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What’s in your cupboard?


You don’t want to have to shop for every meal, so here’s Delia’s guide to what you have in your storecupboard.

spices-of-india-27888The following is a list of straightforward ingredients that are useful to have in the storecupboard. Shopping will be so much easier if you can keep a stock of these always to hand: capers, gherkins, Worcestershire sauce, mushroom ketchup, tomato purée, anchovies, tuna, olives, preserved green peppercorns, mustard powder, walnuts, preserved stem ginger, rock salt, whole black peppercorns, wine vinegar, olive oil, Tabasco sauce. 

Tinned Italian chopped tomatoes

These deserve a special mention, as they are indispensable in the winter months when the imported fresh tomatoes are colourless and flavourless. A heaped tablespoon of chopped tomatoes is the equivalent of one medium-sized peeled tomato, and you’ll be glad to know that whatever is left over in the tin can be stored (in a glass or porcelain jug), covered with clingfilm, in the fridge for five days.


Ready-ground spices have such a short shelf life that it makes them most uneconomical for one, so you would be well advised, wherever possible, to buy whole spices and grind them when required with pestle and mortar.

Useful spices to have to hand are:

Whole cumin seeds
Whole cardamom pods
Whole nutmeg
Star anise
Juniper berries
Whole coriander seeds
Crushed dried chilli/chilli powder
Cinnamon sticks
Ground turmeric
Madras (or hot) curry powder 



Fresh grated Parmesan is a must for any cook. The ready-grated kind in packets is no substitute so far as flavour is concerned. Mozzarella is another useful cheese to buy: choose fresh Mozzarella or Danish Mozzarella, which does keep well and is fine for cooking.




With the tiny quantities involved in recipes for one, a single cook can do very well from herbs grown from seed in a windowbox, harvesting a few basil leaves, snipped chives or whatever as and when they are needed.

Oriental ingredients

Nowadays Chinese, Indian and Thai ingredients are readily available in supermarkets and ethnic grocers. The following are the ones you should always make sure you have in your storecupboard.

Fresh root ginger: This has such a wonderfully pungent and fragrant aroma. Buy it in small quantities: it keeps well in a cool place, wrapped in clingfilm, for about a week. If you want to store it for longer, Elizabeth David in her book, Salts, Spices and Aromatics recommends peeling it then storing it covered with sherry in a small screwtop jar. I have used this method and it works like a dream for several months. I keep mine in the fridge and just grate a little off as and when I need it. You can also buy fresh root ginger in jars and tubes in the supermarket, as a puree.

Soy sauce: There are a number of imitations of this around, so make sure you buy the genuine kind made from fermented soy bean. Japanese is best. All these recipes call for dark soy sauce.

Dried mushrooms: You’ll have no trouble locating these in Chinese stores, Italian delis and some supermarkets. They come in several varieties and have a beautifully concentrated flavour. To use them, simply presoak them in warm water for thirty minutes. They may strike you as expensive, but you actually need very little since they swell up in the water. If you use a little dried mushroom along with some fresh in a recipe, you get a considerably enhanced mushroom flavour.

Chinese dried shrimps: These are magnificent, though alas at present only available in Chinese shops. They have twice the flavour of frozen peeled prawns, they are much cheaper and you can store them almost indefinitely. Like the mushrooms they need to be soaked in warm water for thirty minutes before use.
Creamed coconut: This is a block (easily grated) of pure condensed coconut containing the essential coconut oil. It is used to flavour and thicken curries, in particular, and is stocked by most supermarkets.
Rice noodles: These are the nicest noodles of all. You don’t have to cook them, just presoak them for ten minutes. They are available from Chinese shops and some supermarkets.

Booze for cooking

Marsala PourIf you’ve taken the pledge, by all means abandon alcohol and substitute stock in savoury recipes, fruit juice in sweet recipes. Otherwise I go along with the bible which speaks of ‘wine that cheers men’s hearts’. It certainly cheers many a recipe, and whereas it would once have been unthinkable to open a bottle of wine merely to provide 2 fl oz for a recipe, wine now comes packaged in smaller and smaller bottles, not to mention ring-pull cans and boxes complete with taps. 

I have therefore indulged quite a lot in my recipes for one, but wherever appropriate I have also suggested dry cider as a splendid – and more economical – alternative. But when all’s said and done, there is something pretty cheerful about pouring a little wine into a recipe and the rest into a glass to go with it. Dry sherry is also a good friend to cooks, both for use in the recipes and to sip while you await the conclusion. It serves as a good substitute for rice wine in Chinese recipes.

Healthy eating

I think that, as a general rule, it is the responsibility of each one of us individually to assess our eating habits and take the appropriate action. Therefore I have not called for low-cholesterol margarine or added bran and so on in these recipes, largely because that would assume (rather impertinently, it seems to me) that everyone I am writing for is eating too much animal fat or not enough fibre.

What I always advocate is balance. Some of these recipes do indeed include butter (for sweating vegetables or making sauces for instance), but the amount is usually minimal and, unless you are already spreading butter on bread so thick your teeth leaves marks in it, it is not likely to be excessive (personally I spread my bread with a low-fat dairy spread and I find this gives me a little licence with butter for cooking). Also, wherever possible, I have used groundnut or olive oil in preference to other fats.

However, if you do need to cut your cholesterol intake, then by all means use a low-cholesterol fat for cooking. The same applies to the cream used in some of the recipes – again the amount is minimal and since cream does lift so many sauces into a different class, I can find not reason to abandon it entirely. Yoghurt, or a mixture of half-cream and half-yoghurt, could be used instead. But as I said, I’m not prescribing anything: it has to be a personal decision.

Read Delia's advice on shopping and cooking for one


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