These Ingredients Are A Must Have For Your Pantry, According To Padma Lakshmi

Through her work as the longtime host of "Top Chef," we learned that Padma Lakshmi has an eye and palate for expertly-crafted fine cooking. On the other hand, "Taste The Nation," her newest show on Hulu, shows that Lakshmi also loves the diverse and casual eats found across the U.S. The key component that ties these passions together is a desire for food to have flavor and vibrancy, something that shows in the title of her second cookbook, "Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet." She also took it upon herself to publish an "Encyclopedia Of Spices & Herbs" to make it easy for home cooks to learn more about building flavor in their own food. 

Speaking with Variety, Lakshmi shared the pantry essentials that she always has on hand, ingredients that make it easy to pull together delicious meals. Her essentials include onions, fresh bulbs of garlic, and fennel. "Those things add flavor to your dishes," she says. Fresh and pungent ginger root is another essential: It's easy to peel and grate into so many recipes, like Lakshmi's recipe for Kichidi with lentils and sautéed vegetables. Lakshmi also keeps plenty of staple grains on hand, like quinoa, cornmeal, and rice, as well as potatoes. 

Padma Lakshmi suggests also keeping these ingredients on hand

In addition to pantry staples like grains and aromatics, Padma Lakshmi also told Variety that a diverse "spice kit" is crucial for any home cook. Lakshmi listed off some basic spices first, like oregano, ground cumin, thyme, and crushed red pepper. They're easy to find, familiar to most cooks, and can be used across cuisines. She also lists coriander among her basic always-on-hand spices: Coriander is the round, dried seeds of the herb cilantro, and can be found in whole or dried form in most spice aisles. The flavor is woodsy and citrusy — nothing like fresh cilantro, so no worries if you're one of those folks that think cilantro tastes like soap!

Lakshmi also recommends building your spice collection beyond just these familiar basics by adding spices that are "from the Middle East and add great flavor to dishes that aren't necessarily Middle Eastern." Her favorites include za'atar, which is a spice blend that includes thyme, oregano, salt, and toasted sesame seeds. Another component of za'atar, ground sumac, is also one of Lakshmi's go-tos. Sumac is made by grinding the dried berries of the sumac tree, and has a tart, citrusy, and earthy flavor. Even if you aren't a skilled home cook just yet, utilizing the pantry essentials Lakshmi recommends will immediately elevate the flavor in your cooking.