The Back-Of-The-Cupboard Meals Real People Are Cooking Right Now

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
As coronavirus continues to spread, many are making the smart decision to practice social distancing and stay at home, behind closed doors. That means we're skipping the weekend brunches and after-work pub seshes with friends — many bars and restaurants are cancelling or limiting service anyway — and instead opting to cook our own meals using ingredients we have on hand. Of course, having to cook every single meal comes with the extra challenge of finding creative recipes that call for mostly things found at the back of your cupboard - pantry staples, which we all dutifully stocked up on what feels like ages ago. That can be especially difficult after the first week or so of being stuck at home, so we rounded up the pantry meals that real home cooks are making right now.
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Read on for dish ideas that self-quarantined people all over the country are actually cooking up in their kitchens during the coronavirus pandemic that's happening right now. With a few additional ingredients and substitutions, these recipes will keep you satisfied for a while.
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Vegan Coconut Curry

Name: Jamie
Age: 31

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Canned coconut milk, lentils (red, but whatever colour), canned chickpeas, canned diced tomatoes, curry spices, onion (I've use dehydrated onion that you would buy in the spice aisle, or fresh), potatoes (sweet or otherwise, optional!), water/broth

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
No specific recipe now, but there are 1,000s of versions across the internet. I found a few versions of the recipe when I was looking for easy vegan meals.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
I eat this dish a few times a month. The only ingredients you NEED need are tomatoes, lentils, coconut milk, and spices. Otherwise, there are a lot of variations. Also flexible in how you eat it! Over rice, over toast, etc.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Lentils, beans (canned and dry), frozen veggies, Fritos
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Roasted Chickpeas

Name: Hannah
Age: 24

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
1 can of chickpeas, olive oil, sea salt, and a shit ton of smoked paprika (or whatever seasoning you prefer and have on hand).

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
The recipe came from when I was a faux vegan in college and living off of "buddha bowls." This is the staple ingredient in the many varieties I would make. But as I got busier, lazier, etc, it became an easy protein-packed meal.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Add it to anything you already have on hand! I like to add to salads or roast alongside other veggies.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Canned chickpeas but also oatmeal.
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Fancy Instant Ramen

Name: Connie
Age: 32

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Package of instant ramen, butter, a slice of American cheese, canned sweetcorn, leftover vegetables/kimchi.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Nope!

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Every other day! Since the magic of this dish really comes through from the dairy (butter in the broth, and a slice of American cheese on top), you can mix and match the veggies to your liking, make it spicier, add meat if you'd like.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Instant ramen — it's a godsend!
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Spaghetti Marinara

Name: Lorena
Age: 29

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Canned tomatoes, dried spaghetti, tomato paste, dried oregano, garlic, carrots (for sweetness — can be substituted for some brown sugar), dried basil, Parmigiano Reggiano.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
I use Serious Eats' marinara recipe

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Use the sauce over bread and top with cheese to make a pizza, put it over eggplant for eggplant parm. If you have eggs you can turn it into shakshuka.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Canned tomatoes and dry pasta.
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Vegan Burrito Bowls

Name: Jacqueline
Age: 24

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Rice, beans, corn, cashews (to make vegan cheese), salsa, chips.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
No, it's DIY!

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Purchase different kinds of beans, rice, chips, salsa, to switch things up! You can also make this into a burrito or keep it as a bowl.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Cans of garbanzo beans! I love roasting and seasoning these for an easy, crunchy snack.
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Fried Rice with Spam

Name: Brendan
Age: 33

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Jasmin rice, Spam, eggs, olive oil, veggies, sriracha, soy sauce.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
My SO's mother taught it to me.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Maybe four times. To prevent getting tired of this, switch out the meats and veggies or eat it with something else as a side. Common substitutes are hot dogs, ham, Vienna sausages, etc. For veggies, it's literally what is left over in your pantry.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Beer was first but that isn't a pantry item sooooooo.... probably rice...
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Cannellini Beans

Name: Sue
Age: 28

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Cannellini beans, boxed pasta, and red pepper flakes OR canned tomatoes and breadcrumbs OR red wine vinegar, coconut sugar, and salt.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Bon Appetit has a ton of recipes to stretch beans out with pantry items or fresh ones if you have access to them.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Cannellini beans are so versatile. Toss in some olive oil with boxed pasta + red pepper flakes (lemon and kale if you have on hand) for an easy warm pasta salad. Swap olive oil and red pepper flakes for some mayo, a little bit of mustard, pickle juice, chopped pickles with canned tuna for a creamy cold pasta salad. Saute with canned crushed tomatoes and top it with some bread crumbs. Also can toss with pasta for that. Or throw in some chicken broth and make it a stew with frozen veg. Mash with some red wine vinegar, water, salt, coconut sugar for a really yummy mash side. OR use it as a spread on a sandwich OR a dip!

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Frozen spinach, tofu (easily frozen), canned beans of all kinds, rice, boxed pasta, canned crushed tomatoes, and the seasoning + sauces that would stretch out across variations of flavour: tomato paste, harissa paste, fish sauce, soy sauce (or coconut aminos), vinegars, mustard, mayo, green and red curry paste, chile de arbol, gochujang, gochugaru.
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Chicken Taco Chili

Name: Vanessa
Age: 36

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Black beans, kidney beans (drained), sweetcorn, taco seasoning, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
YES! It's Slap Dash Mom's Instant Pot Chicken Taco Soup recipe.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
I made three batches and froze some. I add condiments like cheese, sour cream, some rice to make it a little more hearty, etc

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Canned beans, corn, and rice.
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Lentil Stew with Porcini Mushrooms & Crunchy Vegan Dumplings

Name: Marie
Age: 29

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Lentils, beans, vegetable stock cubes, plain flour, tomato puree, garlic, dried herbs, onions, carrots or whatever vegetables you have.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
The exact recipe is on my blog, Try This Recipe. This recipe of mine can be adapted using whatever you have on hand

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
It goes even further when you use it again in pasta sauce or lasagne sheets for a vegetable lentil lasagne. Make it into chili non-carne with a few spices, make it into a pasta bake, or add more stock for a soup.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Soy mince, beans, pulses — all nutritious, full of fibre and protein, and filling.
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Stir Fry

Name: Mia
Age: 31

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Frozen veggies, eggs/tofu for protein, rice, soy sauce, chicken stock, hoisin sauce (or swap in a combo of soy sauce, honey, white wine vinegar, peanut butter, and garlic powder in a pinch), cornstarch, sesame oil, vegetable oil for frying, garlic, ginger.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Basic sauce and technique are from Just Add Sauce by America's Test Kitchen.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
I made it earlier this week, and usually at least once per week! This recipe is extremely versatile; the basic sauce can be modified by adding things like peanut butter (peanut satay!), hot sauce, and other seasonings. Switch to rice noodles, change up the veggies and protein you use whenever. It's super easy to make these swaps as needed.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Rice, potatoes, garlic, onions, chicken broth, shelf-stable milk.
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Black Beans & Rice

Name: Dayane
Age: 25

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Black beans, any type of rice, and whatever seasonings you have in your pantry it's that easy.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Not really, you can add anything you have on hand to the dish.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
You can definitely switch out the ingredients and the seasonings — you can pair it with chickpeas or different types of rice or you can eat the beans with toast and avocados. Add ingredients like avocados, cheese, green peppers, or any vegetables you have, if you don't have those things it can be as simple as black beans and rice. Be creative with it you cannot go wrong.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
We made sure we stocked up on can goods and lots of fruits and vegetables that we can pair with any food we want to cook for the week just so we don't get bored with what we were eating.
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Puttanesca Pasta

Name: Keturah
Age: 39

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Tomato sauce, tuna (or anchovies), capers, spaghetti, olives, garlic.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
I use Serious Eats' Spaghetti Puttanesca recipe.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Four times.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Proteins and bread that you can break up into portions and freeze. Also frozen veggies.
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