I’ve always got it in the fridge. It’s great for sweet and savoury applications. Use it in your fettuccine alfredo by reducing a little bit of the whipping cream and grating a lot of parmesan and cheddar cheese in there. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, whip up some fresh whipped cream and serve it with some berries. At a time like this when we have nothing but time try to tackle one of those more complex baking recipes and whipping cream will help you for sure with a lot of them. It’s a great ingredient that I love and can’t be without it!

Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

I also love to keep large bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips on hand. These are great because you save money by buying in bulk and anytime you want to whip up something sweet you’ve got them on hand. Whether I’m making chocolate chip cookies or I’m making a flourless chocolate cake, I’ve always got chocolate on hand and especially at a time like this we all could use a little more chocolate.

Basmati Rice

Last but not least, I always keep a large bag of basmati rice on hand. I don’t have to tell you how versatile rice is. Always remember to rinse your rice and it’ll come out fluffy every time. I use this for lots and lots of different recipes and I always make a double batch because there’s so much you can do with leftover rice. Rice never goes to waste in my house!