18 Dinners to Make When Your Pantry's As Empty As Your Stomach

February  9, 2017

It is 7 P.M. You haven't been to the grocery store since last week, you are famished, and you have no ideas. You have two options:

  1. You can panic at the steep downward trajectory of your blood sugar and get takeout. (Been there. This is a perfectly reasonable response.)
  2. You can open up the cabinets and treat what you find like your personal Chopped basket of ingredients. Onions? A can of chickpeas? A wan tomato? A jar of green sauce? (Or even sparser—garlic, eggs, water?) Challenge accepted.

The latter kind of dinner, the soup-from-a-stone kind, is sometimes the most satisfying. You've wrung everything you possibly could from your little kitchen and fed yourself well. Should you need a little inspiration—well, we bet your pantry and the dregs of your refrigerator could produce at least a few of the following 18 recipes:

  • Chickpeas + onion + pinches of turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne + cilantro:
  • Canned tomatoes + onion + red pepper flakes + water + basil:
  • White beans + garlic + water + parsley:
  • Canned tomatoes + onion + butter (bonus points if you add cooked pasta):
  • Black beans + onion + celery + a little rum:
  • Cornmeal + water—just top it with whatever leftovers you have! (Or maybe some equally pantry-sourced tomato sauce?):
  • Garlic + stale bread + paprika + water + eggs:
  • Whatever potatoes you have + handful of cilantro or whatever green thing's wilting in your fridge + peas (they could be frozen!):
  • Leftover rice + scallions + kimchi + gochujang + sesame oil + soy sauce:
  • Eggs + literally anything you find in the fridge:
  • Pasta + white beans (or whatever protein you've got on hand) + lemons + capers + shallots or onion + white wine:
  • Potatoes + green chiles + ground coriander + ground cumin + onion + garlic + a little yogurt and cilantro (if you have them) to serve:
  • Carrots + lentils + red wine vinegar + mustard + za'atar + feta:
  • Rice + eggs + onions + coconut milk + garlic + turmeric + chili powder + tamarind paste (or, if you don't have it, a little brown sugar mixed with lime juice):
  • Carrots + ginger + onion + garlic + stock:
  • White beans + tuna + (red) onion + eggs + lemon + parsley or scallions or both + dukkah (or another spice mix you love!):
  • Lentils + butter + curry powder + coconut milk + onion + garlic:

What do you make when the pantry's bare? Give us your best ideas in the comments.

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This article originally appeared on September 17, 2016. We're re-running it now in light of winter storm season (and sparse pantries).

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Kxtj F. September 27, 2019
ctgal September 22, 2016
Devorah September 21, 2016
Arthur Schwartz's 'What to Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House to Eat' is an excellent resource for empty-pantry meals. I've consistently used his book for years. It's a no-frills book; no photos, just clearly-written instructions and great conversational tone.
ctgal September 21, 2016
My husband can do that without a recipe. He looks in the empty refrigerator, checks the cabinets, and starts cooking a fabulous dinner. I, however, cannot, so I love these recipes.
Devorah September 21, 2016
My mother does that too! I joke that she can make dinner for 8 out of a bag of frozen spinach and a box of baking soda.