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By Mississippi Market Chef Partner Kristin Hamaker of Goosefoot Kitchen

Even I am often guilty of asking the question, “What to eat?”. Monday morning, in the whirlpool of breakfast and lunch-making, is when the wheels begin to turn on what I should make for the week. I head to the cupboard first: dried navy beans, quinoa, a can of tomatoes, two bags of polenta (how did those get there?). Now, the fridge: the end of some Parmesan cheese, two carrots, half a dozen eggs, elderly (but edible) herbs. So forth and so on.

All of a sudden, the puzzle pieces start coming together rather quickly since I try and keep a well-stocked pantry. I typically buy things on sale (beans, tomatoes, polenta) and resolve to use the ends of this and that. Having staples on hand — pasta, tomatoes, stock — offers you a foundation each week, or rather, stepping stones for planning the meals ahead. Already have an onion, a carrot, and a handful of rice? Maybe soup is on your horizon, with the addition of chicken, tofu, or seasonal vegetables. Perhaps the kindling of a stir fry is in your future, or maybe a pilaf that you can top with an egg.

These staple foods — like others found in the co-op’s bulk department — are impressively cheap. They are nutritious and nourishing, happily adaptable to seasonal ingredients, naturally store well in the fridge and freezer, and adore being batch-cooked. Endless flattery abounds for the contents of a well-stocked pantry. If you have curated such a pantry, you’re well on your way. It’s not too much work to pull dinner together, and look at you, tidying the larder while exercising your creative bone!

My Springtime Barley Pilaf with Chickpeas meal is a cupboard-inspired recipe that was conjured up after I found a small bag of barley in my home pantry, along with a can of chickpeas, and a particular buzz for the foods and lightness of spring.