Recipes for using your pantry ingredients — with the substitutions you might need right now

Or, how to still make great meals with what you have on hand.

Or, how to still make great meals with what you have on hand

If you're staying close to home and looking to curb your grocery runs, consider your pantry your new BFF. All those dried beans and tins of tomatoes can become fantastic meals, particularly if you have some great recipes to guide you — and the confidence to swap in what you've got for what you don't. 

To keep you cooking while you're at home, here's a roundup of recipes you can make with pantry items, along with substitutions for the things you might not have access to right now. 

Rice and Beans Pilaf

Make this easy recipe the template for many meals, stirring in whatever frozen vegetable you have on hand. Peas and corn work especially well, as do frozen shelled edamame. Bouillon cubes will do just fine here in place of the stock. You'll need two — one per cup of boiling water. And you can absolutely leave out the fresh herbs unless you're growing them on your windowsill. If you miss the bit of colour they add, make a dried herb oil by whisking salt and any kind of dried herb with olive oil and drizzle it on at the end. 

Tuna and Fennel Salad Sandwich

(Photo credit: Jackson Roy)

Here's a lunch sandwich to fill you up midday when you're working from home. Fennel keeps for a while so stock up the next time you or a neighbour is going to the store. If you don't have it, thinly sliced celery makes a perfectly good substitution, or you can leave it out altogether. The Greek yogurt here is not essential, simply bump up the amount of olive oil, mayonnaise, and Dijon mustard by 2 tsp each and you'll get the right consistency.

Curried Chickpea Burger

Work your way through the canned beans and dry lentils you bought with this meatless burger recipe — in place of a bun, it's just as good served with a dip made with ½ cup of jarred mayonnaise, ¼ tsp curry paste (from a jar) and a splash of bottled lemon juice. Nutritional yeast adds umami, but you can use just a touch more salt in its place. Replace the quinoa flour with any flour, and a teaspoon of dried coriander can be added in place of the fresh red pepper and cilantro.

Asian-Style Salmon Burger

If you've stocked up on canned salmon, here's the recipe to use it in. The green onions aren't essential, but if you do have shallots or onions on hand dice them up fine and use them in their place. No onions? A squeeze of bottled lemon juice will kick up the flavour. No buns? Serve instead with a tartar sauce that can be whipped up using mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, and lemon juice (bottled will work here) to taste. 

Greens and Black Rice Bowl

Any rice will do for this grain bowl, although if you can get your hands on black rice, now is when you want to try cooking with it. It makes for an elegant dish, especially when contrasted against the green frozen spinach and shelled edamame that you can use in place of the fresh vegetables. If you are using frozen veggies, simply heat them up in a covered skillet on low or medium heat, or thaw them in a steamer basket over boiling water. 

Winter Pappa al Pomodoro

(Photography by Dennis the Prescott)

Now you're going to be glad to have that old loaf of bread that's been kicking around in your freezer for a few weeks. Put it to work in this soup where it'll help to thicken it. The recipe calls for a Spanish onion, but any kind will do, and the basil isn't essential. Dress it up instead with a drizzle of herb oil, made by whisking dried basil, thyme or marjoram and salt into olive oil. Master the method of No Knead Bread, and you'll have a meal you'd never guess came from things you just happened to have around your kitchen. 

Veggie Chili

(Credit: David Loftus)

This dish does have a few components, but you can skip the salad and stick to the chili recipe any time. It uses up long grain and wild rice, along with your cans of beans and passata, but any rice will do really, and the fresh peppers and coriander can be swapped for other vegetables you have on hand, like frozen corn or sweet potatoes, or a mix of carrots and celery. 


Leave out the red peppers in this dish or swap in roasted red peppers from a jar. The cherry tomatoes could just as well be sun-dried tomatoes from your pantry, or skip them altogether. Turn up the heat with red chili flakes instead of the jalapeno, and don't stress — the feta on top is a bonus not a must. If you haven't made it to the bakery in a while, plan ahead and start a batch of No Knead Rosemary Focaccia the day before, using rosemary from your garden if that's an option or leaving it out if it's not. You'll appreciate the bread for dipping. 

Potato Latkes

Potatoes are a no-brainer when you need a vegetable that lasts, and they keep better in your pantry than they do in the fridge. Serve these with applesauce from a jar if you've got it, or make a cashew cream sauce using the lime cashew sour cream recipe from here. The fresh lime juice in the cream can be swapped for bottled lime or even bottled lemon juice, or use apple cider vinegar. 

White Bean, Garlic and Artichoke Dip

Spread this homemade dip on crackers for a light meal that may even deserve a glass of wine. Replace the yogurt and goat cheese with enough olive oil to ensure this puree's smooth, and possibly add a pinch more salt if you find it needs it. If you've got kale on hand (which is reliably long-lasting) you'll want this kale salad to round out the meal. Just leave out any vegetables you don't have and use what you do. 

Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks

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