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How to Stock a Latin Pantry

Chile’s merquén is a key spice in Latin American cooking.

When I decided to delve into Latin American cooking as a young adult, I realized I would have to build my pantry from scratch. Reaching back to my memories of cooking Cuban food with my grandparents, I began to stock it with the things I used to reach for instinctively. Going further, I added a few items I have found along the way that weren’t strictly part my grandparents Cuban pantry but seemed to fit right in.

Still, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to come up with a list of only the essential items for a Latin pantry. I worried what I might be leaving out but didn’t want to include specialty items that may find themselves neglected after one use (like the adzuki beans, pistachio oil, and purple yam powder now taking up precious cupboard space) . I tried to include the items that lend themselves to the largest array of recipes and dishes.  Mostly, I wanted to pull together a list of ingredients that make me feel at home no matter where I find myself.

A glimpse inside my crowded pantry.

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