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Nagi Maehashi from RecipeTinEats always has these five ingredients in her pantry

Oct 30, 2023

Nagi Maehashi is an advocate for quick and easy recipes with plenty of flavour, even when you're down to the last fews carrots in the fridge.

The self-taught cook launched her website RecipeTinEats in 2014 and saw a meteoric rise in followers during the pandemic.

She's become so popular that her recent cookbook was the highest-selling title by a debut Australian author when it was released in October.

We asked food experts, a chef and a food enthusiast for some easy meal ideas that you can assemble rather than cook.

Her aims when cooking are to show people "how to make the classics well," and how to make a good meal fast, even on busy weeknights.

To do that, there are five staples she always has stocked in her pantry: Garlic, butter, cheese, white wine and gochujang.

"That combination of ingredients gives you the broadest variety of things that you can make no matter what else you've got in the kitchen," Nagi told ABC Radio Sydney.

Here's how Nagi uses each of those ingredients.

This versatile plant adds an aromatic flavour to any dish that you create, Nagi says.

"It's the one ingredient that spans any cuisine in the whole world," she says.

"If you roast or pan fry anything with salt and butter, it's delicious. But add a bit of garlic and it takes it to another level."

What's important when cooking with garlic is to follow the recipe instructions exactly — as the way you prepare the garlic affects how it cooks.

"It makes a huge difference," Nagi says.

"If the recipe says slice it with a knife, don't grate it instead. If you do, it could burn really quickly in the pan. "

Meal tip: Slap butter in a pan and sauté with garlic. Once it's golden, you could pour that over a BBQ steak, poached chicken, a bowl of plain rice, pasta, steamed vegetables, or toasted bread.

"Pour it over anything and it will make a meal," Nagi says.

Butter is always stocked in Nagi's fridge.

It's not only essential in many of Nagi's cakes (her lemon cake with fluffy, less-sweet frosting was perfect for my daughter's dinosaur-shaped birthday cake), but also a great base for restaurant-quality sauces.

See her recipe suggestion below when combined with white wine.

Nagi's wine of choice is a discounted bottle of chardonnay.

"Usually when you open wine, you want to drink it over a couple of days," she says.

"With cooking wine you can keep it for months, as long as it doesn't grow mould."

Mixed with butter, Nagi says you can whip up a white wine sauce to match restaurant quality.

"You can go to a French restaurant and have a creamy sauce and they'll charge $40 for it. I didn't know how easy it is to make."

Meal tip: You can make a white wine sauce by deglazing the pan after cooking any protein, fish, garlic, prawns or even vegetables.

"All you do is sear it, cook it on the stove, and then you just add a little bit of butter, deglaze the pan with white wine, and you've got an instant sauce," Nagi says.

"Cheese: It makes everything better," Nagi says.

Her favourite to keep in the fridge is colby — a semi-hard orange cheese.

If budget is no issue, her cheese of choice is a Swiss gruyere.

"You can literally just roast any vegetables and then scatter it with cheese and then put it back under just to melt the cheese," she says.

"I mean, that is dinner to me. I will happily eat a tray of vegetables sprinkled in cheese for dinner."

Meal tip: Any vegetable can be cooked this way: Zucchini, cauliflower, potato, carrot, or sweet potato. Although Nagi says she hasn't tried this with pumpkin: "That could be a little bit weird!"

This Korean spice paste is made from fermented soy beans.

"For me it's a secret weapon because it has a lot of concentrated savoury flavour in it, it has a little spice," Nagi told ABC Radio Melbourne.

"A little goes a long way and it lasts forever, I think I've had one for about two years.

"You'll see it a lot in Korean dishes. I use it in stir fries, and it just adds a little bit of extra flavour in sauces.

Meal tip: if you're cooking something Asian and you think it's missing a bit of flavour, just add a teaspoon and it will save it.

"It's the Asian version of anchovies, it will just add amazing flavour.

"My mother will hate me for saying this, but it's a better version of miso paste."

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