7 Delicious Staples for the International Pantry

Looking to take a culinary tour of the globe? We have rounded up some must-have essentials to keep your pantry adventure-ready.
Published July 23, 2017

1. Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Packed in a garlicky tomato and vinegar-based tomato sauce, chipotle peppers are actually dried and smoked jalapeño peppers that can be used on their own or added to everything from eggs to barbecue sauce to butternut squash soup. For a sophisticated yet simple hot sauce, blend together a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with the juice of two limes and a handful of fresh cilantro; serve drizzled over tacos, refried beans, scrambled eggs, or stirred into guacamole or hummus.

2. Garam masala

Garam masala is a South Asian spice blend that varies by country and region. Spices commonly used in the blend include cardamom, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, cinnamon, nutmeg, and bay leaves. Garam masala doesn’t pack a lot of spicy heat but has a very warm and earthy taste making it perfect for homemade curries (use in place of curry powder), yogurt-based dips and salad dressings, red meats, poultry, soups, and roasted vegetables.

3. Pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate molasses or syrup can be found in specialty delis or in the Middle Eastern section of the grocery store. Pomegranate molasses is made of pomegranate juice that has been reduced until it becomes thick and syrupy. Pomegranate molasses has an assertive flavour that is both extremely tart but also sweet and is best used in marinades, salad dressings, and curries. It also pairs particularly well with roast duck, chicken, pork, and lamb.

4. Za’atar

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend containing oregano, thyme, basil, and savory that is usually combined with sesame seeds, sumac, and salt. Za’atar’s flavour is earthy and piney with a slight hint of citrus, making it a versatile pantry ingredient that can be added to a wide array of recipes. Stir za’atar into cream cheese or chevre for a delicious spread or add it to citrus-based salad dressings and marinades. Za’atar is a welcome addition to homemade or store bought hummus and yogurt dips, sprinkled on grilled flatbreads and pita with olive oil or on top of cucumber, red onion, and tomato salads.

5. Sambal

Sambal (or sambal oelek, as it’s commonly sold in Canada) is a pungent Indonesian or Malaysian hot sauce made with chili peppers and garlic. It can usually be found unrefrigerated with other Asian condiments in the grocery store. Full of sinus-clearing spice and flavour, sambal is a spectacularly spicy addition to ramen and pho, rice bowls, cold steak salads and sandwiches, beef or lamb lettuce wraps, and in a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, cheese, and avocado.

6. Harissa

Harissa is a mildly spicy chili pepper paste used in Tunisian and Moroccan cooking. Made of roasted red peppers and serrano peppers, harissa also contains garlic paste, saffron, rose, and caraway and can be found in small tubes or in jars or cans. Harissa is both earthy and vibrant and it gives an unmistakable flavour to any recipe including soups, goat and lamb dishes, couscous and chickpea dishes, and with grilled or roasted vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, sweet or spicy peppers, potatoes, and corn on the cob.

7. Tahini

Tahini is a calcium and vitamin E-rich spread made from ground raw or roasted sesame seeds. Tahini is used in cooking all over the Mediterranean region as well as in Northern Africa, its clay-like texture and nutty flavour lends itself to both sweet and savoury recipes. Most recognized for its use in hummus in North America, tahini can also be used in place of peanut butter for a tasty nut-free alternative and makes an amazing salad dressing or dip based when blended with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and ice-cold water. Try spreading well-stirred tahini onto banana slices and drizzling with honey for a filling treat rich with nutritional benefits.