Turning Pantry Staples into Delicious Meals

This year of 2020 is a particularly difficult time in the world. Indeed, it’s a time of crisis. Just a few months ago, this hysterical news would have sounded like Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” did back in 1938. My friends, not knowing what the future holds touches all of us.

We all need to feel empowered, confident, and optimistic about not only our future but the future of mankind. I am so proud to be an American and a world citizen where kindness, charity, and selflessness are evident in all walks of life.

Also evident in all walks of life is a new appreciation for our pantries. During your stay at home, you’ve probably checked out your pantry to see what you might do with those odds and ends. Below are a few good recipes for pantry staples. You just be making them long after this is over.

Homemade Hummus

Hummus is a great protein-rich food. Try spreading it on a sandwich or topping it with avocado slices or some crumbled feta cheese for an easy and satisfying lunch. This hummus is every bit as good as store-bought—if not better!

Chef’s note: Tahini is a flavorful sesame paste. If you don’t have this ingredient in your pantry, you may use sesame seeds. Cashew or almond butter would also make a fine substitute.


2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4–6 cloves garlic, roasted (milder and better than raw garlic, in my opinion)
6 tablespoons lemon juice (bottled is fine)
1½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh-grated fine black pepper
¼ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini (see note above)
Pesto or red chile paste (optional)
Pita chips, for serving


  1. Place chickpeas in the bowl of a large food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients in the order given (up to the pesto or red chile paste).
  2. Whirl until the mixture is smooth, then transfer to a glass bowl and cover.
  3. When ready to serve, place pita chips around the bowl and drizzle the top with a little extra olive oil, and if desired green pesto or red chile paste.

Better Than Your Mama’s Tuna Melt

Canned tuna is another pantry item keeps for ages and is ready to use whenever the mood strikes you. It doesn’t matter what kind of tuna you have (though tuna packed in olive oil is sublime). This tasty recipe will remind you of the tuna melt from your favorite diner.

Chef’s note: Tuna in olive oil is moist and delicious and will not require mayonnaise. But most Americans use white solid tuna in water. Adjust your recipe if needed.


2 cans tuna packed in oil (do not drain unless packed in water)
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes or ¼ cup minced onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice (bottled or fresh)
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt (I used yogurt)
1 teaspoon Sriracha (optional)
6 slices Monterey Jack cheese with jalapenos
6 slices provolone or sharp white cheddar cheese
6 slices good quality whole wheat bread


  1. Heat broiler to low. If using tuna packed in water, drain it and break up with a fork. Combine tuna and the rest of the ingredients (except for the cheese and the bread). Mix well. Chill for half an hour.
  2. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper.
  3. Lay the bread on the pan and top with the tuna mixture.
  4. Lay the cheeses on top of the tuna. Broil until the cheese melts and turns bubbly.
  5. Serve immediately with a cucumber-dill salad or sliced dill pickles.

If you need any ideas for using up pantry items in some creative way, leave a question in the comments, and we’ll work on it together.


Images from iStock/DronG (main), MSPhotographic (post).

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at phyllisquinn2@gmail.com. Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

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