After three years of paleo eating, Dave and I have drilled grocery shopping down to a science. When our local HEB grocery store rearranged all of its aisles, Dave used the map of the new arrangement to make a spreadsheet that cross-referenced the stuff we buy most often against its location in the store. Genius! (Feel free to take a peek at our grocery list right here. PDF].)
We keep a printout of the list on the front of the fridge and check off the stuff we need throughout the week, then one of us hits the store, list in hand, and follows the path around the perimeter… from produce to meat, across the back of the store from eggs to canned tuna and pickles and vinegar, to a swoop across the front for frozen veggies and tissues… which conveniently drops us right at the checkout. We supplement our grocery store haul with a weekly basket from Farmhouse Delivery and monthly drops of grass-fed beef from Bastrop Cattle Company — with occasional side trips to Central Market or Sprouts for stuff like Sunbutter, dark chocolate, and pork.
The foods listed below fall into a special category all their own; they’re the foods we never let run out. They’re always checked on our list, and we have backups for the backups in our cabinets. These are the foods that are essential for keeping us well fed (and Well Fed).
My Paleo Kitchen Must-Haves
1. Unrefined Coconut Oil
For cooking, organic unrefined coconut oil is my first choice. It lends a somewhat buttery flavor to dishes and can be used at pretty high temperatures without oxidizing (which means it remains good for you, even if you turn up the heat). Because it’s saturated, it’s solid at cooler temperatures, so it’s a good stand in for butter in baked treats. I know lots of paleo people prefer clarified butter or ghee, but once I tried coconut oil, I was hooked.
2. Organic, Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
Eaten on their own as a snack (like Caramelized Coconut Chips) or sprinkled into and on top of dishes, coconut flakes add another dimension of flavor and texture. They’re lovely, little wisps of good-for-you fat that can go savory or sweet. I like to toss a few on top of Thai curries or sprinkle them on a bowl of fruit and coconut milk for dessert.
3. Full-fat Coconut Milk
Equally at home in sweet and savory dishes, coconut milk is an excellent replacement for heavy cream or yogurt in curries and creamy sauces. It’s also luscious when whipped into a creamy cloud and served over fresh fruit. Organic brands are best — and definitely go for the full-fat version. It’s okay if the ingredient list includes guar gum, but avoid brands that include sulfites or added sugar.
4. Organic, Grass-fed Ground Beef
If I have a few pounds of grass-fed ground beef in the fridge, I know I’m only about 10 minutes away from a delicious dinner. Browned and seasoned with garlic and spices, ground beef is like a blank canvas that can be turned into just about any ethnic-inspired meal. Stir-fried with veggies and five-spice powder, it’s instantly Asian. Formed into a burger and piled on top of a big salad, it’s all-American. Wrapped in a lettuce leaf with cucumbers, jalapeno, lime, and garlic, it’s a Thai wrap. And don’t even get me started on the meatball possibilities… Our favorite application of ground beef right now is the Deconstructed Hamburger Salad; we eat it at least once a week.
5. Sardines Packed in Olive Oil
These little fish are perfect on-the-go food. My super-secret lunch weapon is a can of sardines, a red bell pepper cut into strips, a cucumber cut into coins, and a small handful of fresh blueberries or cherries. Just a little oily and not too fishy, the sardines are power food — and the leftover oil is perfect for dipping raw veggies. I like Crown Prince, boneless, skinless the best.
6. Collard Greens
Kale seems to be the superstar of the paleo world, but I’m here to make a case for collard greens. They’re a little sturdier and tenderize during steaming and sautéeing without disintegrating into mushy territory. They can be braised in a coconut milk curry, wrapped around meat fillings and baked in tomato sauce, or sautéed in oil with seasonings to make a vitamin-packed side dish. They’re also mild enough to taste great at breakfast with eggs and leftover protein. I like cut them into 1-inch strips, steam ’til tender-ish, then sauté them with coconut oil until they get a little dry and crispy.
Cauliflower might be the most versatile vegetable in the kitchen, so I always have two heads in the fridge at all times. Grated in a food processor and sautéed with fat and spices, it’s instant “rice.” Or boiled in broth and mashed with coconut milk (or a dollop of homemade mayo), it transforms into mashed “potatoes.” It also adds a big crunch when chopped raw in salads, and becomes crisp-tender when roasted in the oven.
8. Frozen, Unsweetened Blackberries
Low in fructose and high in anti-oxidants, blackberries are loaded with nutrition and flavor. I like to eat them frozen with coconut milk drizzled over the top as a go-along with eggs for breakfast, or as dessert after a paleo dinner. Because they’re not too sweet, they don’t trigger the sugar demon, but they’re sweet enough to feel like a treat.
To be fair, jicama isn’t a nutrition powerhouse, but it’s not doing any harm either. I love its crisp texture and almost-sweet taste. Peeled, cut into matchsticks, and kept in the fridge, jicama is a cool addition to a crudité platter — julienned, it makes a lovely salad mixed with lime juice, diced avocado, and slivers of red bell pepper. Its mild taste makes it great at breakfast, too!
10. Free-Range, Organic Eggs
Great any time of day, eggs are quality source of fast protein. I like to keep a dozen hard boiled on hand for egg salad or deviled eggs made with homemade mayo. When my day has been long, and I want something comforting, an omelet (or egg foo yong) does the trick — and gently scrambled eggs with zucchini noodles are amazing comfort food in a flash.
Turn it up to 11: Spices
Spices and seasonings can transform ordinary ingredients into magical meals. I have an extensive collection of spices, but these are the ones, in addition to sea salt and black pepper, that are absolutely essential. (Here’s a lengthy list of almost everything in my spice cabinet.)
Ground Cinnamon: A must-have basic for sweet and savory foods in just about every ethnic cuisine. Add to Chinese stir-fry, roasted butternut squash or sweet potatoes, or beef chili.
Ground Cumin: My favorite spice, cumin adds a rich, earthiness to North African, Middle Eastern, Greek, Mexican, and some Chinese dishes. Try it with ground beef or lamb, cauliflower “rice,” mixed with chili powder in Mexican dishes, or baked sweet potatoes.
Garlic: Put garlic in everything you eat. The end.
Ground Ginger: Ginger adds a warm, spicy bite to coconut milk curries and stir-fries. Scrambled with eggs, it’s a paleo home remedy for a cough.
Dried Mint: Fresh and tangy, mint adds sunshine to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. Try it on roasted carrots, tossed with raw onions, or stirred into tuna salad with lemon juice.
Dried Oregano: The “pizza herb” for everything Italian, oregano is great with tomatoes, green beans, and zucchini. Mix it into ground meat with garlic for instant Italian sausage.
Ground Paprika: Paprika is another equal-opportunity spice that adds zing and rich color to Moroccan, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European dishes. Sprinkle it on fresh melon for a treat.
Chili Powder: Used in Tex-Mex, Indian, Chinese, and Thai foods, chili powder is a blend of peppers, cumin, oregano, garlic, and salt. Mixed with paprika and salt, it transforms into BBQ seasoning.
So there you have it: the foods I need to keep my paleo kitchen stocked so it’s easy to keep saying “yes” to the good stuff and “who needs you?!” to sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy.
What are your kitchen musts?
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