A sum of its parts: a guide to your pantry’s potential

A stocked pantry full of staple ingredients
“What can I eat?” This is the all-too-familiar question as we poke around our kitchens. Whether the pantry is well-stocked with the usual suspects, or you have just a few things, there are some tried-and-true ways to make these seemingly boring ingredients come to life. There are more meals than you think hiding in the recesses of your pantry.


Beans, glorious beans! Back in the spotlight as one of the most versatile, long-lasting, inexpensive, fiber-rich protein sources. Canned beans make it simple to throw together soup, hummus, or a stew relatively quickly. While dried beans require slightly more love, but always with a payoff of better flavor and texture.


  • 1 cup of dried beans = ½ pound of dried beans = 6–7 cups cooked beans (Dried beans increase in volume from 2.5X for small beans to 5X for bigger beans like garbanzos)
  • ½ cup of dried beans (before cooking) = one 15-ounce can of beans
  • 1 15-ounce can beans = 1 ¾ cup drained beans
A guide to the volume dried beans yield when cooked


Much like beans, lentils are an excellent and inexpensive source of nutrients but are much faster to cook. Green lentils are the most typical variety seen in the U.S., but there’s also yellow, brown, red, and black to name a few — all of which are wonderfully versatile.

Tips for cooking dried beans, canned beans, and lentils

Rice & Grains

Rice seems to go with everything and is a staple of cuisines around the world. A simple grain with endless possibilities, rice can be centerstage or a side depending on the dish or type of rice used.

Don’t know how much rice to cook? Remember that cooked rice is the dry amount plus the liquid amount (1 cup rice plus 2 cups water = 3 cups cooked rice). According to the USDA, one serving is about ½ cup cooked rice.

A guide to the time it takes to cook different kinds of rice
A guide to the time it take to cook different kinds of grains
Tips for cooking rice and grains

Tomato Products

When tomato season is months away, there are always canned tomatoes to turn to. While they are not a replacement for fresh, they are hugely convenient in dishes that require that the tomatoes be cooked. They are often canned at their peak ripeness and are already processed in some form, which gives a head start to your pasta bolognese. Having at least some kind of canned tomato product at home means that you are always minutes away from a simple meal. Tomato sauce, soup, chili, casseroles, shakshuka, and so many other dishes start with tomatoes. Know which one is best for different recipes.

A guide to different types of canned tomatoes and their uses

Herbs & spices

Experimenting with herbs and spices is the easiest way to navigate new flavor combinations at home and discover your personal taste. Add more chili flakes if you like spicy, add cardamom and turmeric to lentils for an Indian vibe, load up on cinnamon if you just love cinnamon. Remember to start with small amounts, taste, and then add more spices until it’s just right. You can always add more, but you can’t undo.

To get the most out of your spices, start with whole spices like coriander seeds, star anise, cardamom pods, and peppercorns. Toasting these spices in a dry pan will release their oils and fill your dish, and home, with an amazing fragrance. Grind these toasted spices by hand in a coffee grinder, mortar & pestle, pepper mill, or food processor. Pre-ground spices can also be toasted to maximize flavor.

How long have some of those spices been in your cupboard? While they may not be dangerous to eat, expired spices will lose their potency over time and should be replenished.


  • Whole spices last about four years, while ground spices keep for about two years.
  • Dried herbs last one year.
  • Buy small containers of herbs and spices you use less of to prevent clutter and ultimately, waste.
  • To keep herbs and spices lasting as long as possible, keep them tightly sealed in a cool, dark cupboard away from direct heat or sunlight.

If you don’t have, or don’t want to buy, a specific spice blend that a recipe calls for, make your own! Below are some of the most common spice blends. Play around with proportions or compare recipes to find the ratios you love most.

A guide to what ingredients are needed for different spice and herb blends

Go to www.mealhero.com to find specific recipes using the ingredients you have at home. If you have questions about this article or general food and cooking questions, email us at culinary_expert@mealhero.com. Happy cooking!

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