These emergency recipes use pantry staples, dry goods, canned goods, frozen foods to make a variety of nutritious, flavorful meals.
Well, what a year the last couple of weeks and days have been, huh? This is... not a post I ever thought I'd be writing when I decided to start a food blog. But here we are. Things are shutting down, plans are being cancelled, we're all stocking up on toilet paper and hand soap, and lots of us are making plans in case we have to stay inside for a while. But what about food?
Over on Twitter last week I shared a thread of some of my favorite easy emergency recipes that use lots of shelf-stable or frozen ingredients, or that are easy to make in bulk and freeze. You know, just in case you find yourself stuck inside for... let's say 14 days. For whatever reason.
When everyone is rushing to the store at once it's important to be considerate about our needs, and make sure that we're buying things we actually have plans for how to use. So before I get to the emergency recipes here's some of what I usually try to have around in addition to your classic pantry staples (oil, salt, pepper, etc).
- Parmesan cheese (hard cheeses last longer than soft cheeses)
- Feta cheese
- Lemons and limes (a little bit of lemon zest or citrus juice is all you need to jazz up some veggies or proteins!)
- Greek yogurt
- Fresh ginger
- Canadian bacon and/or bacon
- Miso paste (it's fermented and stays good for a year or more!)
*Onions and potatoes are supposedly better left out of the fridge in a cool, dark, dry spot but since I don't have one in my apartment, they stay in the fridge, in separate drawers, because the gasses from onions can cause the potatoes to sprout.
- Meat: Chicken, rack of ribs, pork tenderloin, pork butt, sausages, chorizo
- Frozen veggies: Peas and corn, mostly
- Extra butter, extra cheese
- Extra flour, if I have it
- Chicken stock
- Puff pastry
- Pink lentils
- Instant mashed potatoes or whole potatoes
- Instant ramen
- Better than bouillon
- Matzo ball mix
- Flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.
- Canned butter beans, black beans, and chick peas
- Coconut milk (canned)
- Dried chiles (great for flavor, and they stay good for a long time)
- Boxed pasta
- Kraft mac & cheese (use coconut milk! add bacon!)
- Canned tuna
- Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries)
- Chia seeds (really good source of fiber)
Everything I listed above can stay good for at least a couple weeks in the fridge or in the freezer/cupboard for months. Usually, I only have about a week and a half of fresh food around because we shop weekly, but as recommended social distancing news bubbled up, I've been buying extras here and there and prioritizing ingredients with longer shelf lives.
If we need to stay inside for an extended period of time, right now we have about enough for 2-3 weeks of decent meals for two and then like another week or so of culinarily-disappointing-but-at-least-it's-food sort of meals after that. The emergency recipes below share a lot of similar ingredients, so you don't need a grocery store's worth of dry goods and spices to make a variety of recipes.
Oh, and while surviving on rice and beans alone is possible, I try to make sure that I'm still able to get a variety of nutrients — things like fiber and vitamins and potassium are important! I don't know you or your body or your health needs and I'm not a nutritionist, so I can't tell you what you need, but it's just something to keep in mind as you're making your plans.
And now, the 25 emergency recipes:
This is one of my favorite easy dinners for a number of reasons, but mostly because I almost always have everything I need for it on hand. The only ingredient that doesn't have a long shelf life is fresh basil, but in an emergency, the recipe will work without it. The chicken marinates with garlic and lemon for about 5 minutes before you cook it on a grill pan, and the rice is one of my favorite easy side dishes — just toss it with lemon juice, olive oil, crumbled feta cheese, and basil if you have it.
Update — I’ve put my own spin on the rice portion of this recipe which you can find here: Lemon Basil Feta Rice.
For these you will need canned chickpeas, frozen chorizo, yogurt, limes, and tostadas. Cilantro optional. If you've got masa harina on hand to make homemade tortillas you can make your own tostadas if you'd rather not buy the premade ones. Simply brush your homemade tortillas with oil and bake them at 350F, flipping every 10 mins on a sheet tray until they're crisp and crunchy. Or, just serve the chickpea-chorizo filling up as tacos.
Almost all the ingredients for this spaghetti sauce are canned or dried. There's some fresh basil and fresh parsley, but in a pinch you can replace them with their dried counterparts. Other than that the fresh ingredients are things like garlic and onion, which last a long time, and the meat can be frozen until ready to use. Even better: You can prepare and freeze the sauce and meatballs separately, using them for a lot more than just spaghetti and meatballs. The recipe makes about 12-14 servings, so this should be more than enough to hold you over for a few days at least. As far as emergency recipes go, this one ticks all the right boxes.
4. Basic Dal
Not gonna lie, this is the recipe from Indian-ish (Amazon, IndieBound) is the number one thing I'm prepared to make in pretty much any situation where emergency recipes are required. Dal is so simple, so flavorful, and every single ingredient is shelf-stable (ok, maybe not the lime juice). It's also a really good source of fiber. To make the basic-basic dal, you only need dried pink lentils, turmeric, salt, lime juice, and water. To add the chhonk, you'll need oil or butter, cumin seeds, red chili powder or cayenne, and dried red chiles. 1 cup of dried lentils makes enough for about 4 servings of dal.
Bonus: With a packet of instant mashed potatoes and flour you can turn dal into dal pierogies and freeze them for future dinners. Can't find pink lentils? Here's a handy chart so you can make dal with any kind of lentil. I just like the pink ones because they cook the fastest.
You will need: Frozen peas, frozen puff pastry, frozen pie shells, lemon juice, and potatoes. You will also need a handful of spices, optional fresh cilantro, and an optional fresh serrano or jalapeño pepper. The filling makes enough for two pies, and you can freeze the prepared filling to assemble the pies later. Or, you can freeze a whole prepared pie and defrost/bake it later.
Don't want to deal with pie crusts? Make the quesadilla version instead.
6. Cacio e Pepe
My one-skillet cacio e pepe rigatoni recipe takes a technically complex dish and simplifies it into something anyone can master. And the best part is you literally only need one skillet to pull it off! In terms of ingredients, it's hard to find a recipe simpler than pasta, butter, pepper, and two types of long-lasting cheese: parmesan and pecorino. Both cheeses can last in the fridge, up to 9 months, unopened, and about 4-6 weeks once opened.
Ground meat, frozen veggies, dried thyme, ketchup, garlic, onion, a bit of flour, and a packet of instant mashed potatoes is all you need to make 4 servings of shepherd's pie. Instead of baking the shepherd's pie all in one dish, I recommend portioning it out into individual oven-safe ramekins or loaf pans. Bake the individual portions, let them cool to room temperature, wrap them in saran wrap (ramekin and all) and freeze them inside a large gallon freezer bag. To reheat: Defrost, then tent with aluminum foil and place in a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes or until warmed throughout.
8. Butter Beans
These butter beans are technically a side dish meant to accompany a recipe for cauliflower steaks, but I just can't bring myself to endorse a dish that makes a mockery of the word "steak." The butter beans, however, are fantastic on their own, cooked in a garlicky, shallot-y, broth with a little kick from some vinegar.
9. Tuna Cakes
These aren't just easy to make, they're also super easy to freeze. You'll need canned tuna and a packet of instant mashed potatoes, two eggs, a handful of dried spices, a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped onion, and some breadcrumbs. The lemon dill aioli is optional, as is the fresh parsley.
My mom used to make this for us all the time growing up and I'm delighted that I was able to find the recipe online. Frozen veggies, boxed pasta, canned tuna, milk, shredded mozzarella, and a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup are all you need to pull it off. And unlike more traditional tuna casseroles, this one needs absolutely zero time to bake.
11. Pork Agrodolce
Pork butt (or pork shoulder) is one of my favorite cuts of meat to buy in bulk and freeze. It's great for making carnitas and chili colorado, both of which are great emergency meals if you have a sous vide or can get your hands on the specialty dried chilies in advance, respectively. But if you're looking for a bulk recipe that uses more common ingredients and zero speciality appliances to make, pork agrodolce is the way to go. The only fresh ingredient is scallions, and you can definitely skip the anchovy fillet if that's not your thing. Serve it up over instant mashed potatoes and you'll still feel like you're eating like royalty.
12. Aloo Parathas
Potatoes to the rescue again, here with another recipe from Indian-ish (Amazon, IndieBound). A simple, yeast-free dough rolled flat and wrapped around spiced mashed potatoes, then rolled flat again and cooked in a skillet. It's an 8" potato-stuffed pancake. Each pancake is more than enough for one serving — they're seriously huge. If you don't have a mortar and pestle to grind the fennel seeds, just buy ground fennel. And you can use cayenne instead of red chile powder without the parathas ending up spicy. Pair it with a simple yogurt dipping sauce (yogurt + lime juice + salt + pepper) or a side of dal (pictured above).
13. Miso Maple Ribs
This recipe from Smitten Kitchen Everyday (Amazon, IndieBound) is one of my absolute favorites. It gets a spot on this list of emergency recipes because the sauce calls for just three ingredients, all of which last basically forever: miso paste, maple syrup, and rice vinegar. And the ribs cook low and slow in the oven for 2 hours before going under the broiler for 5 minutes to get that you-won't-believe-these-weren't-grilled char. If miso and maple aren't your preferred flavors, Deb also has some other variations on her site, like this BBQ dry rub preparation.
BTW, if you have the Smitten Kitchen Everyday book, I'd also recommend stocking up on what you need to make the two thick, chewy giant oatmeal raisin cookies recipe — for when you're craving something sweet but not looking for a huge baking project. Plus, it uses a lot of the same ingredients you'd need to make a bowl of oatmeal, which you'll be glad you have in an emergency.
Miso paste, ginger, garlic, and lemon in a bit of broth makes this exactly what you want to reach for in case of a sore or itchy throat. If you're vegetarian, replace the chicken broth with water and add an extra ½ tablespoon of miso paste. Need something heartier in your soup? Scale it up and bust out the instant matzoh ball mix.
To make chicken broth or stock from scratch, take any onions, carrots, or celery that are about to go bad and simmer them with water and chicken bones for 18-24 hours. You can also freeze them until you're ready to make stock. Once you have a great stock base, you can freeze it for the future. Don't let any carrots, onions, celery, or chicken bones go to waste!
15. Malaysian Ramen
This is the third recipe on this list from Priya Krishnah's phenomenal Indian-ish (Amazon, IndieBound) cookbook and it more than earns its spot because it's made with dried, prepackaged instant ramen noodles. They're hella cheap, easy to stock up on, and this preparation uses a blend of fresh and shelf-stable ingredients for maximum flavor. Fresh ginger, garlic, and red onion will last for a few weeks at least in the fridge. Skip the fresh spinach and carrots and use frozen veggies instead.
You'll need a lot of flour for this one — about 7 ½ cups — but it makes enough dough for 4 small-to-medium sized loaves. As the name promises, the dough requires absolutely no kneading. Simply mix the ingredients together and let them rise in a large bucket or bowl (it will quadruple in size, at least). The dough will stay good in the fridge for up to a week, meaning you can tear off grapefruit sized chunks of it and bake them up to have fresh bread all week long.
If you've been smart and are keeping a bag of frozen broccoli stalks in your freezer, blend them up with some chicken or veggie stalk to make this great, hearty soup. What I really appreciate about this recipe is that it includes quarter cup of farro or arborio rice to give it a little more substance. Instead of cream, use coconut milk (it's canned!), and skip the celery unless you're buying it for other recipes.
Don't resign yourself to plain and boring rice just because you're stuck inside for a while. Toasting the rice with some garlic, almonds, and curry powder, and then cooking it in chicken stock instead of water turns boring white rice into exciting and thrilling curried rice pilaf.
I have a love-hate relationship with my Instant Pot but it's great when you need to make a lot of food quickly, or don't have the energy to do a lot of cooking. I've tried half a dozen butter chicken recipes, but this one is the one I like best. You'll probably want to swap the heavy cream for canned coconut milk, but otherwise it uses primarily canned ingredients, dried spices, and then some fresh ginger and garlic.
20. Pesto sauce (dried or oil-based)
Pesto is one of those things I always have a tub of in my freezer. Freeze it in an ice cube tray with a layer of oil over the top of each cube and store the cubes in a bag. Then add the cubes right to a pan with some pasta and watch as the oil melts and the pesto sauce coats the noodles like you just made it that day.
Of course, this requires you to have made fresh pesto in advance, and that's just not an option for everyone. Here's a recipe for the dried pesto blend I grew up with, which can be tossed with pasta, cooked chicken, and a drizzle of olive oil.
This easy tahini dressing can be tossed with rice or grains, drizzled over chicken, salads, roasted vegetables, or even red meat. It's a great all-purpose dressing, excellent in a pinch when you need to add a lot of flavor to some otherwise simple ingredients.
Sheet pan meals are GREAT in moments like these, and I love the simplicity of a pork tenderloin with whole roasted potatoes. A little soy sauce, a little balsamic, some blended herbs and spices... that's really all you need!
There are a ton of similar pork tenderloin recipes out there so if this one doesn't suit you, you might prefer this coriander-crusted approach, or this ginger-honey one. Look around, you'll definitely be able to find one that uses ingredients you've already got on hand.
23. Homemade Hummus
Two cans of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and a bit of cumin and paprika is all you need to make a nice big bowl of hummus. It's great for spreading on crackers, bread, and sandwiches, but also for dipping pretzels, carrots, or apples. And if you save the liquid from the can you can make aquafaba, which can replace eggs and egg whites in most recipes.
Brown butter is rich and slightly sweet, the perfect flavor to accompany the bright citrus of the lemon and the nutty and salty flavors of the parmesan cheese. It's simple to make, and uses minimal ingredients. If you're missing some sort of veggie, add frozen broccoli or peas to the mix. And if you're sick of pasta, toss some pre-packaged gnocci in your cart instead.
25. Tuna Newberg
Canned tuna, onion, milk, mayo, flour, and a few spices are all you need to make this hearty bowl of warm and cozy tuna newberg. It's my all-time favorite comfort food that comes together in minutes and makes excellent leftovers. Out of milk? Use canned coconut milk. I know it's the last recipe on this list, but when it comes to emergency recipes, tuna newberg is my go-to, right after dal.
What shelf-stable, freezer-friendly recipes are in your emergency plan? What ingredients are you stocking up on, just in case? Drop a comment below!