Six storecupboard heroes and how to use them

Stocking up on a few key ingredients can transform your last minute cooking into deliciously healthy cuisine. Here's what to buy...

We all need a well-stocked larder to fall back on, and the space between the pasta shells and tinned fish is a good place to store some healthy staples. Our nutritionist Kerry Torrens has selected six wholefoods that can be used to give your cooking a real boost of nutrition and flavour. Our food director Lulu Grimes has then offered her expert advice on how to use them. Stock up on your next trip to the supermarket and these wonder ingredients will tide you over for months to come.


energy bitesFlaxseed

Why it's a hero:
Kerry says: "One of the richest plant sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed (also known as linseed) makes a useful addition to any diet, particularly if you don't eat fish. Flaxseed is rich in lignans, a type of phyto-oestrogen (plant oestrogen) - so they're helpful if you're experiencing hormonal disturbances associated with the menopause."

How to use it:
Lulu says: "If you buy whole seeds, whizz them in a coffee grinder first. Otherwise, look for flaxseed described as 'cracked', which is already ground. You need about 2-4 spoonfuls a day, so sprinkle it onto porridge, muesli or yogurt; add it to home-baked flapjacks, muffins or breads; or sprinkle it onto salads and veg. Ground and added to a soup at lunchtime, it not only helps balance hormones but keeps you satisfied until supper, thanks to its high fibre content."

Where to use it:
On-the-run breakfast bars
Porridge plus
Spicy roasted parsnip soup

Basmati rice with turmericTurmeric

Why it's a hero:
"If there's one new ingredient to add to your storecupboard this year, make it this vibrantly coloured spice," recommends Kerry. "Commonly used in curry powder, turmeric contains the active compound curcumin, which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that help to relieve painful joints caused by a sports injury or arthritis. It's also a powerful antioxidant. This means it may help delay signs of ageing, including the development of cataracts, dementia and even Alzheimers."

How to use it:
"Turmeric adds a bright yellow colour to food along with a musky, peppery flavour," says Lulu. "Add a pinch to rice as you cook it; toss potatoes in turmeric and a few chilli flakes before roasting; add it to garlic with fresh chilli and a can of tomatoes and simmer to make a spicy sauce for grilled fish; or add a pinch to scrambled eggs."

Where to use it:
Spicy roast potatoes
Quick curried kedgeree
Sweet & sour lentil dhal with grilled aubergine


Why it's a hero: "Made from crushed sesame seeds, tahini is low in saturated fat, making it a healthier spread for toast than butter," Kerry says. "It's also a rich source of calcium and magnesium, and contains copper - a mineral needed to convert the energy in your food to fuel. For vegetarians or those cutting down on meat, tahini offers a richer source of protein than either cow's or soya milk."

How to use it:
Lulu says that the slightly nutty taste and thick texture of tahini means it is not generally used on its own. She says: "It works best when paired with other ingredients, such as lemon juice, garlic and herbs, which both add flavour and thin it down. Or you can sweeten tahini with a touch of honey or agave and use it as a spread on toast for breakfast. It goes well with chocolate: you can add 1 tbsp to muffins instead of 1 tbsp oil to add flavour -“ or add a touch to chocolate chip cookies."

Where to use it:
Chargrilled turkey with quinoa tabbouleh & tahini
Homemade hummus
Triple chocolate cookies

Pearl barley saladPearl barley

Why it's a hero:
Kerry says pearl barley is the perfect alternative to rice or pasta because "it is one of the few grains to contain a fibre called beta-glucans. This soluble fibre helps lower LDL cholesterol, which can lead to furring of the arteries. It also slows the release of sugar from your food, keeping you fuller for longer. It is a good immunity-booster as it's rich in the mineral selenium."

How to use it:
"Add uncooked handfuls to soup and stews: it takes about 30-40 minutes to cook, recommends Lulu. "Cook it in stock and stir through herbs, or dress with lemon juice and olive oil to serve as a side dish: 200g will serve four. You can also add a handful of cooked barley to a homemade burger or meatball mix."

Where to use it:
Hearty lamb and barley soup
Squash & barley salad with balsamic vinaigrette
Creamy pea & chive risotto

Jug of rapeseed oilCold-pressed rapeseed oil

Why it's a hero:
"It has half the amount of saturated fat of olive oil and a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids, so it's healthier for your heart than most other oils," says Kerry. "It has a high smoke point, so it can be used for high-temperature cooking such as roasting and frying, and its neutral flavour means it's a good substitute for most oils and fats. In fact, when used in place of dairy fats, rapeseed oil has been seen to reduce both cholesterol levels and another fat in the blood called triglycerides."

How to use it:
"Swap your other oils for this and use it for everything, even baking, in place of olive and vegetable oils," Lulu suggests.

Where to use it:
Honey mustard parsnips
Sticky toffee pudding
Ultimate makeover burgers

Uncooked quinoaQuinoa

Why it's a hero:
Kerry says: "Quinoa is a nutritious choice, being a better source of protein, carbs, as well as heart-friendly unsaturated fats, than most other grains. It has a high mineral content. An 80g portion supplies almost half your daily magnesium requirements - valuable for those who suffer from headaches or migraine."

How to use it:
"Quinoa absorbs flavour but doesn't have a huge amount itself, so dry-frying to toast it before boiling it will add nuttiness," says Lulu. "Simply stir in herbs, cooked or sundried veg, pesto, harissa or a dressing. You can also use quinoa as a porridge - cook it in milk as you would oats."

Where to use it:
Warm quinoa salad with grilled halloumi
Spicy vegetable & quinoa laksa
Quinoa tabbouleh

What do you like to keep in your storecupboard? Share your suggestions below...

Comments, questions and tips

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25th Jun, 2013
Unfortunately the popularity of quinoa has meant that the price has gone up so that the people of Bolivia - where it used to be part of their staple diet - can no longer afford it. We need to think carefully about the impact of our fads on people in other parts of the world...
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