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15 Versatile Ingredients You Should Always Have in the Kitchen

 Do you still have packets and bottles full of spices or other ingredients you bought to cook that one dish months or even years ago? If so, you’re not alone - buying ingredients exclusively for one or two dishes is a mistake we all make from time to time, but it would certainly be better to use up food ingredients and have as many versatile foods in your kitchen as possible. This way, even if you end up having just one or two things in your fridge or pantry, you’ll still be able to whip up a quick and fresh meal. The 15 foods we feature on this list are all serious multitaskers, so even if you stock up on these, you’ll save on money and valuable kitchen space by using them.

1. Eggs

versatile ingredients eggs
It's hardly surprising that eggs are the first item on this list since they are a truly universal and nutritious food. You can eat them alone by either boiling them, preparing eggs Benedict or a good old omelet, or you can combine them with pretty much anything a make a wide range of foods that includes sauces, breakfasts, desserts, and even dinners like a frittata. Also, it's important to note that eggs can be stored for quite a long time, so it's always a good idea to stock up on them.
Related Article: 14 Edible Egg Tricks

2. Rice

versatile ingredients rice
Rice is another one of those staple foods that last for ages in your pantry, are easy to cook and are incredibly versatile. There are different rice varieties, each having a slightly different taste and nutritional profile, but having pretty much any variety will come extremely handy as a side dish, a dessert (e.g. rice pudding), or a main dish such as a stir-fry. Even simply cooking up some rice and combining it with steamed or cooked veggies topped with a sunny-side-up egg will make a perfect and quick weekday dinner.
Keep in mind, however, that refrigerating and reheating cooked rice can be tricky and may affect your health if you don't do it properly, so make sure to always store cooked rice in a separate container and never reheat it more than once.

3. Lemons and Limes

versatile ingredients lemons
If you don't want to stock up on a whole array of bottles filled with sauces and condiments, which apart from being expensive, can also take up way too much space in the fridge, lemons and limes should be your best friends. By mixing lemons with any oil and some spices, for example, you'll have the perfectly serviceable homemade salad dressing.
A squeeze of lemon juice will also brighten the flavor and be that finishing touch to any dish, be it fish and seafood, soups, grilled meat or pasta. You can even use lemons to make desserts, such as a lemon tart, lemon cookies, or even a delicious lemon souffle

4. Stock

versatile ingredients broth
Having a jar full of simple vegetable or chicken stock is a secret trick many chefs utilize. For one, you can heat it up and add a bit of pasta and greens to it for a quick soup, but you can also use it instead of water when you're cooking rice, making cream soups, mashed potatoes, pasta, and steamed veggies. By doing so, you'll be able to really enhance the flavor of these foods while adding nutrients. 

5. Greek Yogurt

versatile ingredients Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is a high-protein food that can be used in so many ways! To prepare a quick mid-day snack, you can mix Greek yogurt with some herbs and spices to make a delicious dip for veggies. Other ways to use Greek yogurt is by substituting it instead of milk or sour cream in recipes like mashed potatoes, soups, and pancakes, or by adding it to homemade salad dressings. The options are endless - you can even top it up with some fruit and granola for a healthy and nutritious breakfast!

6. Oats

versatile ingredients oats
Oats are a staple breakfast ingredient in our kitchen, as they are quick to make and can be combined with both sweet and savory toppings. An even quicker breakfast is one you can prepare the night before, and nothing beats overnight oats in this respect. It is also nice to add a spoonful of oats to your smoothie to increase its fiber and protein content or blend them up to make gluten-free oat flour.
As you can see, oats are not limited to breakfasts, and you can even prepare homemade oat milk, granola and a wide variety of healthy desserts like cookies and muffins. Lastly, oats don't expire quickly, so you'll surely use them all up.

7. Flour

versatile ingredients flour
Flour is the original versatile food, and it's no secret that you can pretty much use it to make any kind of baked goods out there, as well as homemade pasta. Sure, working with flour requires a bit more skill and effort from the cook, but the results are very well worth it. After all, why should you pay for pizza dough when you can make a better version on your own for a fraction of the price? Lastly, don't forget that you can use flour to make bechamel sauce and thicken up many sauces and soups, so flour is an obvious must-have in any kitchen.

8. Soy Sauce

versatile ingredients soy sauce
If there's one condiment we're willing to tolerate in the kitchen, it's probably soy sauce, mostly because it has a long shelf life and can make any dish tastier and more interesting in an instant. You can use it for obvious recipes, such as a stir-fry or a dip for sushi, dumplings, and whatnot, but truly, soy sauce can be used to season pretty much any food, such as salads, marinades for fish and meat, and glazes. 

9. Butter

versatile ingredients butter
Yes, butter is quite high in animal fats, but if used in moderation, it can become an invaluable ingredient in your kitchen, and it doesn't matter if you're a seasoned cook and use it to make sauces and beautiful desserts, or you just want to make a pasta sauce and French toast from time to time. We'd like to point out that full-fat butter is much better for you than margarine, as the latter contains a lot of trans-fats, which are much worse for your heart and digestive health than the fats present in butter.

10. Canned Tomatoes

versatile ingredients canned tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are an excellent alternative to fresh ones, and using them instead of fresh tomatoes for pasta sauces, chili, soups, and stews is actually more convenient. Needless to say, canned tomatoes also have quite a long shelf life, so even if you have a few cans in your pantry to whip up an occasional evening pasta quickly, these will come in handy. You can also make shakshuka, a popular Middle Eastern egg-based breakfast stew, using canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones.

11. Dairy or Plant Milk

versatile ingredients milk
There are very few ingredients that double up as a drink, a companion to your morning coffee, or something you can use to make breakfast, soup, sauce, dinner, or dessert. Milk is one of those ingredients, and both plant milks and dairy milk will do the job. The possibilities are truly infinite.
Do keep in mind, though, that while dairy milk is pretty much universal, it does have a shorter shelf-life than plant-based milks and not everyone can drink it. Navigating through the kind of plant milk that will work best for a task, however, can be tricky, and we recommend reading our article The Best Plant Milks to Pair With Coffee and Foods to understand which plant variety best suits your goals.

12. Avocado

versatile ingredients avocado
Avocado toast and guacamole sure are delicious but don't underestimate the possibilities of this creamy and incredibly healthy food. For one, you can add it into salads or smoothies to make them creamier and more filling, but avocado is also an excellent dairy substitute in sauces that will add the same creaminess to the sauce. You can even use avocados instead of butter or cream in some baking and dessert recipes. 

13. Frozen Veggies

versatile ingredients frozen veggies
Taking all that time and effort to chop up vegetables is a luxury we can't afford at times, but we still need to eat vegetables on a daily basis, so what should we do when we don't have all that time for peeling a chopping? The solution is frozen veggies, which are already sold pre-cut and have the same nutritional benefit as fresh ones. Simply steam them and serve as a side dish, add them to a soup, a stew, a stir-fry, or a frittata - you name it. Truly, you can make a whole variety of quick and nutritious meals out of frozen veggies.

14. Potatoes

versatile ingredients potatoes
Potatoes had to make an appearance on this list, as the variety of foods you can make using them is huge. Also, potatoes are much healthier than you think, and they will benefit your health if you eat them in moderation. All in all, you can make breakfast foods, such as hash browns or potato pancakes, side dishes like mashed potatoes and baked potato wedges, or main dishes like shepherd's pie from potatoes. You can also use them in soups and stews to add substance and creaminess.

15. Legumes

versatile ingredients legumes
Nearly all legumes, such as chickpeas, peas, beans or lentils, can be used in a variety of ways in your kitchen. Apart from being super healthy and packed with proteins, legumes are mostly inexpensive, have a long shelf life and typically come in both dry and canned versions. You can make dips, such as hummus, out of chickpeas, you can add legumes to soups and salads, and you can make main dishes using beans, chickpeas, or lentils as a base or even a substitute for meat. 
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