Are you tired of your pantry? Sick of standing in front of it, staring at its contents and hoping for something more interesting to materialise? Us too.
So, to find some inspiration for our next food shop and level-up our home-cooking game, we’re taking a squiz inside some others.
Shannon Martinez is the creative powerhouse behind two of Melbourne’s best vegan eateries, Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli. Most recently, she launched Smith & Daughters at Home, a delivery service for plant-based Italian banquets (think fermented chilli, caper and tomato focaccia; “meatballs” with tomato sugo; slow-braised chickpeas with greens and garlic; cabbage with seaweed butter; and a meat-free cotoletta).
The chef doesn’t identify as vegan herself, but because her home kitchen doubles as a test kitchen for her restaurants, she eats meat-free 90 per cent of the time.
That means a stacked pantry that’s home to an encyclopedic arrangement of spices, dried mushrooms, pickles, pastes and other flavour enhancers that don’t require the use of animal products. There’s even a dedicated seaweed section.
“I use a lot of weird shit to get the food to taste the way I want it to at the restaurant – I have to use more unusual ingredients. I’ve got to come up with different ways to find flavour,” Martinez says. “There’s so much that I can’t use, so I’ve learned over time what I can use to replace things. So my pantry does look a little bit unusual.”
What pantry staples can’t you live without?
Kombu. There’s a liquid one that I use, it’s basically natural MSG. It’s kombu that’s been boiled down to a syrup, almost. Whenever a dish is lacking, this thing takes it from two to 10 in a second. I put this in all my broths, I’ll put it in a bolognaise sauce, stews, everything. It just magnifies the taste. It’s full of umami, really savory. Most Asian grocers will have it.
Doubanjiang, which is fermented chilli-bean paste. I've got backup jars of everything, and I have a backup 1.2 kilo jar of this. You’d think I was a panic buyer, but this is my normal. This is the basis for all the Sichuan food that I make, which is my staple go-to food at home, for hotpots, mapo tofu, any of those quick dishes you want to smash together when you have a noodle craving – that’s the flavour. It’s a really versatile thing to have because it’s fermented; it has a little bit of funk to it so you can get a really deep flavour pretty quickly from that. It’s also got that real chilli-oil slick. And it’s really addictive, and super salty.
Popcorn. Popcorn is my favourite snack in the world. I only use organic popcorn, because corn is such a useless food in terms of nutrition, and it’s one of the more heavily genetically modified food products. I’m obsessed with the movie-theatre popcorn in the US. When I used to go there, when I lived in the States, I’d get them to fill the bucket halfway with popcorn, and then I’d pump the butter on top, and then fill it up to the top and then pump the butter on again, and I’d have to lay out napkins on my lap for all the butter that would drop out. I have this nasty, artificial butter liquid that I’m obsessed with. I’m sure it’s so bad for me. It’s hilarious that I’m here saying I only have organic popcorn, while I douse it in liquid butter [laughs]. It’s so stupid! Now that I’m saying it out loud. What a dickhead.
How do you keep things organised?
Everything has to be in matching jars. Everything has to be labelled properly and in order, so it goes from flours to rice to grains to legumes, and then my sugar. I group it all. All the chillies go together, all the dried mushrooms are together, and then I have a seaweed section. Seaweed, mushrooms, ingredients like that are so important in vegan cooking.
What’s something just taking up space – you’re not sure what to do with it, or it just hasn’t had much use?
Ketchup – I hate it. And barbeque sauce. But I’ve got them both. They’re just so basic. Why would you make something taste good just to cover it in a sugary syrup? It’s disgusting. It’s fucking gross. And hotdogs? No. Mustard and pickle relish [are okay], but not ketchup.
What are your go-to dishes when cooking at home?
Congee. It’s one of the recipes that has been most made, I reckon, out of the cookbook [Vegan With Bite, in stores October 7]. I was really surprised to see how many people were doing it, and fucking loving it. Congee is just like so nourishing and delicious and fast. You can spend a whole day making it if you want to, but it’s also something you can smash together pretty quickly. And so cheap. In the book I’ve made it with as minimal ingredients (well, as minimal for me) as possible, and with ingredients you can get from anywhere, not just specialty grocers. I don’t want people to have to think ahead for dinner three days, pre-order shit or whatever, you know? It’s six o’clock. What do I want to make, cool, I’ve got all the staples in the fridge.
What item is a simple shortcut to making something really special?
Canned fruit. I’ve got this beautiful jar of peaches that I got from Mediterranean Wholesalers a while ago that’s just been sitting there staring at me. So I think, what better way to make a wintry day a bit more summery than using a big jar of peaches and making a beautiful pie? And for me – just to make it official – I always add savory notes to fruit pies, so I’ll probably do like a thyme and peach pie or something. Or a crumble. If you’re in a pinch and people come around, fuck off the pie and just do a crumble. You can smash out a crumble if you’ve got canned fruit in your cupboard in like half an hour. They’re the best! My mum would always have custard too. Even just canned fruit and custard. It’s so good. [Find the recipe on the chef's saved Instagram stories].
Is there anything that’s become a new staple for you, something you’re cooking with more now than before?
I’ve made a point to not do that, because I’m annoyed by how everyone is doing that. You know what I mean? Like, fuck off sourdough. But you know what I’ve been working on: a gluten-free focaccia. And it’s fucking awesome. I’ve been terrible at gluten-free breads in the past. And so, you know, I haven’t wanted to do breads or even post much about it because I’m sick of seeing everyone posting bread. So now I’m trying to figure out how to make all my bread gluten-free. I don’t have a recipe for it though. I’m not giving that away. Fuck that.
Read more of Broadsheet’s Pandemic Pantries series here.