I just got back from an awesome trip to New Zealand over the holidays. A friend got married in Queenstown, and then we drove the South Island from south tip to north tip, hugging the east coast. New Zealand food is a dream – the produce is fresh, there are amazing meats and piles of crayfish and green-lipped mussels. We started the trip eating out nearly every meal, and after a week, our wallets were too empty and our bellies were too full. It was time to start cooking.
We discovered that most of our hostels had clean, well-equipped kitchens that became major social hubs from dinner on. The YHA hostels plus some independent ones like Watson's Way had huge lines of gas ranges, plus colanders, rice cookers, blenders, toaster ovens, whisks… everything you could want. No slicing potatoes with a butter knife in these palaces.
After seeing the massive kitchen awaiting us at the YHA Purple Cow in Wanaka, my travel buddy Beth and I actually got excited to cook. We stumbled upon a little Mediterranean market and found fresh lamb sausage. After loading our backpacks down with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, we cruised into the Purple Cow kitchen, ready to whip up some Moroccan lamb stew. Til we realized we forgot all of the most basic yet crucial ingredients. Salt. Pepper. Oil.
We eventually begged everything off some German girls making cookies next to us, and walked away with a fantastic dinner and some temporary new friends. I made a mental list of what we should invest in for the remainder of the trip. So, here’s my tips on what to buy at the start and stash away as you travel – you’ll use it all again and again and hopefully repay some of my karma to other travelers in need:
Travel Pantry Essentials
- Salt . Not a tiny little shaker but a heftier size. You’ll inevitably lend it out and you’ll use it for everything
- Pepper. Buy the little grinder, perhaps it’s a dollar more expensive but is SO worth it
- Cooking oil. I lean towards a general canola or vegetable over olive oil, given its versatility
- Cooler. You’ll forever be buying another stick of butter or carton of eggs to replace the ones you left in the fridge because they wouldn't weather the drive from here to there. I wish someone had told me to buy a cooler on Day 1. I would have saved a whole lot of wasted berries and yogurt. And I wouldn’t have tried to eat the whole can of whipped cream from Christmas dessert for my Boxing Day breakfast.
- Eggs. The wonder food. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can always use an egg.
- White wine vinegar. Poaching, salad dressing, marinades. Not a necessity, but quite handy if you have the space.
- Plain yogurt. It's great for breakfast with some fruit and muesli, drizzling over soups and stews, and a perfect substitute for sour cream or mayo
For a my home pantry and fridge essentials, check out the Basics section.
Moroccan-Style Lamb Stew
Yield: Serves 2-3
Prep Time: 15 min Cook Time: 20 min Total Time: 25 min
3-4 links good quality lamb sausage (or other fresh sausage), sliced into smallish chunks
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 zucchini, halved lengthwise then chopped into half moons
1 can diced tomatoes (If they have Moroccan spiced version, get them! Otherwise add some cumin if you can get your hands on some)
1 bag/bunch spinach, torn
1 can chickpeas, drained (use the top of the can if you don’t have a colander)
Brown lamb in a bit of oil, then set aside. Using same pot, sauté garlic and onions for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add zucchini and cook til halfway done – the edges will be translucent but the middle is still firm. Add the can of tomatoes and about half a can of water, plus the browned lamb. Put a lid on the pot and turn heat to low. Simmer for as long as you can handle the delicious smells wafting out. Try and give it at least 10 minutes – the flavors will meld and it really tastes a lot better. Last, stir in the chickpeas, spinach, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in a bit more water if it’s looking too thick. Once the spinach wilts down you’re ready to serve.
Italian: Replace chickpeas with white beans, use plain tomatoes. Some basil cut into ribbons would make it sublime.
Vegetarian: Omit meat and add more beans or chickpeas, or add some diced sweet potatoes. Saute them with the onion and garlic til they’re fairly cooked through before adding the remaining ingredients.