How to Stock a Lunch-Ready Pantry

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This is an excerpt from Eater’s debut cookbook.


After talking with chefs who make some of the best lunches in the business, one thing is clear: Making a great lunch at home is 95 percent about what you’re keeping in your pantry and fridge. The other five percent is thinking just a bit more strategically about what you’re doing with that inventory.

Here’s what you need for excellent lunches at home without a recipe.

FLAVOR BOOSTERS

That’s what Yangban chef-owner Katianna Hong calls ingredients like Kewpie mayo and Yondu, a plant-based seasoning liquid she uses instead of soy sauce to “add depth, round everything out, and make things taste professional.” A bit of tinned fish can be combined with Kewpie mayo and served with rice, a dash of Yondu, and nori sheets for a DIY hand roll.

Hong puts roasted, salted almonds in the flavor-booster category, too. “Just chop them, and add them to anything,” she says. “Half an avocado, even meat. Restaurants use a lot of nuts — adding a sprinkle elevates your plate.” She also always has furikake on hand: along with adding umami flavor, it has the added bonus of looking like a fancy garnish on the plate. Other easy flavor boosters include chile crisp, lemons, fresh herbs, and spice mixes.

PICKLES AND KIMCHI

Along with the sandwich pickles and spears you can buy at any grocery store, consider keeping some homemade quick pickles in the fridge as a way to use up leftover vegetables and have crunchy, bright additions to your lunch at the ready. You can also use the pickle brine from your favorite jar as part of a vinaigrette or marinade. Monteverde chef Sarah Grueneberg relies on Mrs. Renfro’s pickled jalapenos to add “zip and spice, to munch on with crackers, to level up a burrito, a taco, a sandwich.” Hong always keeps cabbage and radish kimchi on hand — but if you don’t have access to the good stuff, don’t despair. She learned this tip from her husband and co-chef John Hong’s mom: “If you thin out your just-okay kimchi with a splash of sesame oil and a splash of soy sauce, and some toasted sesame seeds, it will taste much better and even a bit more aged.” From there, chopped kimchi becomes an excellent sandwich topping, or you can turn it into a vinaigrette like Hong does by adding some avocado or sesame oil, a rice wine or white wine vinegar, and a smashed clove of garlic. Add liberally to any part of your lunch, from salads to shredded chicken.

GRAINS AND BEANS

JJ Johnson, the chef-restaurateur behind FieldTrip, a mini-chain of fast-casual rice bowl shops in New York, recommends starting with farro, millet, fonio, and, of course, quinoa — then when you’re ready to level up, seek out a grain vendor at the farmers market and try something you’ve never cooked before. Make your grains ahead (Johnson recommends a grain cooking session with multiple pots going on the stove) and store them in your fridge to have quick bases for grain bowls or to add to salads. Ditto for big batches of dried beans, though there’s no shame in using canned. “Having grains you can then cook, or fry, or roast, or puff will up your ante for lunch at home,” Johnson says. He loves subbing grains in for rice, or frying them with leafy greens, diced veggies, and a protein on top.

BREADS

Sandwich bread can be fun to bake if you’re looking for a project, or you can seek out a good local bakery for crusty baguettes and hearty sourdoughs. Peter Lemos, chef-owner of the LA sandwich shop Wax Paper Co., notes that if you buy a whole loaf and slice as you need it, the loaf will stay fresher longer. (You can also slice and then freeze it to get more mileage out of a large loaf.) Pita is also great to have on hand for dipping into hummus and creating layered sandwiches. Flatbreads like lavash and naan are welcome additions, too. Tortillas aren’t bread, of course, but they are your friend when it comes to helping you reimagine what’s in your fridge.

LEFTOVERS

Armed with all of the above, you’ll see leftovers as your secret weapon rather than your chore. Plan dinners with lunch leftovers in mind. “When I’m at home cooking for my family, I always cook in abundance. Make more chicken than you need — that way you have food for the week,” says Johnson. Hong makes sure to always save leftover rice, which can be crisped up in a pan (“sort of like the top of a tahdig”) or microwaved and rolled into balls and topped with sesame oil and furikake. A bit of leftover chicken can be shredded, seasoned, and layered into a salad or grain bowl; leftover steak can be thinly sliced and added to a green salad; a hunk of leftover salmon can be smashed with sriracha and mayo and put on top of rice for a quick donburi; leftover ground beef can be quickly tossed with salsa and thrown into a quesadilla.

Adapted from EATER: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes by Hilary Dixler Canavan. Text and illustrations copyright © Vox Media, LLC. Text by Hilary Dixler Canavan and illustrations by Alice Oehr. Photography copyright © 2023 by Laura Murray. Published by Abrams.

The cover of the cookbook, ‘Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes.’

‘Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes’

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Prices taken at time of publishing.

Introducing Eater’s debut cookbook: Sourced from the best street carts to pillars of fine dining and everywhere in between, this diverse, powerhouse collection features recipes that have been carefully adapted for home cooks. Packed with expert advice from chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers on easy ways to level up your meals at home, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes is a must-have for anyone who loves to dine out and wants to bring that magic home.

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